Blum, Akhurst barred from advertising

CALEDON, Ont., — Canadian suppliers Blum Canada and Akhurst Woodworking Machinery were notified in May that they have been barred from advertising in Wood Industry magazine, effective immediately. According to Wood Industry publisher Kerry Knudsen, this action was taken as Blum Canada and Akhurst Woodworking Machinery have been determined to be acting against the best interests of the industry at large.

“I have only had to take this extraordinary step one other time in my 35-year career,” Knudsen said. “and that was back in the early ‘90s with a classified-ad guy who was offering two-man, motor-powered boats for $150.

“To spare readers that are not interested in publishing standards and pressures, and to save editorial space for other issues, we have filed a complete report below,” Knudsen said.

 

According to Knudsen, there are three reasons people advertise: 1) breadth of market reach, 2) depth (focus) of market penetration and 3) as in the Chretien-era Adscam sponsorship scandal, politics unrelated to the market. Cost is a factor only if one of the other reasons is in place. Therefore, it is important to assess why an ad buy is made. To be blunt, Blum Canada chose to advertise exclusively with a competitor — a choice that is totally within its rights, assuming there are no ulterior motives — except its announcement followed a several-years’-long demand from Blum Canada’s marketing department to control Wood Industry’s editorial content. So let’s take a look.

Over a period of years, Wood Industry has debated the value of a professional, standards-based approach to trade-sector marketing with Blum Canada. In February of this year, Knudsen wrote to Kevin Tratt, president and general manager of Blum Canada, arguing, “To memorialize our conversation…. You acknowledged that Wood Industry subscribes to the highest standards, has confirmed integrity and has the intelligence, the market and the training to help enhance the market and move the industry forward, and that we adhere to known and published industry standards, whereas our competitor does not. Specific violations known and used as examples are running ads on the cover, selling editorial, giving advertisers control over editorial matter and plagiarism….”

Having agreed that Wood Industry has superior circulation breadth, superior reader response and has maintained known and published international professional standards, Blum Canada must have another reason. Cost comes to mind, but Tratt affirms cost had nothing to do with it. Tratt said Blum Canada has an ad budget, and the rates are close to being the same.

Pressed, Tratt said Blum Canada’s print buys are “based on a, ‘soft’ decision. Who do we want to do business with?”

Concerned that Tratt was alluding to the third “political” reason for advertising, as happened in Adscam, Knudsen remarked that magazines should not be run by outside interests, and that the world had just seen an example. In France, Knudsen said, a group of editors for the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo had displeased a special interest, and had been murdered for their trouble — a theme that occurs regularly in the history of journalism.

Tratt’s response was measured. The editors at Charlie Hebdo, he said, got what they had coming to them: “You can communicate many different ways, over many different mediums, but whatever happens, there is always a consequence to how and to whom you communicate…. There was a certain part of the audience that probably appreciated what both Charlie Hebdo and [Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi] were communicating, and there’s obviously part of the audience that didn’t. And that holds true no matter who it is that is doing the communication.”

Therefore, it seems clear that the reason for Blum Canada’s marketing decision was not because of any desired market (reader) response, but because of its demand to control communication, and the compliance of Blum Canada’s magazine of choice. Blum Canada did not “appreciate” Wood Industry’s disobedience.

According to Knudsen, the gravity of the situation appeared about to affect a larger audience, so he addressed his concerns to Blum Austria, and received this reply, in part, from Juergen Schweigkofler: “We hope you will respect our current decision regarding advertising and ask you to consider the negative impacts on the industry if we continue to focus on this matter. It would be a shame for all of us if this escalates to become a more serious situation.”

Chilling. From Knudsen’s perspective, however, nothing could be “a more serious situation” than an international commercial interest deciding to control and direct the public information in any sector. Certainly, it would be a problem for Wood Industry if Blum Canada’s purpose is to strangle it in pursuit of controlling the other. However, what would be the benefit for Accuride, Grass or Salice? Would those companies benefit from Blum Canada’s control of Canadian media? What might happen in other countries where Blum operates — specifically, those free countries’ magazines that have not yet been dragged under and dominated by Blum? And how about the readers? What would happen to them? Are Canada’s readers ready to accept all their industry news being filtered by an editorial board of one that gets his morning briefing from Blum?

