Haymarket 50 Years: How we launched Campaign

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 26 October 2007 12:00AM

Trade titles used to be drab affairs, full of press-released news and snaps of industry events. Then along came Campaign. Lindsay Masters reveals why - and how - Haymarket did things differently.

Before I came to Haymarket, I had worked briefly in the trade press and knew how badly managed and dull it was. Dropouts from Fleet Street's rapids found safety in its peaceful waters. Their job consisted of warming over PR handouts, and subbing them to length. Illustrations were generally restricted to snaps of people "enjoying a joke" at trade gatherings. Front covers were given over to ads. When we bought Worlds Press News, it was very much like that (as was our competition Ad Weekly, which at the time monopolised the field.) It was also directed at an audience of journalists, which was not responsible for buying anything much and could, therefore, be of no interest to advertisers. So a decision was made to change direction entirely and cover the advertising and marketing world. We knew we would lose our circulation among journalists, but the cushion of some sort of circulation, even if the wrong one, gave us some comfort and some numbers to quote with the best gloss we could think of.

Michael and I had lunch with Frank Rogers, the chairman of Emap, sometime before the launch. "What you should always do is have advertising rates so low that no-one can come in underneath you," he said. I thought: "What a dreary way of going on." I held the opposite view, which was to be the best, and charge the most. These high rates were a hostage to fortune and made it essential you were better than the rest. It did not make life easier that we never cut rates in those days, which everyone else was doing. However, Rogers was to some extent right. If you go into a market and have such fat margins, as we did, water will find its own level and competitors will come in. This helps to keep you on your toes.

Michael suggested a large page-size like Advertising Age, the US advertising magazine. We also decided to use a glossy paper, rather than newsprint, and this gave Roland Schenk the chance to design the dramatic features at which he excelled, on a big page with high-quality reproduction. The page was also big enough for the news to look right, crucially important in a news-led magazine. We did not print the starchy mugshots supplied by agencies, but had a talented photographer called Keith McMillan, who took all the news pictures, most often of people on fire escapes looking wind- blown and worried, but at least real.

Up until this date, we had only published monthly magazines (with the exception of Topic, which was a digest of the newspapers) and had no idea of how to gather news or of how to write it and present it. Nor had we any experience selling classified job ads, which was clearly going to be a very important source of revenue. A team of 12 journalists was recruited, while I dithered about an editor. For six months, while Worlds Press News was losing money, and the journalists were growing mutinous from boredom, I interviewed dozens of candidates. When I met him I knew immediately I had the right man in the late Michael Jackson; later to become a famous authority on world beers, he was a news man with national press experience. A launch date was fixed and we proceeded on a succession of trial runs.

In those days, the editor of a newspaper had control of design, and newspapers were put together "on the stone", which meant at the printers in our case. The guiding design principle seemed to be that a headline face should reflect the nature of the text. A large bold typeface for the big news, thinner for lesser stories, curly and whimsical for humour and so on, up to a dozen an issue. The pages that came from the printers resembled a provincial newspaper. I endured these efforts for some weeks, and then realising that there was no hope of improvement and risking a resignation at the worst possible time, removed Jackson from design and asked Schenk to do it. It proved to be a vitally important decision. At that time, journalists and designers detested each other almost without exception, and the move was therefore very fraught. The brief to Schenk was that since our readers were clever and well- educated, and the best-designed paper for this type of reader at the time was the Sunday Times Business News, we should resemble it in spirit without copying it. (The Franklin Gothic headline face still in use today was the only element actually copied.) Much to the journalists' delight, the printers did not have a Franklin Gothic font. One was eventually found somewhere on the continent; brought over at great cost, and only just in time. This was the only headline face used throughout. Even the most upmarket papers used some variation in weight. We used only variation in size. The news stories looked both punchy and elegant and this uncompromising approach gave the magazine a completely different look. Schenk's feature designs were breathtaking.

After this rocky start, Jackson proved to be a wonderful editor. He started off by naming the new magazine. (It's hard to believe that he had to overcome opposition from some, including me, about Campaign as a title.) Then from a largely untrained staff he developed a team of reporters and some brilliant writers, Philip Kleinman, Peter Hillmore and Brian Davis among them, who wrote columns and features such as the trade press had never seen before. He was also full of original ideas for features and funny lightweight inserts, and understood that the magazine must keep changing and that it must have humour. The dramatically different personality that the magazine had all came from him, and his influence was to last for many years after he left and still does today.

