Publishing Agencies: The Editors - Customer publishing has come a long way from being consumer publishing’s dodgy neighbour. Richard Cook talks to editors who have seen its development

PAUL KEERS

PAUL KEERS



Editorial director, Axon Publishing



Keers’ introduction to journalism could hardly have been more consumer

oriented. He got his start by winning a competition organised by

Cosmopolitan to find promising young journalists.



As a result, he worked happily in a role he describes as ’the token

male’ on that title for four years in the early 80s. He worked on the

short-lived Cosmo Man section before a longer stint spent reviewing

records and writing features.



Next came a move to the Daily Mail where he found himself helping

describe and name the burgeoning ’yuppie revolution’. So far, so

straightforward.



But in 1984 he left the Mail and took a job as the editor of

Expressions, the magazine that Redwood produced for American

Express.



’My colleagues at the Mail thought I was mad. They didn’t really know

what a customer magazine was - they thought I was insane for leaving

Fleet Street,’ he says. ’But Expressions was the logical extension of

all that yuppie lifestyle stuff that I’d been doing on the Mail - with

the chance to run my own ship thrown in.’



Three years at Redwood ended when an invitation to become deputy editor

of The Telegraph Magazine came up. Next stop was the launch of GQ, with

stints editing that magazine and The Sunday Times Style section. It was

only after five successful years on consumer magazines that Keers moved

back into the contract sector to work for Redwood again on the Intercity

magazine. He then worked on a selection of contract titles for John

Brown Publishing.



’The customer sector seemed, if anything, more exciting when I came

back. There seemed to be more opportunities to develop managerial as

well as journalistic skills.’ In fact, Keers’ enthusiasm was so

pronounced that he formed his own customer publishing company, Axon,

which launched in 1994.



’I think by then there was far more acceptance of the role that customer

publishing plays in the overall publishing mix. We certainly managed to

find support and backing for our company. Since then I’ve noticed that

staff with the sort of national press backgrounds that I had are

increasingly drawn to customer titles. Rates of pay are slightly better,

I suppose, and in consumer titles, when a new editor is hired, that

person often wants to bring in their own staff - so job security on

consumer titles is no longer what it was.



’Most of all, people can see the quality of the magazines that some of

the customer sector produces, and they want to be involved with

them.’





HILARY IVORY



Editorial director, Forward Publishing



Ivory spent the first 12 years of her magazine life working her way up

the consumer magazine ladder at Hearst in South Africa and the UK. Eight

years on Cosmopolitan and Femina in Cape Town were followed by a further

four years in the role of roving editorial director at Hearst’s National

Magazine Company in the UK, where she spent time on Harpers & Queen,

Esquire and Country Living.



’Basically, it was a troubleshooting role. I got to spend six or seven

months helping out across a broad range of titles,’ she recalls.



Then, four years ago, the phone rang and William Sieghart, the

co-founder of Forward Publishing, offered her a chance to move into the

world of customer titles.



’Actually, he didn’t have to do much of a sales job on the customer

magazine sector,’ Ivory explains. ’I’d seen an advertising supplement

that Forward had put out with Campaign, so I knew about the company

before I went in.



’I liked what I saw so I agreed to join quite quickly. Part of the

attraction was the chance to work in another part of the publishing

industry, and part was the chance to get in at an early stage at a

company that was clearly growing fast.’



Ivory was employee number 35 at a company that now has more than 100

staff. The agency-type structure at Forward means that she doesn’t get

involved with budgets or cost centres. Instead, she concentrates on

getting the editorial product right.



’We work harder than consumer magazines and produce magazines with far

less waste and far less hanging around than in the consumer sector. The

other big difference is that we know who our readers are because we have

the budget to spend on research.



’Consumer magazines tend not to research readership very much because

it’s expensive - the only contact they have tends to be at readers’

evenings.



In my experience, the staff tend to recoil with horror when they see who

their readers really are.



’They are much more concerned about writing for their rival

publications. Cosmo, for instance, will have an eye more closely fixed

on what Marie Claire is doing than on what it is that their readers

want. I don’t miss that part of it at all.



’The other big difference is that rates of pay in customer magazine

publishing tend to be a little better, which is obviously very

good.’





SUE PRICE



Editor, M&S Magazine, Redwood Publishing



After 20 years working on a selection of consumer titles, ranging from

Marie Claire Health & Beauty to Woman’s Journal, Price took charge of

her first customer title, Redwood’s M&S Magazine, at the beginning of

1999.



’They didn’t have to sell me the idea of customer publishing at all,

although, if I’m being honest, a few years ago they would probably have

had to,’ Price says.



