Rebuilding IoPP's visibility

It’s rare for Packaging World to devote so much space as it has in this issue and in March to the newly reconstituted Institute of Packaging Professionals.

However, I’ve long felt that if the pursuit of packaging careers in the United States had one glaring weakness, it was the lack of an effective organization of its individual practitioners. Our coverage of the new headquarters’ organization is part of our effort to reinvigorate the interest of packaging people into rebuilding this group. Management at all too few companies understand what the “CPP” certification means, and a growing number of companies are becoming unwilling to reimburse employees for the expenses of belonging to IoPP. In all too many companies, packaging people feel like outsiders, more a part of engineering or production or purchasing than as members of packaging as a distinct discipline. This low perception of packaging can be attributed to the frightfully poor educational effort of IoPP over the years to raise the image of packaging and those who specialize in it. What makes this even more frustrating is that other organizations are extremely successful. The Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (Arlington, VA) is viewed as one of the most successful trade associations in the world. And that’s not just because of the income from its trade shows. It truly has excellent member participation in all aspects of its operation. And it’s bringing its skills to the Packaging Education Forum as well. If you look to packaging materials, there are successful organizations for flexible packaging manufacturers, as well as for makers of paperboard, cans, closures, fiber boxes, and plastics, for container distributors, and even a small group for molded-pulp packaging makers. Why has IoPP struggled? Well, the obvious difference is that most of the other groups are organizations of companies, not individuals. And despite some exceptions, most individuals in packaging aren’t senior-level people within their companies. However, other organizations of individual members, like the Technical Assn. Of the Pulp and Paper Industry, are successful and vibrant. I’m convinced that a great part of IoPP’s problem has been its invisibility to the individuals it needs to attract. This was strongly reinforced by a survey of packaging professionals that PW conducted on its Web site, Packworld.com, earlier this year. In this survey of 280 respondents, fewer than 14% said they were members of IoPP. For the remaining respondents, the survey went on to ask why they hadn’t joined the organization. Some had good reasons. Several said that packaging was only a small part of their responsibilities. A good many complained that their companies wouldn’t reimburse them for dues. Unfortunately, by far the largest number expressed ignorance about IoPP. “Didn’t know existed,” “Not aware of this group,” and “Not familiar with organization” were typical responses. Respondents from a salad dressing packer and from a household cleaner manufacturer were telling: “We are only an end user.” To me, that sounds like they believed that only people working for packaging manufacturers would qualify. Another participant from a major national food processor said she didn’t join because “I’m not a packaging engineer.” Others seemed to have considered membership but decided otherwise. A packaging buyer for a midwestern maker of consumer products said that he “Didn’t see a benefit.” “No need” was the response from a marketing executive for a northeastern food company. Even some current members that we’ve interviewed questioned whether the benefits offset the investment. This sampling reveals how ineffective IoPP has been in the past in communicating its value to potential members. The key word is communicating. Personally, I’ve stressed to the new management team the importance of restoring the communications between the organization and the people who are its potential members and whose resources can help build up the group’s services and vitality. I’m hopeful that, by the end of the year, we’ll be able report significant progress in raising the awareness and image of IoPP.

See an archive of Arnie Orloski's Pipeline columns at www.packworld.com/pipeline. Arnie can be reached at orloski@packworld.com

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