It was almost five years ago that I agreed to become General Manager of Pro Carton. I’d never worked for a trade association before, although I’d been a member of the ECMA Marketing & Communications Committee for several years, so I was fairly familiar with Pro Carton’s activities.

There’s always a lot to learn whenever you take on a new role but doing so on a part time basis made it more challenging. However, at least I could easily travel to meet some of the key people in the industry, unlike nowadays. And there were a lot of people to get to know. Other associations, such as Cepi, CITPA, Cepi Cartonboard, FEFCO etc, the fifteen or so National Associations, not to mention our members and associates. One thing that was clear was that I needed to make sure that the work of Pro Carton was complementary to that of ECMA. My shorthand for the difference between the two organisations was simply that Pro Carton was externally focussed whereas ECMA, was focussed internally, on the industry itself.

In the early days I can remember being a regular speaker at conferences and events, something that has all but dried up since the start of the pandemic. Clearly, however, spreading the Pro Carton message required a network of communication channels to reach our prime target audience of brand owners and retailers (packaging decision makers, as I call them). Now we have PR consultants working for us in France, Italy, Germany and the UK, with the UK agency operating on a pan-European basis and issuing 30-40 press releases a year in multiple languages. Our press coverage has risen significantly from a handful of articles a year to what this year will approach a thousand, and that’s just the ones we are aware of. Similarly, our social media presence has risen exponentially. In 2017 we had just over 200 followers on our main Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pages combined, whereas now we have over 12,000. Even the PCYDA Facebook page, which had the largest number of followers, has risen fivefold. We place over 500 posts/videos/gifs a year on the various social media platforms and regularly use carefully targeted “influencers” to extend our reach. The Carton Campaigners’ videos (did you know we now have over 150 videos on YouTube?) have been watched well over a million times and I believe there’s still a lot more we can do with these five superheroes in promoting the 5Rs of Responsibility.

You will read about the success of our student awards elsewhere in this newsletter and it’s heartening that the number of entries to the PCYDA has gone from 171 in 2017 to over 640 this year, surely making it by far the biggest student design award in Europe. Although the number of trade shows at which we used to exhibit our award winners has reduced dramatically, it’s good that both the Museum of Brands in London and the Musée du Cartonnage in Valreas, France will be exhibiting the 2021 winners of the European Carton Excellence Awards (ECEA). Although the number of entries for the ECEA has plateaued, partly due to industry consolidation, it’s right and proper that we now celebrate the best cartons produced on both recycled and virgin fibre cartonboard. And due to the Platinum and Gold Awards we recognise significantly more winners than we used to.

The website has always been a good place to catch up on what Pro Carton has been up to. Our websites were visited over 180,000 times in the last twelve months and there’s lots for everybody – ranging from EduCarton teaching activities and quizzes, to industry news, authoritative research and studies. Members of Pro Carton and ECMA can also access EU news, press cuttings, special reports and presentations in the restricted Members Area. Mentioning reports, our recent consumer research report canvassed more than 10,000 people. Why so many? Obviously, it makes the study more statistically robust but also enables us to use the data on a country-by-country basis which again helps broaden our potential media coverage. Reminds me of the old sales adage – “You can’t sell if you don’t tell”.

I’m delighted that the cartons and cartonboard industry is in a good place at the moment, although there are many threats on the horizon and it’s certainly no time for complacency. Our volumes are up and market share is increasing and I’d like to think that Pro Carton has played a small part in that. But it’s been a team effort and I’d like to thank the all the people that have contributed to what Pro Carton has achieved in the past five years. Whilst I cannot mention everybody, I would particularly like to thank Katie Ryan, Suzanne McEwen, Helena Schuette and Adam Craig (and the team at Storm Communications) for their massive contributions to the work that Pro Carton has done and I’m sure, will continue to do long after I have left.

Thanks for an amazing five years and best of luck.

Tony Hitchin