Little has been heard of the EPPA (the European Promotional Products Association) of late. In June 2017, Kjell Harbom took over the position as the new President of the umbrella association. Harbom spoke with eppi magazine about his plans to push the pan-European association work forward again.

Mr. Harbom, in which way has the executive board of the EPPA changed?

Kjell Harbom: In terms of its members nothing has changed, in line with the standard term of office board member elections were on the agenda: My predecessor, Gabriel Moëse, who is also President of the Spanish/Portuguese association, Fyvar, is now Vice-President. In addition to us, the board comprises of Annette Scott, the CEO of Promota (UK). Ralf Samuel, Managing Director of the German association GWW, who was recently also on the EPPA board stepped down, because the GWW has left the EPPA. We haven’t managed to recruit any new board members – after the past in some cases chaotic years, many evidently want to first wait and see what happens.

So will the administrative office relocate from Spain to Sweden?

Kjell Harbom: No, Barcelona will remain to be the registered office of the association. The EPPA is to remain registered within the Euro zone for diverse reasons. Furthermore, we have three employees assisting us at the Fyvar office in Barcelona. We don’t have any budget for our own employees at the moment. Unlike their predecessors, the board members don’t receive a salary either, they work on a 100% voluntary basis – the association work wouldn’t be possible otherwise, because our budget exclusively comprises of the yearly membership fees of the remaining members.

Which European associations still belong to the EPPA?

Kjell Harbom: At the moment we have seven member associations: Assoprom (Italy), BFR (Denmark), Fyvar (Spain and Portugal), NBR (Norway), Promota (Great Britain), Promotürk (Turkey) and SBPR (Sweden). We have shrunk significantly in size over recent years. First of all, the French, Belgian and Dutch member associations left, and now Germany has also cancelled its membership. We weren’t able to win over new members such as the second British association, BPMA either, although we changed our articles of association years ago to permit more than one association per country. In this respect too, many of the national associations are obviously waiting to see what happens.

How could the EPPA succeed in winning over new members to join its ranks again?

Kjell Harbom: First of all, we have to win back the trust of the industry. A lot has been invested, but little achieved. The certification programme initiated around five years ago, for instance, cost a lot of money and was never completed. The EPPA also had debts and it wasn’t clear who would pay them. However, in the meantime the remaining members have cleared these debts together. Now we have a clean slate and we can move on forwards again. That is wonderful and I am very optimistic as far as the future is concerned and also pleased about the support I am already receiving. In my short term of office so far, I have come across many open ears.

Does one actually need a pan-European association?

Kjell Harbom: Definitely. We are a significant industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of people across Europe and our turnover lies in the two-digit billion area. At the same time, we don’t have a voice at European level, nobody in Brussels knows us. This has to change! In order to be taken seriously on the European circuit one has to form a united front. An association top structure is ultimately a door opener.

Which projects are you planning for the coming years?

Kjell Harbom: In view of the narrow budget, I don’t want to set our ambitions too high. We have learnt from the past that we really have to concentrate on a few important key issues. I feel that the lobby work and representing the interests of our industry is where our priority lies. For instance, I have been on the committee that is developing the new ISO Standard ISO/PC 308 Chain of Custody for several months. The new regulations are to define how the product chain should be handled. I represent the Swedish and the European industry within the committee. The Swedish delegation has presented a suggestion that is oriented towards the needs of small and medium-sized companies across multiple industry sectors, which several country delegations have already voted in favour of. In September the committee will meet up again and the planning will continue. This is a small, yet not insignificant success. Beyond this, via my contacts to the Swedish government I have also established contacts at European level and should have an appointment with parliamentary representatives from Brussels this autumn. If we want to build back up the EPPA we have to be able to demonstrate such achievements. We are not going hawking or making full-bodied promises – first of all we have to do something so that we have something to offer.

Several industry players have been planning to found a new umbrella association for around two years. What do you think about this initiative?

Kjell Harbom: There has been a lot of talk over the past two years, but not much has actually happened. I hope we will be able to get a new dialogue going again. It is always better to talk with one voice and I am open for discussion.

// Till Barth spoke with Kjell Harbom.

photo source: EPPA

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