printing in a pandemic
With nearly 3 decades in the world of print since joining AFI Branding in the early nineties, we check in with our Managing Director, Glenn Watson, about the effect of COVID-19 on the print industry and the importance of leadership in a crisis.
1. How’s 2020 going?
Well not to plan, that’s for sure! Being a business that serves the retail, events and exhibition industries, of course, we’re feeling it – as are our clients.
2. So how has AFI been navigating the pandemic?
From day one, we’ve remained true to our values, adopting a positive outlook. It’d be easy to be paralysed by fear but when you’re in that headspace, it’s really hard to get creative. Looking for the opportunities and innovating around those has been the key to us doing well so far. Of course there are days when it’s easier to get into that mindset than others. There have been some challenging days. But I’ve been blown away by the team’s innovation and resilience. In times like this especially, the importance of going through with a strong team around you comes to the forefront. I believe it’s imperative to continue to invest in your business culture and to not be afraid to share the burden. We have a Senior Leadership Team (SLT) here at AFI and without a doubt, we’ve become a stronger and more united unit throughout all of this.
3. How do the COVID-19 challenges compare to the GFC?
We were very fortunate that the GFC really didn’t impact AFI at all. We’d just introduced the ReFrame® product to Australia. We were the first to launch silicone edged fabric to the market and it opened a world of affordable possibilities in signage. It offered a very cost-effective and superior signage solution at a time when the industry was more cost conscious than ever. Thankfully the product launched at the right time and served us very well. As it continues to today!
4. What do you see as the future of the industry?
Each industry we work with has its own nuances. Bricks and mortar retail was facing its own challenges, even before COVID-19. We were seeing that retailers who weren’t investing in the look and feel of the instore experience were floundering. Retail will, and needs to, look different on the other side of this. It’s going to evolve and brands that focus on creating customer experience will flourish - think VR, smart shelves, digital customer service assistants and customer data tracking and much more. It’s going to be more important than ever to offer up a compelling brand experience through innovative retail displays – whether that’s in store, a pop-up or an activation.
From an exhibition point of view, it’s going to take some more time before it gets back to normality….but I truly believe it will return to full strength, actually I believe that this season of isolation has amplified the benefit of coming together face to face and exhibitions are of course one of the best ways to do this.
For events, there’s a long road ahead too. But there’s going to be an interesting transition period where smaller events are going to be able to go ahead first. We’re already seeing early signs. It’s actually a great opportunity for these events to get some airtime and to really shine. We may see the bigger events downscaling into smaller, roadshow type formats with higher frequency – as an interim measure. With smaller audiences, it’ll force brands to be more targeted and segmented in their messaging, which isn’t a bad thing. I don’t think we will see large scale events or exhibitions properly return until international travel is back on the table.
The great thing about both events & exhibitions is that everyone who comes can be easily tracked and traced if there is an issue. It’s arguably much safer than heading to a shopping centre in that sense.
5. What’s next for AFI?
We’re allowing ourselves to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. You won’t ever find us standing still. Our process has been to collaborate, communicate and to keep driving forward. We’ll continue to face this looking through the lens of opportunity – making prompt yet considered decisions. Sometimes we’ll get it wrong and that’s ok. Now more than ever is a time to do things differently and take a risk…and to me, that’s genuinely exciting.