 

The situation with Akhurst is largely parallel. Akhurst has seen the evidence regarding circulation, reader response and standards, and it takes advantage of favoured status from its chosen media. As previously reported, Akhurst was one of a small group of Canadian machinery suppliers that killed SIBO, Quebec’s semi-annual trade show for this sector, via the only public-relations release that group has ever issued, to the best of our knowledge. This presents the obvious question: who benefitted from killing SIBO? Did Akhurst rivals CNC Automation or American OEM to the Canadian market C.R. Onsrud benefit? Did other such Quebec suppliers as General International or Machineries Continental? It is hard to imagine they did.

In the same vein, Akhurst consistently tries to strangle Wood Industry efforts to unify and energize the sector. Much of the story also has already been written in the Monograph published in the September 2013 issue of Wood Industry, but it’s fair to add Akhurst’s role last summer in taking over Wood Industry’s Canada Night event at IWF in Atlanta. It is as if Akhurst and Blum Canada have read some brown-wrapped “secrets” book about how to ruin an industry and are putting the plan into effect.

The fact is, publishing standards, circulation audits and survey methodologies exist for a reason. They are designed to prevent fraud. If you read the standards and look at the audits, you can see they are designed to benefit readers and protect ethical advertisers from the strategies of aggressive and persistent bullies and unethical, weak publishers.

Therefore, the standards of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) says publications are to expose unethical behaviour. You can check it here. It is toward the bottom under Accountability. Further, Knudsen says, Wood Industry subscribes to those standards. To fail to expose the current situation, Knudsen says, would be equivalent to violating other SPJ admonishments, including to:

  • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.
  • Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.
  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.
  • Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.

 

Because of his deep concern regarding the effects of efforts on the parts of Blum Canada and Akhurst to abolish standards, Knudsen says he is taking drastic measures. “I have never done this before,” Knudsen says, “but it has never before been necessary. This time, for the sake of the industry, I am going to endorse some companies and give reasons.

“On the hardware side, I suggest Canadian manufacturers focus their purchasing needs on Grass, Salice and Accuride,” he says. “In one sense, Grass and Salice had lessened their marketing presence in Canada for years, while Accuride, a supplier of specialized, high-end hardware, has been intermittent. Grass was undergoing massive restructuring worldwide in the Wurth consolidation of Mepla, Alfit and Grass, and thus had a relatively small marketing profile in Canada. Similarly, Salice’s Canadian office during that period was not strong on marketing and was not active in marketing until a recent change in management.

“Therefore, while both companies made internal adjustments to increase their profiles, Blum Canada had an open field, dominated sales and, frankly, seems to have bought its own pitch. Accuride, Grass and Salice have top-quality products, are master innovators in their own rights and have the motivation and the infrastructure to seek out and serve the market. Both had to research such marketing issues as circulation, market response and standards, and each came to the market to speak directly to you, not as part of a political plan. I have worked directly with representatives of all three companies, and give them all my highest endorsement. They care about Canadian manufacturers.

“On the machinery side,” Knudsen says, “readers should give serious consideration to AXYZ, CNC Automation, and C.R. Onsrud, among others. Each of these has, as have the hardware suppliers, reviewed the facts and made the decision to address the market where the market is looking. Manufacturers should also give due consideration to some of the smaller distributors and OEMs that cannot afford to advertise nationally, or for whom it does not make sense. I cannot supply the entire list, but such companies as Allied Machinery in the GTA, and Masse Sales and Canadian Woodworker out west are working for your business. This is not an issue of buying from companies because they advertise with Wood Industry,” Knudsen says. “This is an issue of buying from companies that respect their customers.”

