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IP&E: In the beginning…

18 April 2013

With the country deep in recession, interest rates high and companies looking to cut costs,1992 may not sound the ideal year in which to launch a magazine. Yet that is exactly what Neill Western did when he launched Industrial Plant & Equipment Product Review. Here he talks to Val Kealey about the early days of IP&E, changes that have occurred, and his thoughts on the future

Coming from a sales background with other B2B publications, when I started Western Business Publishing on the 1st Oct 1991 I saw Product Review as an advertising-only journal. The first few months after the company was formed were spent travelling all over the country, explaining to companies my ideas for the product. People seemed to like the notion, it was very simple really, and the first issue was soon up and running and scheduled for launch in February 1992. It was just me working on my own from home. I converted one of the bedrooms and I had a part time secretary, but that was it – a very small ship. Production over the years has changed so much, but in those early days we were using type setters and reprographic houses to produce films for the printers. I can remember going to see the first issue off the press. I was absolutely delighted with it and, importantly, the market seemed to like it too.

At the time, the dear old reader enquiry card was key. Everyone was looking for hundreds of enquiries and I knew that if Product Review was to succeed, it had to start producing them. Fortunately for me, it did, and the magazine went from strength to strength. For the first year we kept it quarterly, but the issues increased in size.

One day I had a chance encounter with a gentleman called Karl Lacy, a former editor. He suggested I should introduce editorial into the journal. We developed a formula and Karl subsequently became the journal’s first editor.

Once Karl was onboard and we started to expand further it was no longer feasible to work from home and we moved into office accommodation. Karl started getting the press releases in and writing the editorial while I was doing the sales. It was at this point that we started dropping the quarter and half page panels from the original Product Review design and started developing the format that IP&E is today with standard quarter, half and A4 page advertisements.

Initially, the editorial was purely product based. However, by the time Karl handed over the editorship to Ian Clay in 1997, feature length articles had become a regular addition, the magazine started to be produced six times a year and we started to introduce supplements and yearbooks. The sales team too was expanded.

Bearing in mind the recession of the early 1990s – in particular Black Wednesday in September 1992 when interest rates briefly hit 15% – I certainly had a few moments when I wondered what I was doing launching a company and a magazine in such uncertain times.

However, although business confidence was very low, companies realised that they still needed to promote themselves. My overheads at the time were low, so perhaps I was able to come up with a more competitive offer. For what ever reason, people liked the magazine and realised that it did what it said on the tin.

Several of IP&E’s competitors from the early days are no longer around, yet IP&E continues to thrive and I think there are several key reasons for this. The strength of any B2B journal lies in its circulation and database and we have always invested heavily in both. From a readers point of view, I think IP&E is a well produced, appealing journal.

I also think that, latterly, it is due to the quality of the editorial and the quality of the sales team that we have. From a staffing point of view, we’re very fortunate in that many of the staff have worked for us for a number of years and produce a good team effort which some of the other journals have not managed to compete with. I think that’s why we’re probably the leading industrial product journal today.

The growth in the use of the internet prompted speculation in some quarters that it would be the end for newspapers and consumer and B2B magazines. My own feeling is that people still want to see a magazine. They want to touch it and to be able to pick it up and put it down when they want to.

Another very important point – which I think a lot of people miss – is that many engineers still do not have access to the internet at work. My personal feeling, when looking in newsagents, is that there are more and more magazines launching all the time which sort of goes against what people thought would happen.

The success of IP&E has resulted in the development of other magazines and a series of regional health and safety exhibitions and, looking ahead, I think the possibility of expansion is still there. If you can have a good paper-based product with good electronic media supporting it, I think you have a winning formula. We’re just introducing a totally new website for IP&E and I see no reason why we can’t continue to expand.

I think that as far as the overall market is concerned you have to keep investing in all areas – staff, circulation, website – to expand your product and stay ahead of your competitors. There is always business out there. One just has to go and find it and keep coming up with new ideas.

Does the idea of early retirement interest me? No, certainly not.