The announcement of the proposed merger between the Print & Visual Communications Association and The Real Media Collective is a convenient time to look at the state of overall industry trade associations and how they affect the Sign & Display & Wide Format industry. Andy McCourt who has worked with several association over three decades, takes a look.
|PVCA + TRMC = ??? We will find out by PacPrint time
The Australian-New Zealand Sign & Display industry is blessed with a handful of long-established and strong associations:
In recent years, most of the broader Print Industry associations have contended with falling memberships, the challenge of relevance in an increasingly digital world and loss of experience and talent through the disenfranchising of State branches and lacklustre success in recruiting new membership. Chief among these is what is now called the Print & Visual Communications Association – formerly the Printing Industries Association of Australia and before that, PATEFA.
The announcement that a more recently-formed association – The Real Media Collective Inc. proposes to merge with the PVCA, would, if successful, bring back into the PVCA/PIAA fold, Australia's and New Zealand’s two largest print groups – IVE and Ovato (formerly Blue Star and PMP/IPMG with Hannanprint).
This in itself is enough justification for it being a good thing for the industry – about 2,800 printing industry jobs depend on these two listed companies and, if as seems likely, Ovato becomes part, of or at least closer, to Opus Group (major shareholder Lion Rock of Hong Kong), another 350 or so jobs will be added.
However, as predominantly web-offset giants, IVE, Ovato and Opus Group do not significantly impact the Sign & Display sector with the notable exception of IVE’s Retail Display division, strengthened by its 2021 acquisition of Active Displays and AFI Branding.
The web-offset and digital web (Australia Post direct mail) top-heavy nature of The Real Media Collective is not surprising, given its origins as the Australian Catalogue Association and tireless campaigning for direct mail and letterbox drops not to be stigmatised as 'eco-unfriendly' or 'old tech.' TRMC's website describes itself thus: "The Real Media Collective’ provides thought leadership, education and protection of the effectiveness, relevance, versatility, power and sustainability of consumer marketing and the letterbox advertising channel." However, recent new TRMC member recruits have been smaller and more diversified businesses.
So, the current landscape of general commercial print Trade Associations looks like this:
Ramifications of a PVCA-TRMC merger
Apart from the positive effect of bringing Australia's two (possibly three) largest ASX-listed print groups under one association banner, there are other things to consider:
PacPrint & PrintEx: These two trade shows are co-owned by the PVCA and Visual Connections, and organised by Visual Connections. Although delayed by Covid, the next PacPrint is in June and looks like a great show. Revenue from PacPrint and PrintEx shows has been vital to the PIAA/PVCA in the past, as membership revenues have dropped. In 2021, the PVCA and Visual Connections formed a joint venture named Visual Industries Events, to manage and run trade shows, NPAs and PICAs, not limited to these alone.
National Print Awards and PICAs: In the absence of any staff at the PVCA, Visual Connections has been organising the NPAs and PICAs for the past couple of years. We are advised they will fall under the existing Visual Industries Events agreement.
Members' Assets: The PVCA has approximately $6 million in property assets. The Auburn headquarters was sold off and more recently the WA office building was sold as there was no branch operating there anymore. The remaining assets, plus others such as a valuable rare book collection, technically belong to the membership, who must be consulted about and transfer or disposal.
For the Sign & Display industry, whatever happens would appear to have little impact in the short-term as, since including 'Visual Communications' in its name, the old PIAA has done nothing of importance in this area without the support of Visual Connections. The merger may change that, given IVE's major footprint in POS and Retail Displays.
Some offset printers have moved into signs and display work, Sydney's Bright Print being a notable success but generally, Signage/Wide format exists as a substantially separate enterprise since it involves so many other skills such as installation, construction, architectural, electrical wiring, complex die-cutting and converting, fabrication of panels and 3D channel letters, heat trasfer onto textiles and, in the case of Outdoor, site ownership which is increasingly digital using giant LED screens.
I am sure with the experience of the Boards involved that the PVCA-TRMC merger will be worked out but the complexity would suggest it won't be a rapid result. The PVCA operates under a rigid Rule Book and is under the scrutiny of three government departments. TRMC is more of an entrepreneurial collective that will benefit from RO registration onced merged. That fresh, younger thinking is coming into the merged association, plus more representation by women, are promising early signs. Let's see what happens next.