As the principal at Wood Industry, Kerry Knudsen, has been the voice of Canada’s secondary wood-products sector for 18 years, developing an editorial product Canadians respect. “We have always returned revenues to the industry by creating events,” Knudsen says, including golf tournaments, Canada Night events in Las Vegas and Atlanta, seminars, tours to Germany and Italy and new publication options. One major project, still not implemented, is a proper public relations program to raise the profile of the industry in Canada to attract young people to the industry and increase demand for Canadian goods in other countries, including Turkey and Honduras.

However, these things take money. Wood Industry pays for editorial and pays to travel Canada-wide to visit and profile manufacturers. Also, media law and government documents are Wood Industry’s home turf. We should be using these resources to research and advance the industry.

 

If the motive for Blum Canada and Akhurst is to get rid of Wood Industry and control its competitor, it is necessary to weigh the probable effects on all parties. If Wood Industry starts losing revenue, you should ask, what happens to the seminars, events and opportunities? Have you received copies of advertising standards? Are you aware of circulation irregularities and their cost?

You could ask Akhurst and Blum, “did you see what manufacturers told you in Wood Industry’s annual surveys? Or, if cost, coverage, response and professional standards are not deciding factors for you, what are? Or, what happens to the profiles and investigations? What happens to Canadian-industry-promoting programs internationally?”

To that extent, and the damage could be very broad, the aggressors are damaging the industry-at-large by attacking acknowledged resources of long standing.

Given that both Akhurst and Blum Canada have been provided numerous reports over a period of years regarding the status of circulation audits, surveys and standards, and given that both Akhurst and Blum Canada have engaged lawyers to assess Wood Industry’s reports and make threats, it certainly must be that they are engaging in the behaviour described. Legally, the only thing that can prevent Wood Industry from being sued by angry, would-be content managers is the truth. In media, if you lie, you lose. That is not one of the standards; that is the law. Again, if Wood Industry can stand on the law and send “shut-up” letters to Blum Canada’s and Akhurst’s lawyers … if Wood Industry can demonstrate competence in every aspect of media law, public relations, advertising, circulation, design and editorial, and if the rates between the two magazines are similar, then the listed questions demand an answer from Blum Canada and Akhurst, since the final objective must certainly be commercial dictatorship.

For clarity, it would also be very helpful to readers if they would ask the endorsed companies what their views are and why. Clearly, there is a difference in the quality between Blum Canada or Akhurst and their competitors. You can affect your financial future by working with suppliers that work with, not against, their customers.

What one learns in professional training is that the power of a magazine comes from its readers, and that the governor of that power is the publisher. It is an ethical breach of the highest order for a publisher to use the power of the press for personal reasons or for purposes of revenge, just as it is an ethical breach of the highest order to misrepresent market reach, provide favouritism to advertisers or present the work of others as if you had created it yourself. If that power is abused, it vanishes.

On the other hand, it is dereliction of duty to fail to act when the health of the market is threatened. Canadians expect the press to be fair and strong (irrespective of the press’s actual performance), and Canadians have given the press the authority to take down a prime minister or investigate the RCMP. The media is expected to use its authority wisely, not cash it in for free travel and a muzzle.

It is clear a number of vendors in Canada have not had a new marketing idea in decades. It is also clear they will try to interfere with progress when they can’t understand it. It is also clear the industry in Canada is at a turning point. It has to move on or be dragged down. We are simply not large enough to be controlled by a few suppliers. Their plans are no good for their customers, no good for their competitors, no good for the industry and no good for the country as a whole.

 

As an industry, we can look back to 2007 as the “heyday” of the health of the modern sector in North America. The magazines were many and large, the shows were expanding and vibrant and the associations were active and involved. In 2007, the benchmark statistics for health in the Canadian sector, investment in construction, were $5.6 billion in commercial, $2.4 billion in institutional and $19 billion in total residential. The industry had a voice, and it could speak.

