Bigging up B2B media

By Alyson Fixter

Tim Weller, CEO of Incisive Media, is being very patient with me, but I can tell if this was a job interview I’d already be out the door. "OK, let’s forget the word ‘brand’," he says, carefully. "It’s just about stuff. Using technology to deliver stuff."

I’ve made the mistake of wincing at that word "brand", pointing out that for many journalists it’s the only swearword you won’t hear in the newsroom, and I now suspect a job at Incisive is not on the cards for me at any point in the near future.

"Your duty as a journalist should be to deliver the news story as it happens," he continues, earnestly. "You should be a Press Gazette wire — if a market-moving story is there you should bang it out, you shouldn’t keep hold of that story until next week.

"The challenge for editors is to develop the print product to be less of a news weekly and more a discursive study of the impact of the news. Journalists need to consider what their audiences want."

Multi-platform pioneer

Thing is, the man is right. Which comes as no surprise, bearing in mind that Incisive has gone in 10 years from a one-title start-up with a handful of staff in a tiny office in Soho to a public company employing 550 people in four countries. That success is primarily because it has been one of the pioneers of multi-platform publishing, which Weller calls being "platform agnostic".

His first title, Insurance Week, launched its website in 1995, when most publishers were still wondering what the internet was. His titles now cover not only the internet and events, but e-seminars, email news alerts, podcasts and blogging.

In recognition of his work in the B2B sector, late last year he won a PPA Marcus Morris award, and now he is chairing PPA Professional, the trade body that has just launched a major push to increase awareness of the sector among advertisers, and get more talented journalists to consider B2B as a longterm career path, rather than what you do when Heat won’t hire you.

To Weller, such an attitude seems alien. "B2B is hot!" he announces. "I’ve spent my whole career in the sector and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else."

Weller insists that the close ties a B2B magazine can build with its readers are far superior to those a mass-market consumer mag can win.

"Heat’s editor is on telly a lot, but you don’t see the other [editors] represented.

Does he [Mark Frith] even want to get in front 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.

"I think B2B is much more exciting, more fast-moving [than consumer magazines], you can do the investigative journalism, you can also lobby hard, you can make a difference. And our editors generally got there faster than editors in the consumer sector."

If Weller is effusive about B2B (or professional media, as it has been rechristened by the PPA) that could be because the sector has most certainly been kind to him. Starting in 1982 as an ad sales man at VNU, he quickly moved on to a management role, becoming publishing director at Centaur before he was recruited by Reuters to launch B2B brands (there’s that word again).

Here came, seemingly, the only blip in Weller’s career: "It took me about three days to work out they had no intention of doing what they had hired me for, which was bloody frightening," he says. "I had three children under the age of five and a wife who moved markets whenever we went on holiday because she spent more than we earned.

"Basically, they thought I’d be hidden away in a small office and they could get away with moving things along quite slowly. But, unfortunately, there was an analysis in one of the business sections — Will Reuters buy Reed Elsevier with Weller on board? — and they couldn’t do that any more.

"I knew my days were numbered when I asked to have business cards printed saying ‘Tim Weller, head of B2B’, and they asked if I could just have: ‘Tim Weller, Reuters’," he adds.

Going solo

But, whether in testament to his drive and optimism or the size of his wife’s spending habit, within four months Weller had spotted a gap in the market and come up with the editorial idea for Investment Week, the magazine for independent financial advisers, and decided to go it alone.

The result was Incisive — 80 staff in a tiny office in Brewer Street, not with a hole in the roof as reported elsewhere (that was his barn at home, apparently), but certainly a shoestring operation, starting with an initial investment of £250,000.

The company made a profit in its first year, won a string of awards and moved into launches and acquisitions, floating on the stock market in 2000 and being valued at £280m last year.

"We were very early adopters of the platform-agnostic strategy," says Weller.

"We didn’t just publish a magazine, we were connecting buyers and sellers through events and online. What that meant, which was a big change, was that the editors got to meet their readers in person.

"We soon grew out of the tiny office in Brewer Street, but that culture is still with us. We want our journalists to be as capable of creating new stuff and taking risks as our commercial people. We want our journalists to look at new ways they can deliver their content, because that’s what makes our products good, not the platform."

Our time is up — Weller is now off to a lunch with Lehmann Brothers "to bigup B2B" to high-flying market analysts.

He seems delighted by the prospect.

"We need to let the world know how well we are doing," is his parting comment.

"There’s substantial room for growth and that’s what’s so exciting about this market. We’ve got the models right, but we’re at the beginning of really accelerating on the models."

He turns reassuring again: "This will improve journalists’ working environments.

Journalists like to be busy or they’re fucking bored, they sit around and they’re not productive. We need to arm people with the skills to take on the new distribution formats. I think we’re a very sexy business."

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