’What attracted me most was the chance to work for an exciting,

expanding company in a magazine market that I was familiar with. While a

few years ago consumer journalists tended to look down a little bit on

those working for contract magazines, that really isn’t the case any

more.



’Having said that, though, of course there are differences. I didn’t

think that it was going to be a complete change as far as the day-to-day

working practices were concerned, and it hasn’t been.



’The main differences lie in the fact that I have become much more

interested in business than I ever was before, and much more involved in

trying to help our client’s business.



’Secondly, the production process on customer titles is much slicker and

more efficient than it was in the consumer sector -the absence of a

client can make journalists a bit cavalier about things like deadlines.

Finally, the rates of pay are a little better.



’There’s also much more scope to negotiate a package for yourself and

much more flexibility about remuneration than there is in the consumer

sector. Editors there don’t have much idea of what budgets really are,

or what you are bringing to the party financially. Customer magazine

executives, of course, have to be more aware.



’The other thing is that we now get lots of applications from

journalists who view working on customer magazines in the same way as

they do consumer titles - namely, as another natural step in a career

progression. There is no real distinction made between customer and

consumer titles any more and I think that’s right.’





ALEX FINER



Editor, Hot Air, John Brown Publishing



As a consumer journalist, Finer popped up in most of the right

places.



He worked in newspapers at The Sunday Times when Harold Evans, a name

guaranteed to conjure an admiring glance from the most cynical and hard

bitten of hacks, was on board.



There has been plenty of top-drawer magazine experience as well - he was

the deputy editor of The Sunday Telegraph Magazine and, in 1990, he

accepted an invitation to become the launch editor of Esquire in the

UK.



Incidentally, he opted to put a young Brigitte Bardot on the cover at a

time when other men’s magazines maintained a ’men only’ cover-star

policy.



A period at the Sunday Express followed. Then, in 1994, he made the move

to customer publishing when he accepted the editorship of the quarterly

Hot Air, published by John Brown Publishing for Virgin.



’I suppose I made the decision to become a much bigger fish in a smaller

pond,’ he says. ’After so long in consumer publishing one starts to

become part of this huge machine.



The chance to make a real difference starts to seem more appealing.



’I was among the first intake of Fleet Street journalists into customer

publishing at a time when there still was a real difference between the

two. John Brown was a smaller company then, but it blurred the line

because it produced both consumer and customer titles.



’On the other hand, I’ve never needed convincing that the quality of the

product was anything other than news-stand. We are competing with all

the paid-for magazines that people bring on to the plane with them.’



For Finer, the obligation to work specifically for a client hasn’t

affected him journalistically. ’People forget that consumer journalists

are writing for a proprietor in a similar way to the way we write for a

client,’ he says. ’My instinct here is to have nothing to do with Virgin

and I’m sure that’s the right instinct. Virgin is media literate enough

to recognise that it is the right thing. In fact, in some cases we have

far more latitude than consumer titles. We ran a pretty hard-hitting

interview with Tim Roth recently. I’m sure that’s just the sort of thing

no consumer title would have risked.’





MARK JONES



Editorial director, Premier Magazines



Proving that there can be life after the editorship of Campaign, Jones

enjoyed six years at the Evening Standard after leaving Haymarket in

1990. His position as media editor left him better qualified than most

journalists to judge the strides that customer publishing has made, even

if he believes that it took him years to even consider running stories

in the Standard about customer publishing groups.



But when he was offered the editorship of High Life in 1996, he didn’t

have to think too hard before accepting. ’High Life was the one customer

title that everyone on the Standard had heard of, so I didn’t really

encounter any great expressions of surprise when I took the job.



’I might have heard more if people knew what attracted me to the role.

The truth is, I didn’t take the job for the reason that they supposed -

that here was this fantastic opportunity to go jetting around the world

writing travel pieces.



’The reason I accepted was because I was interested in the challenge of

making the magazine a great product and also because I was increasingly

interested in the business side of customer publishing. I think that

journalists as a breed are surprisingly entrepreneurial. They want to

get involved with more than just writing the same pieces in different

guises.



’It might be half true that a position in customer publishing was a sort

of pre-retirement staging post for Fleet Street journalists in the past,

but it hasn’t been like that for some time. I had no problem persuading

journalists of the calibre of Rhys William, who edited The Londoner’s

Diary on the Standard and was at The Independent, that Premier was a

natural staging post in a good journalistic career.



’It’s not really the money either - pay levels between the customer and

the consumer sectors are now a lot closer than they once were. The

deciding factor is the chance to try different things and the

opportunity to take a business responsibility for projects.’



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