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Story | 03/22/2021 13:18:28

Moving online keeps pulp week tradition alive

The global pandemic has led to two important events in the pulp industry calendar moving online. We look at the pros and cons behind the respective decisions and how it was accomplished.

London Pulp Week and Shanghai Pulp Week have evolved over the decades to become the pulp industry’s most significant events, allowing participants to meet and discuss major issues and developments. However, the ongoing COVID-19 situation has curtailed in-person meetings.

Undeterred by the challenge, the organisers chose to shift the London event from physical to online in November 2020 and preserve the annual tradition. The Shanghai event is set to follow and will make its webinar debut in 24-25 March 2021.

Forging new relationships

“In 1896, the British Wood Pulp Association (BWPA) organised the first dinner attended by representatives of Nordic pulp mills, their agents and 100-or-so domestic paper mills. This dinner has been held every year since then, only interrupted by two world wars, the Great Depression and, last year, COVID-19,” relates Roger Wright, founder and chairman of Hawkins Wright.

His consultancy firm not only provides business information services to the international forest products industry but has also been organising the London Pulp Week symposium in conjunction with BWPA since 2001. Together, they established a focal point around which all the important players could join in and network, alongside the hundreds of private business discussions.

“Everyone now appreciates the cost effectiveness of holding as many meetings as they want in a single location in a single week. It provides an opportunity for negotiating business and, equally important, meeting friends and forging new relationships. The pulp business is truly international and personal relationships are particularly important,” emphasises Wright.

Attendances have grown over the years and participation continued last November when it moved online. “We had around 500 webinar registrations. We also got a good reaction from UPM, who said that even though it was not the same, it was a good opportunity to get together, which is exactly why we decided to do it,” affirms Wright.

Tackling industry concerns

Organising the online symposium last November was far easier than organising, accommodating and providing nourishment to over 350 people, admits Pierre Bach, Research Manager with Hawkins Wright. “The main challenge was to keep our delegates interested despite the lack of personal engagement. We were fortunate in the quality of the presentations,” he adds.

The technical aspects were handled by a third-party, leaving Hawkins Wright to coordinate the speakers and handle the introductions. Bach, who presented one of the sessions during the two-day webinar, believes that the online format allowed for a wider audience than usual to participate, as opposed to the limited number who typically travel to London and participate.

However, he acknowledges that the main attraction of the physical event is the opportunity to mix, meet and chat over coffee and lunch. “Without this, it is difficult to stimulate questions and feedback to the speakers both during the sessions and at the breaks,” he concedes.

Despite certain drawbacks, speakers at the November webinar still tackled key concerns in the pulp industry, such as wood supply, the role of forestry in climate change and trends in packaging. David Rennie, Beijing bureau chief of The Economist, addressed the importance of China and its future relationship with the West. “This is still a key concern and will be for as long as we can see,” notes Bach.

Insights into China’s rapidly changing market

The importance of China has been emphasised by Hawkins Wright since their first detailed analysis of the country’s pulp, paper and board market in 2003. “It was during our analysis that we identified a need for an event which would allow an international audience to gain insights into the complex and rapidly changing China market,” explains Wright.

Following events in Xiamen and Hainan, the inaugural Shanghai symposium took place in 2013 and had around 200 attendees. Its immediate success caught the attention of the China Paper and Pulp Industry Chamber of Commerce, who were inspired to launch their own version the following year and hold it the day before the Hawkins Wright event.

“Despite some initial confusion, we soon realised there was room for both events and now we enjoy a healthy cooperation”. They still hold theirs the day before us in the same hotel, but we change the room around. In addition, their events tend to have a lot more bling and have predominately Chinese speakers,” comments Wright.

The Hawkins Wright Shanghai symposium will again take place online as a webinar in March and is viewed by the chairman as a stopgap that maintains the tradition. “There will be pent-up demand for when the physical event finally happens again… I don’t know whether London will be okay for November but one of our American contacts joked, ‘If it does, you’re going to have to hire the Royal Albert Hall!’ We hope so.”

 

Text: Asa Butcher