Learning to Out-Wait the Naysayers

Newspapers are dead, right? You don’t need an MBA to know. All you need to do, ironically, is read the news. New media experts say it’s so. Pundits say it’s so. And beyond newspapers, people are moving from printed books to e-books. Everyone reads on a tablet, right. And with everything on the Internet, who needs paper at all? Printer sales are hurting. So, if you run a company that actually makes paper, it’s time to give up and get into a business that’s forward-looking in comparison, like buggy whips. Uh huh.

So how does a paper company have the nerve to advertise sheets of dead trees on the Internet (as well as in print campaigns)? Because listening to those chanting “Doomed! Doomed! Doomed!” like a bad rehearsal for a FedEx commercial is not only a waste of time, but flies in the face of reality. There are times that products, businesses, and even industries die off. But even when they do, the end tends to play out over a much longer period of time than many think. And far more frequently, even if a sector of the economy is slowing, it isn’t plunging into the ground. Back to paper for a moment.

In the 1980s, there was a big push by technology companies to create what was being called the paperless office. Word processors, spreadsheets, and email were going to remove the need for paper in a modern business. The result was that companies used more paper than ever before. The proclamation of the death of an industry was not only premature, it was ridiculous. There are more ways that technology can reduce the need for paper today, but management at the Domtar Corporation, which runs 13 mills that produce paper and other fiber-based products, realized that there are many ways in which paper is integrated into society.

Starting in 2010, the company and its ad agency, Eric Mower & Associates, produced short and, most importantly, humorous films about people in business and education. The campaign has been called Paper Because. An example is the vignette of a couple’s anniversary dinner. The wife hands the husband a beautiful card and then waits for one in return. He explains that he sent her an e-card. “An e-card?” she replies coldly. As she walks out, he says, “Honey, did you … did you check your spam folder?”

Whether it’s having the receipt for an ugly present or not being able to connect to the Internet to download the PDF of how to connect to the Internet, the company cleverly points out how paper isn’t disappearing tomorrow. To run a campaign like this and bolster a company’s business, managers have to learn to think long term and realize that only by avoiding panic and false assumptions and conclusions can you chart a smart course to market, sell, and run operations. And then you might find that there is plenty of life in the old bones yet.