Q: Tell us about Sappi Fine Paper, the segment of the market it serves, and who you consider to be your core users.
A: Sappi Fine Paper North America is a preeminent producer of coated fine paper used in premium magazines, catalogs, books, and high-end print advertising, where the print fidelity is critical to the printed communications material. Our customers are merchants, graphic designers, printers, and corporate end users that handle advertising.
Sappi is known for innovation and quality. Our brand names, including McCoy, Opus, Somerset, and Flo, are some of the industry’s most widely recognized and specified. Our mills in North America are triple chain of custody certified to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Sappi Fine Paper North America also has the lowest carbon footprint of any major North American coated paper supplier, as 85 percent of the energy used by our North American mills comes from renewable resources.
Sappi Fine Paper North America is a division of Sappi Limited (NYSE and JSE), a global company headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, with manufacturing operations on four continents in nine countries, sales offices in over 26 countries, and customers in over 100 countries around the world.
Q: What is your background and how did you get involved with your company?
A: It is probably not what you expect! I am a lawyer by training and joined Sappi as general counsel back in 1996, just after Sappi’s acquisition of S.D. Warren. Before that I was general counsel of New England’s largest gas distribution utility—during a decade of extreme focus on deregulation of rates and business practices but stricter regulation of environmental issues. My legal experiences have prepared me well for the issues facing the paper industry now: a cataclysmic change in the business environment we now face as well as the need to adopt a proactive and transparent approach to environment issues, from renewable feedstocks to low carbon impacts.
Q: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in this market?
A: Helping transform Sappi Fine Paper North America from a strict manufacturing focus to one that starts with understanding all of our customers’ needs and then delivering against those needs—which, of course, includes operational excellence. Our ability to stay focused on our customers’ changing needs and understanding better what they require from us to succeed in their own business has led to our own financial success, despite challenging industry conditions. But we are not complacent and know that we must continually refresh and renew our approaches to the market every year, really every month, in order to continue to succeed.
This, by the way, includes our commitment to sustainability. We know that our customers have a legitimate and real need to fully understand the impact of our operations on the environment and what steps we have taken and plan to take to minimize that impact. We understand that our commitment to the sustainable practices is integral to our financial success and in fact go hand in hand. Our reduction in the use of fossil fuels, our lower rates of organic landfill, and overall reduction of waste in our operations both benefits our environment and the bottom line.
Q. If you could change anything, either about your career, your company, or the market as a whole, what would it be and why?
A: Let me answer that question this way: I think all of us in our industry need to re-examine our passion and commitment for our product—high end printed communication and advertising materials. We need to remind ourselves that we have a relevant, vibrant, exciting product that enriches the experience of all sorts of people in all sorts of ways—different from any other media. And then we need to go out and teach, and demonstrate, and advocate the best use of our product to the world.
Q: What do you consider to be the greatest challenge for the industry right now?
A: Our industry is in a position where we need to articulate the added value that print offers. It’s an enduring format that can engage the senses as well as the mind. And its tactile quality is one that simply cannot be replicated through digital media. Our greatest challenge for the industry right now is to communicate to customers that print and digital media do not have to be mutually exclusive of one another. As consumers are bombarded by messaging in numerous mediums, engaging your audience through multiple touch points is critical to being heard. We believe in the power of print and how it can be used in tandem with digital to implement a more effective communications strategy.
In fact, according to the Direct Marketing Association’s Insert Council, campaigns combining direct mail and Internet yield up to 25 percent higher response rates from consumers than the Internet alone.
Q: What do you consider to be the greatest asset for the industry right now?
A: One of the greatest assets for the printing industry is that paper has a strong environmental story behind it, given that it’s made from a renewable resource, made with renewable energy, and is recyclable. This story can be compelling, as more and more companies strive to minimize their impact on their environment, especially through their procurement decisions. Companies can now choose from a range of coated fine paper products featuring different environmental attributes for their printing needs (i.e. sustainable forestry chain of custody certifications, including FSC, SFI, PEFC, and other third-party certifications such as Green-e attesting to the use of renewable energy).
Q: What are the biggest changes to the way we communicate with one another in the past few years? How would you recommend this industry take advantage of that?
A: I think we must learn not to be wary of alternative means of communications, but embrace them when they are appropriate, just as we would like others to embrace ink on paper when that is most important. We have done that with our launch of the Flo Channel: Off Register, an online comedy video series featuring stories told by Second City Improv that demonstrate the trials and tribulations of what printers encounter daily. These video shorts have been a fun and interesting way for us to engage printers with Sappi and our top selling economy paper, Flo.
Moreover, in today’s networked world and with the rise in social media, we have become accustomed to being on all the time, where we are in constant contact for both our work and our social lives. So we need to do what we can to develop more immediacy and interactivity to our product supply chain. We are implementing industry leading e-business platforms to take time and money out of the supply chain, but we need to do more.
Q: Looking ahead, what major innovations or technologies do you believe will shape the future of the industry? Why?
A: Beyond current digital printing platform changes, which Sappi worldwide is being sure to stay on top of, there are many other intriguing possibilities—printed electronics is just one. We need to be sure we understand what possibilities there are out there and determine how we can play a role. But closer to home, we need to stay focused on innovation in service and how we think about supporting our customers’ businesses.
Our recent launch of Sappi’s Digital Design Center is one such example of that kind of innovation. Sappi recognizes that printers are often so busy with the print jobs for their own clients that they may not have time to produce their own marketing collateral. To respond to this need from our customers, we developed the Digital Design Center. It’s a powerful Web application that allows printers to create custom marketing tools to promote their own digital printing capabilities. Printers can input their own information about their print shop’s capabilities and choose from a portfolio of high-res, premium images to print their customized marketing piece. In addition, our Digital Design Center also provides tips on optimizing digital printing on Sappi’s digital papers. (For more info, please visit: www.sappi.com/na/digitaldc.) PN