2021 State of the Industry Report: The Economic, Legislative and Market Factors Shaping Print and Promo a Year Into the Pandemic
Let us preface everything we’re about to write with a giant disclaimer: The pandemic is not over. Millions of Americans have lost loved ones or jobs or businesses. As of this writing, close to 1,000 Americans are still dying of COVID each day. Europe is in the midst of another surge in infections. The pandemic is exacting a toll on mental health with long-term impacts yet to be revealed or fully understood. There is still much work to do.
Finally, after a year of dour predictions and painful realities, a sense of optimism is beginning to prevail. There is an end in sight—or, at least, we can see it taking shape, even if we don’t know exactly when it will arrive.
The vaccine rollout, bumpy at first and perhaps marred by overly optimistic expectations, is kicking into high gear. The U.S. has now administered 183.5 million doses and is averaging 3 million doses per day. The recent news about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is certainly a setback, but the White House says the pause will "not have a significant impact" on its plan to make vaccines available to every American adult by the end of May.
New infections have dropped substantially from their January peak, and while they've ticked back up near summer 2020 levels, spring weather should help as activities again move outdoors. Scientists and public health experts are closely watching the coronavirus variants, but thus far no variant has caused a major surge in infections. Between vaccinations and previous infections, a large percentage of Americans now have immunity to the virus.
And then there is the economy. In March, the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed, extending jobless benefits, sending direct payments to Americans, providing support for state and local governments, funding vaccine distribution and much more. The stock market hit record highs in early March. The U.S. added 916,000 new jobs in March, crushing projections. Americans have saved an extra $1.8 trillion during the pandemic. The much-prophesied explosion of pent-up demand is looking increasingly likely—and it could arrive sooner than later.
“A rapid start to the post-pandemic economy could create a virtuous cycle in which consumers spend; companies hire and invest to fulfill that demand; and workers wind up having more money in their pockets to consume even more,” writes Neil Irwin, senior economics correspondent for the New York Times.
All of this requires a resounding knock on wood. But, for the first time in awhile, it feels like better days are really on the horizon. Folks in the print and promotional products industry are feeling it, too.
“The second half of 2020 will be strong,” Jo-an Lantz, president and CEO of Geiger, the top 10 promo distributor, told us for our 2021 State of the Industry report.
Incorporating data from NAPCO Research, insight from government affairs analysts at PRINTING United Alliance and reporting from the editors of Promo Marketing and Print+Promo, the 2021 State of the Industry report is a comprehensive look at the challenges of the past year and the opportunities available to industry businesses as the year progresses.
The report features four subsections and five Q&As with print and promotional products experts, covering the economy, product demand, government policy and more. Sample takeaways include:
• The economy is currently in a K-shaped recovery, in which different sectors recover at different rates. Growth is slow, but research shows we're headed in the right direction. The small minority of print and promo businesses that are currently growing serve markets that got a boost from pandemic panic buying (such as food and toiletries). Others moved aggressively to provide PPE, but where does PPE factor in moving forward?
• The Biden administration's immediate focus has been COVID-related—curbing the pandemic through vaccine distribution and jumpstarting the economy. Outside of this, experts are waiting to see how Biden’s tax policies, push to return to American manufacturing, stance on trade policies with China, and tightening of OSHA and EPA regulations will affect the print and promo industry. Ultimately, the industry may see the most impact not from policy changes that affect it directly, but from those that apply to the markets it serves.
• The distributor side of M&A in promo has been relatively quiet outside of a few major acquisitions, mostly on the supplier side. The print side has seen a steady stream of M&A involving both suppliers and distributors. Between closings and consolidation, there should be more opportunity moving forward for print and promo companies that do emerge from the pandemic on solid footing.
• Thoughts and analysis from experts in five industry product categories—printed forms, labels, promotional products, branded apparel and direct mail.
We’re not back to normal yet. And with a still-going pandemic, uneven economic recovery and policy/regulatory changes from a new presidential administration, there are plenty of question marks on the way back. But cautious optimism is better than none at all. Our 2021 State of the Industry report is designed to give industry businesses a top-down look at what to expect as they look to turn that optimism into action.