At that time, the advertising agency Collett Dickenson Pearce was making a revolutionary breakthrough. Its boss, John Pearce, was a brilliant man. He did not rate market research (me neither - all Haymarket's unsuccessful launches have researched well.) He believed that if you followed the researchers, you merely swam with the tide. If an ad received a very bad research score he was greatly encouraged. He had brilliant creative people and the client was made to swallow the creative work for his own good. Pearce understood that you have to be not only better but even more that you have to be different. (This is as true for magazines as it is for advertising.) We were strongly sympathetic to these ideas and were also interested in the people who were actually creating the ads, who until then had been treated as unreliable serfs by the management.

On the news side, we went straight from warming up handouts on Worlds Press News to publishing unchecked rumours in Campaign, and before journalists learnt how to stand up a story properly, this understandably caused very bad feeling in the industry, which had been used to a trade press that was careful never to upset anyone in case they lost advertising. I went to an advertising conference a short while after the launch and was threatened with physical violence. Other pressures were less alarming, but no less real even if delivered over a gin and tonic and with a smile. However, we stuck to our guns. On no occasion during this time did I attempt to censor material that would upset advertisers, even if in some cases I would have been justified in doing so. In order to give the news more impact I banned all advertising on the cover and the following four pages, also a first in magazines let alone newspaper publishing. (These positions command the highest prices, so it was a very long-term policy, also much hated at first by the industry.)

Paul Buckley's official title was ad director and he was a brilliantly effective salesman. But he was also highly active on every front and with his friend Robin Wight did marvellously funny ads and subs promotions. I hired Josephine Hart by mistake, a great piece of luck. The man I chose to run the classified ad department asked if he could bring a girl assistant with him (Josephine) and since we were looking for staff she came. It quickly became clear that she was running the show and she took over. She made the grinding business of tele-ad-selling fun for the staff, but was deadly effective at the same time. I promised her she could have an extra salesman for every extra page she sold and within a short time she had a staff of 14 or so.

The working atmosphere was electric, if chaotic. We thought that if a thing was generally done a certain way, it was probably wrong. Although this is still a sensible view, one needs to be young to act on it.

Campaign was the first launch that I had been entirely responsible for. I can claim only that I did what my instincts dictated without any compromise or research. But the enormous success we had was due to the talents already available in the company, first and foremost Robert Heller and Roland Schenk, then Paul Buckley, Michael Jackson and Josephine Hart. It was lucky we all came together at the right time and had the courage to do the right things.

At this time the company's finances were in a fragile condition. Nevertheless, we recruited more than twice as many staff than our competition, used much more expensive print and production processes, had no revenue to speak of coming in and knew the magazine would run at heavy loss for some months, if it succeeded at all. That we took this sort of risk was due partly to youthful exuberance, but mostly to Michael's iron nerves and his loyalty to those of us who were stumbling about in a highly disorganised way, trying to make it all happen. He waited six months without complaint until I had the editor I wanted, and was wonderfully good-natured about all the mistakes, crises and rows that always happen during a launch. Out of these sort of nerve-racking traumas came the trust and loyalty which still exists between us today.

The only serious fault in the editorial was not Jackson's. At this time, advertising was not quite respectable as a profession, and this resulted in a slight air of condescension in the (very young) journalists' attitude to the industry, reflected subtly, almost between the lines, in what they wrote. Any efforts to put this right were generally misunderstood as management trying to subvert journalists' integrity. It wasn't until Bernard Barnett, another outstanding editor, joined some years later that this was put right. The magazine continued to be outspoken, but the tone was no longer superior. With Barnett, Campaign came of age.

The success of Campaign came from a line of launches, each of which we learnt from. Town showed us what not to do. Management Today reaffirmed our belief in high-quality editorial and design and taught us how to turn high quality into high profits. Campaign used all these lessons to produce what became our first million-pound profit earner. (Some years later we bought our rival, the once mighty Ad Weekly, for £10,000, and added its subscribers to our circulation.) The launches of Accountancy Age and Computing, which followed, applied the same well-learned techniques to other markets with similar success.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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