Excuse me, would you have a ream of paper to spare?

Words by: Chris Rougier

Posted on: January 14, 2022

Filed under:

If I show up on your door offering to buy any paper you have in the house I’m about to tell you why.

I’m always thinking about the process, what is the final product going to look like? Whether it’s a STAMPS Strategy, direct mail piece, or an advocacy video, from the moment I start a discussion with a client I am thinking about the end product and the timelines to generate them. 

This has never more so been the case for our print products (print and mail) than recently. 

My friends have heard me complain of almost nothing else for the past six months. 

Supply chain, supply chain, supply chain.  Specifically, paper!

You see, I order paper by the pallet…sometimes the truck load…and other times truck loads.

Even before we were all sent home, read rates of mail were on the rise. Over 80% of people now recall particular mail pieces, people are trusting mail more than online for their information, and having more time to read longer products. This means mail is once again a leading form of communication for causes, persuasion, and marketing. 

The last six months it has been continually difficult to get paper!  Now, I know your saying “But Chris, we live in Canada! There are billions of trees here, and lots of pulp mills - how can there be a shortage!”

Well dear friend, it’s a long line of fallen dominos:

Since 2020,  we’ve been at home more, a large portion of the population decided to strain the paper products industry to its breaking point:

First: the great toilet paper hoard of spring 2020! This resulted in those manufacturers increasing production, putting a major draw on the sources of paper. That’s right, believe it or not toilet paper is made of…you guessed it, paper.

Second: After we realized that the pandemic was not going to lead to a scourge of dirty tushys, an exceedingly large portion of the population decided to renovate the homes they had been trapped in for months. Lumber, like paper, also comes from trees! Resources that had been diverted from printing paper to toilet paper, were now also being demanded of by the world's contractors and carpenters. 

Now, up until this point those who needed printing paper may not have noticed much of a change. The combination of large stockpiles, and a low demand for printing materials in 2020 meant we could weather this storm.

Then came 2021… 

As the world entered year two of the pandemic, our TP stockpiles still holding strong, our new den or deck looking idyllic there was only one thing to do. Sit on that deck, or in that den, or on that throne with your toilet paper and read. 2021 saw a 30% increase in the sale of books. 

The primary producers, which had already made two major production shifts in 12 months, had to make a third…back to printing paper. Overseas publishing could not keep up with the demand (most books are printed overseas) and began sucking up more and more paper supply. 

Before the pandemic paper mills were running at reduced capacity, many shuttered or shut. Not so now. It’s full capacity and looking for more, while transitioning supply chains faster than Heinz-Kraft can produce Kraft Dinner. 

As we rounded into the last quarter of 2021 there was more piling on. 25% of all book sales are made in the last two months of the year. This means production from August through October was in overdrive. 

The flooding in BC further exacerbated the problem as the roads and rails that moved raw timber, pulped paper, and finished paper from most of the mills in the west to most of the printers in the east were cut. 

Our stockpiles are gone, our supplier’s shelves are bare, even the paper mills are bereft - shipping it as fast as it comes off the line. 

So now, when clients call to begin scoping advocacy mail, fundraising mail, or other printing, my first words are “hold on, I have to make some calls to see if it can even be done on your timelines”.

Buyers wait in line for just a few reams, printers have started horse trading and swapping what stocks they have to fulfill orders (Btw, I have some 8pt cardstock willing to trade for 100lb book), all with the goal of keeping our business running. 

So in the end, paper is a lot more expensive these days…that’s IF I can find it. 

Still at MPH Agency, we continue to deliver. With dozens of printer partners, a mitt full of paper suppliers, and a stack of favours and IOUs, we have been able to keep the presses running. 

My tip for you? If you want an effective advocacy campaign talk to me early in your process. We will have our eyes on your end product right from the start. 

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