Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Meeting the editors

I did a talk this morning to an event called Meet the Editors. Also presenting were Chris Barry from the Manchester Evening News and James Wilson from the Financial Times. It was organised by How Do, a new portal for the media industry in the region and held at the offices of Cobbetts Solicitors. This is what I had to say:

When I was a kid there were just three TV channels, our home took a daily paper and a weekly local paper. At different stages in my life I’ve had a magazine – or comic - that’s touched my life and my interests.

Beano - Victor – Roy of the Rovers – Smash Hits – the NME – The Face – When Saturday Comes – Loaded – Private Eye – Golf Punk and most latterly – a new magazine called Monocle, which is basically 'The Economist in Prada'.

We can plot our lives with what we read.

People engage with their media. And now more than ever we spend more time at work, more time thinking about our careers. What we learn in our work affects what we earn. Knowledge is power and how we use information and intelligence gives us a critical advantage.

I was faced with a choice at a difficult age. My first two jobs were on an Australian music magazine and – unlikely as it looks today – on a monthly glossy fashion magazine.

Fashion is as shallow as you'd expect, but I soon learned that music journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, in order to provide articles for people who can't read.

It’s a career trajectory that – all going well – I’d probably have been sacked from Heat Magazine five years ago and would now be appearing on those Channel 4 nostalgia programmes talking about why Magpie was better than Blue Peter.

My next job back in the UK was the most important in my career – in 1989 I worked for a magazine called IBM System User. It was for IT managers when there weren’t that many of them. Instead of the appalling cycle of arse kissing I’d have to do to get a ten minute interview with a soap star promoting a new type of shoe. I was getting my calls returned from board directors of Johnson & Johnson, Midland Bank while executives from the software suppliers would want to talk to us.

Now, I didn’t get computing. I used to pretend to laugh at incomprehensible in-jokes about programmers.

What I was experiencing for the first time were the close ties that a B2B magazine can build with its readers. Ties that are far superior to those a mass-market consumer magazine will have.

You might see the editor of Heat on TV from time to time, but does he regularly want to get in front of large part of the mass market that reads his title? We do. We are part of the market we serve, part of the fabric of that community and that's good fun.

As a media form we are unique in that we enjoy the trust of our audience. And trust is very important.

In our industry publishers must put this audience at the heart of their businesses and build exciting new models and ways to touch their community in ways that work, be they print, online and physical events tailored to suit each different part of the business community.

When I think of the successful business titles they are the ones that offer a range of opportunities for readers to engage. Broadcast, Computer Weekly, Real Deals, Retail Week and Accountancy Age spring to mind.

I’ve used that word a great deal. Community. It’s why I think regional newspapers are declining and having to reinvent themselves as media providers that touch their readers in different ways.

Does technology hold any fear. No, not at all. You have to embrace it, but wisely.

The technology world is incredibly adept at providing pretenders to challenge any King. Publishers have a duty and responsibility to be astride of this.

As for the threat to our business from a blog, or a user generated site, I’d refer back to the trust issue again. You hear some news, or some comment regarding your own world – which one do you trust more – one attached to a magazine brand like Insider, or a media brand like the FT, the BBC or Insider or some blogger trying to build a following by being controversial.

This is an incredibly exciting time for our industry and a great opportunity for us to seize.

Business coverage in the national papers is enormous now compared to what it used to be.

On TV entrepreneurs are genuinely hailed as heroes now. Who would have thought the Apprentice and Dragons Den would have taken off in the way they have.

The liberal leaning media in this country has woken up to the fact that wealth is created by risk takers.

How have we come to this place at this point in time? The answer, and I apologise for sounding a bit grand, is the fundamental shift in power in the global economy away from governments, politics and our elected representatives and towards the power of the corporation and of the global economy. Interest in politics is low – more people voted in the final night of Channel 4’s Big Brother than voted in the local council elections.

Newspaper editors have been forced to reassess the traditional view that politics is the priority on the news agenda.

The media's heightened interest in finance reflects the growing awareness that real power is shifting from politicians to big business.

That brings with it certain attentions. Business has always been there to be knocked down in the free press of a free society. Private equity seems to have become the bogeyman of corporate Britain at the moment.

It’s easy to see why. Inward investment into a region and the economic effects of a new factory, call centre or a retail outlet has profound implications for the communities in which people live.

The genesis of public involvement in share ownership was the large-scale privatisation of the Thatcher era. In the 90s, that was cemented by the windfalls from demutualising building societies and insurers. According to the department of social security, a third of Britons now own shares.

Interest has also been raised by widespread home ownership, providing many with a sizeable lump sum of capital for the first time - another Thatcher legacy. Cash in the bank and a private pension invested in the stock market produces a vested interest in the economy and sharpens your interest in the financial pages.

But what of magazines now?

At Insider we cover stories that effect business people in the North West. Insider has always been seen as strong in the professions, in the property market and has a strong tradition of investigative journalism and independent editorial. We have a shelf full of awards.

But we’re not a magazine about stuffy business issues, we’re a magazine about people in business. Not a magazine about business processes. That would be pretty dull for you, and for me.

We have seen our magazine change and evolve to reflect changes in the regional economy, to highlight the regeneration process and the development of new economy industries. This has resulted in a building boom, an increase in the way investments are made and therefore a shift in the types of advertisers who want to reach our target market.

At the heart of our philosophy, which has seen the company radically change since I arrived in 2000, has been our regional place. We believe we fill in the gaps where the national media just don’t get. We seek to be a media that you guys want to read, we want to host events that you want to come to and create a community that you want to your advertising messages to reach.

As you know we also have stories relating to the activities of the professions, the property market, and how these industries can help business people. Our lists of achievers such as the Power 100, the 42 under 42, and the North West Rich list– a list of the region’s wealthy - are popular, but we are constantly revising these and are open to new ideas to keep the magazine fresh.

Business is exciting, you deal with people who are driven by a passion and an energy to succeed. They create wealth and success and they ooze confidence and enterprise. It’s very infectious. Business communications has to convey this. It has to be the broker of quality conversations. You will find people have high standards, if you are willing to match those, then we can all thrive and prosper as a result.

Thank you.

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