The winner is…
by Tom Phillips
Frankfurt is bracing itself for the biggest awards event in the industry, which this year promises laughs, Bavarian delights and maybe even Lederhosen (unluckily for some).
The tables are filling up, the envelopes are sealed and hidden in OPI’s secret bunker, and the steins are polished and gleaming (more on those later).
It’s January, which means the annual Paperworld show, but also the European Office Products Awards (EOPA), the OP industry’s night for celebrating the most impressive companies, products and individuals of the past 12 months.
Combining with Paperworld for its seventh year, the EOPA, held on Thursday, 24 January 2008, promises to be a hugely enjoyable evening. Dubbed "OPIfest" by the events team, guests will be served steins of beer and the usual fine wine by traditionally dressed Bavarian beer maids. In keeping with the theme, the food will be served on long, conversation-friendly tables.
With everyone settled after dinner, one of the best-known and most-successful names in the history of office products will take the stage. Staples chairman and CEO Ron Sargent will be performing this year’s industry toast, a memorable moment not to be missed and one that marks EOPA and Paperworld 2008 as a special year.
Following on from Sargent will be the "German comedy ambassador" – comedian Henning Wehn. Wehn learnt his trade supporting UK comedians as diverse as Al Murray, Jo Brand and Bernard Manning.
Tell it to the judge
Plenty of steins later and with the evening in full swing, the focus will shift onto the main event – the awards ceremony. This year, the competition to win one of the coveted trophies was fierce and the preparation as careful as ever. Judging who should be given the top prizes saw a crack team of well-known figures from successful firms all over Europe descend on a boardroom in Zurich, where opinions were aired in an open atmosphere of friendly – and sometimes heated – discussion.
It’s not an easy job, but the team coped admirably and, with the aid of numerous cups of coffee, managed to draw up the list of potential candidates in a single day.
The rules were closely followed with all judges forced to leave the room if there was any conflict of interest with any of the categories. Steve Hilleard, OPI’s CEO and chairman of the judging panel, says holding court in a Swiss hotel was a rewarding exercise, especially with the environmental, corporate and social responsibility displayed by many of the entries.
"The companies, individuals, products and issues were discussed in a typically thorough manner, but with a lively edge, and at the end of a long, tiring day we all left feeling very satisfied that this year’s winners demonstrate similar qualities of leadership and success to those set by previous recipients," says Hilleard.
"This was a set of entries with a difference, and one which reflected a significant change in the attitude of consumers, and governments, right across the world. Almost without exception, every submission or nomination that we debated highlighted our industry’s significant progress in issues such as the environment and corporate social responsibility."
Friedrich Becker-Birck, who sat as a judge on the panel, believes that the quality of entries and nominations has increased every year and agreed that 2008 has some "outstanding" entrants, none more so than for the Environmental Responsibility category.
"The importance of OPI’s yearly office products awards has grown impressively since 2002. For all winners since then this accolade has become not only a recognition of their past efforts but also a challenge to strive for excellence in the future. The EOPA have become the equivalent to the Oscars of the film industry.
"For me as a jury member it was hard to find significant differences in order to make fair judgements. The high quality of entries is reflected in the shortlist for 2008, and it features large corporations as well as many emerging players or newcomers."
Becker-Birck agrees that the hardest fought awards were in the Environmental Responsibility and New Product Innovation categories, but added that none of those who attended would leave empty-handed – especially with plenty of Bavarian delights on show.
"The celebration of all shortlisted players and winners is a yearly highlight of Paperworld in Frankfurt," he adds. "OPIfest is a surprise announcement and must be a very attractive pull for all exhibitors and visitors to attend the 2008 gala dinner. I have once again invited some of our most important clients to this event."
Jan Van Belleghem, director at interACTION and fellow judge, says the balance of small and large companies is matched geographically, with representation from across the continent – adding to the growing gravitas of the awards.
"I noticed that the industry is taking these awards very seriously, which is a good thing. Winners are proud and mention it to their business relations as much as they can. The vast number of applications, and the time and effort that has been put into it by the various applicants, is another example of the importance of these awards. On top of that, this is the only event where you can match your company with other companies on a European level."
Belleghem adds that he is looking forward to the "best networking event of the year" and the OPIfest theme, "as long as OPI don’t ask me to wear Lederhosen."
An example of the prevailing shift towards a more eco-friendly way of working can be seen outside the festivities in Hall 4, where EOPA-regular AF International will be launching a new range of environmentally friendly refill packs for its existing ranges.
AF and its team are looking forward to both Paperworld and EOPA, which it says are hugely important for performing face-to-face business and the perfect platform from which to drive its new 2008 Green Initiatives.
"Every year AF International looks forward to participating in the Paperworld exhibition," says Karen Harrison, marketing manager at the company.
"In terms of business and brand exposure it has to be at the top of our list and year on year it continues to develop as an event and exceed our expectations.
"The venue attracts the right visitors who are keen to discuss future developments, new business and joint partnerships. It also gives us the opportunity to meet with worldwide distributors/customers at a venue that benefits both parties.
"The show provides a location for all our global offices to meet, swap ideas and build relationships. We look forward to the OPI Awards, we have key customers attending the ceremony and various AF employees. It is always an entertaining yet formal evening which we always look forward to, and it provides a great networking environment for the industry."