Today, Canada’s investment in commercial building construction is $7.8 billion, $3.5 billion in institutional and $25 billion in total residential. In other words, our sector’s economic stream has increased by 28 percent, 33 percent and 25 percent, respectively. These are the good old days, but have your revenues increased by 28, 33 or 25 percent over 2007? If not, what is the drag?

In a hot investment market, magazine ad page buys have shrunk, associations are struggling to gain both members and meaning and trade shows are a shadow of their former selves. Many blame the internet, but there are other possibilities.

For those that have studied marketing on any serious level, you know that no sector can thrive when the strings of power are held by a few agenda-driven suppliers. You would sooner learn table manners at moose camp. It is absolutely predictable that when a small group of suppliers controls the media, sits on the boards of the manufacturers’ associations and votes to boycott and control trade shows, the industry will diminish. The strength of the industry cannot be gauged by the revenues of the members, alone. Revenues for individual companies will rise and fall. The strength of an industry is gauged by its ability to influence its future. This includes a strong, professional and loyal press, active and effective associations and vibrant and motivating trade events — all factors that amalgamate the voices of many into one.

 

It is time for Canada’s manufacturers to take a new step forward and leave behind the broken ideas of the past. Manufacturers need to buy from vendors that appreciate them, and question those that don’t. It is fair enough that a few vendors don’t want to advertise in Wood Industry and don’t want to compete at shows. However, we all are in business, so it is also fair enough to ask them to step into the sunshine and tell everybody why. What is their objective? Wouldn’t it be amazing if all the industry needs to spring forward into a new era of manufacturing in Canada is to get a few boots off the neck of its producers?

Assuming Blum Canada and Akhurst do not agree, the question still stands. What standards do they endorse? Why did they reject the recognized and published, professional standards of trade journalism, even after they were told multiple times? What customers do they listen to? What market information do they trust? It is clear from their actions they endorse the parochial, top-down, regimented world of rule of the biggest and they see themselves as the biggest. They also see annihilation as the just result of standing up to them, à la Charlie Hebdo.

Wood Industry’s publisher has had the trust of the Canadian market for 18 years. That means 18 years of written history, so anybody can easily tell whether Wood Industry walks like it talks. Anybody can also see we have paid dearly for our support of our readers against special interests. Wood Industry repeats its promise that we will work to promote the secondary wood products sector in Canada with the highest degree of professionalism, according to known and published professional standards. And we will do so with ideas that work, and the friendship, the cooperation and the support of the vast number of ethical, professional suppliers and providers to the industry that know competition occurs on the field of value-for-return.

“This is tough,” Knudsen says. “I have never run into anything like it. It goes against every business sense to report out the negative actions of major advertisers. On the other hand, I have never heard of two companies so unconcerned about repeated, direct and flagrant violations of known and published standards. So unconcerned with the damage their near-sighted plans will cause. Even my freshman comp students knew better.

“I have a job to do, and there is nobody else to do it. You can read the description in any of the cited standards, or I can point to a textbook. The health of the industry is, in my opinion, under attack, and I have all the documentation I need to report it. The readers deserve to know. The ethical advertisers deserve to know. There is no other option.”

Two years before he was slaughtered by special interests with an agenda, the editor of Charlie Hebdo, Stéphane Charbonnier, quoted Euripides: “I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees.” Euripides is good stuff. He also admonished us: “Do not mistake the rule of force for true power. Men are not shaped by force.”

In an environment where men and women have invested everything they have in production, any attempt by a conspiracy of suppliers to form a monopoly is clearly damaging to the industry. Like lampreys on salmon, damage is their purpose: to survive at the expense of others.

Such companies will not advertise in Wood Industry.

__________________

This is your industry and your magazine. Please participate by commenting below.

Comments

  1. Thank you for your honest and heart felt report. I fully support your effort and the direction you have taken.
    I hope more people would take the time and find out for themselves. It is a hard road but we need to be vigilant and keep to the straight and narrow, never loose sight of what is right and correct.
    All the best,
    Chris Yen
    Moriyama & Teshima Architects

Speak Your Mind

*

CAPTCHA Image

*