MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON: IPC MANAGEMENT - As McDuff goes, just what is happening up at IPC Towers? The publishing house has recently lost several senior staff. Alasdair Reid reports

Good old Ken Livingstone. There he was last week, reeling back the years by giving a no-holds-barred death-to-capitalism interview to the New Musical Express. The NME? Where has Ken been for the past couple of decades? This, of course, was vintage stuff. Vintage stuff circa 1983, that is - a time when the revolution hadn’t quite been cancelled and the NME was still a force to be reckoned with in the twilight zone where bedsit counterculture meets politics meets the music that matters.

Good old Ken Livingstone. There he was last week, reeling back the

years by giving a no-holds-barred death-to-capitalism interview to the

New Musical Express. The NME? Where has Ken been for the past couple of

decades? This, of course, was vintage stuff. Vintage stuff circa 1983,

that is - a time when the revolution hadn’t quite been cancelled and the

NME was still a force to be reckoned with in the twilight zone where

bedsit counterculture meets politics meets the music that matters.



Livingstone may well believe he’s able to steer a course back to the

future, but the years have been less kind to the NME. And we had a stark

reminder of that fact within days of the notorious Livingstone article,

when IPC announced the resignation of Andy McDuff, the managing director

of its Music & Sport division, a fiefdom that includes Loaded, Later,

Melody Maker, Shoot and a handful of cycling and sports titles as well

as the NME. In the best tradition of breakups, artistic differences (or

their boardroom equivalent) were implied by industry observers.



The market’s first response was to revisit the division’s

July-to-December Audit Bureau of Circulations figures - and they do not

make for happy reading. Year on year, July-December, the NME was down

16.1 per cent, Loaded down 18.8 per cent, Melody Maker down 20.4 per

cent. The second instinct, as the rumour mill began creaking into

action, was to start pondering the health of the IPC body corporate.

After all, McDuff is not the first high-profile departure in recent

months.



Two of his lieutenants - Loaded’s editor Tim Southwell and publisher

Adrian Pettett - departed recently and there have been troubles at other

parts of the IPC empire, most notably the IPC Electric division. Is

everything as it should be down at King’s Reach Tower as IPC enters the

run-up to a stock market flotation within the next two years?



Some observers are becoming concerned. One agency source comments:

’Senior management may believe they are sorting the wheat from the chaff

and putting the business on a firmer footing but the reality is that

they’ve taken their eye off the ball. They’ve certainly not been doing a

good job in terms of client servicing. That’s almost entirely been down

to the high personnel turnover - no-one’s passing on any information or

insights when they leave.’



Others, like Nigel Conway, client services director of Media-Vest, are

more optimistic. Conway states: ’They are doing some very encouraging

things as a company, especially in launching new titles like Nova. If

Nova achieves its circulation goals then it effectively becomes a

template for the launch of other magazines with similar levels of

investment and expectation. I actually think it is very well placed as a

company. Whatever you say about it, it still has a massively valuable

franchise as a communications company.’



But some believe that the company has to adopt a more balanced

outlook.



Greg Grimmer, a managing partner of Optimedia, is of that view: ’When

IPC completed the buyout from Reed, there were a lot of nervous people

around because they were made to sign up to some very stringent

financial targets. The penalties for missing those targets are severe.

Some people down there have been hanging on just on the promise of a pot

of gold at the end of the rainbow. I think some of them are realising

that they’re not likely to end up as significant shareholders in a newly

floated company.



’Some people - those with a hard-nosed background on the advertising

side - love the new regime and thrive under it, but I think it’s

worrying when good magazine people start getting sick to death of having

accountants looking over their shoulders the whole time.’



’You can argue that it makes the company stronger to impose stricter

financial disciplines but it’s a double-edged sword. Can accountants

launch the sort of market-entry products that a publisher with a

journalistic background can? It’s debatable.’



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