If you’ve planned a wedding during the last five years or you have made some major design changes to the interior of your home then, chances are, David Riddell and Iain McEwan have had an impact on some of your major buying decisions. They are not the new Trinny and Susana or Colin and Justin, far from it, they are, in fact, the two former ad salesmen who launched International Magazines in 1996 and have since gone head to head with the UK’s established home interest and weddings titles to establish their consumer magazines as genuine contenders.
To say Riddell and McEwan are like the stereotypical married couple wouldn’t be a million miles from the truth. They regularly complete each other’s sentences, disagree on various facts and take opposing sides on contentious issues during the interview, which pays testament to the fact that they have worked together for 16 years and know each other extremely well.
That said, they are both clearly focussed on the future direction of the company, which earlier this year received its first ABC audited figure of 16,353 for its flagship Homes and Interiors Scotland title.
McEwan said: “The reason for getting Homes and Interiors on the ABC audit was that a few other home interest magazines were starting to look at Scotland, such as Concept Living. We felt now was really the right time to establish our strong position here in Scotland...”
“...There comes a time,” chips in Riddell, “if you are going to build strong relationships with people, that you have to say this is what we are selling and we are very proud of that number. We are now going to build on this figure in the coming years.”
The two men first met when they were selling advertising space for a small charity advertising company, but they always had much bigger aspirations.
“We both knew that to enjoy any real success we would have to sell our own title,” recalled Riddell. “So, in 1996 we took the concept of a magazine to the bosses at Scottish Television to support its Home Show programme. It was really the same model as the BBC and Redwood Publishing, where Redwood published a magazine on the back of a successful TV programme. We sold the first two issues of that and then we went our separate ways...”
McEwan takes over: “... STV took the view that we should do their magazine for almost zero money as it would act as a flagship title that would bring in more business for us. But we were a small company and we needed to be bringing in cash, so we struck out on our own.”
It was at this point that the pair launched Homes and Interiors Scotland and went head to head with the magazine that they had launched for Scottish TV as Riddell explained: “The time was right for a home interest magazine in Scotland, but to survive in this game you need to have a market. A lot of magazines seem like a good idea, but fail miserably because they don’t have a market. I’d say that most of the magazine launches in Scotland in the last ten years have been done from an editorial perspective as opposed to a business perspective. At the end of the day you publish magazines to make money, you don’t make money to publish magazines. That’s been our philosophy since day one.”
Despite seeing off Scottish Television’s Home Show magazine, which eventually closed down due to a lack of real commitment says Riddell, to make ends meet Riddell and McEwan also took on a number of contract publishing projects for Scottish Enterprise. However, publishing titles for the Scottish oil, gas, electronics and computer software industries, proved to be notoriously unreliable in terms of their sales projections.
Riddell and McEwan both knew that to survive the company needed to expand. Somewhat ironically, it was the self-proclaimed unromantic McEwan who spotted that a new avenue of revenue generation for the publishing company lay in the lucrative yet ultra competitive wedding market.
“It was really a case of looking around and seeing what products were making money,” said McEwan. “We looked at what advertising markets were out there that we could get into. At that time there was the Scottish Wedding Directory in the marketplace that was clearly making money, but it was not a finished product and we felt that we could get into the sector and have some of that revenue for ourselves.”
The Best Scottish Weddings was launched in August 2001 and in just three-and-half years is challenging the Scottish Wedding Directory, also published out of Glasgow, for supremacy among Scottish wedding planners.
Riddell said: “The Scottish Wedding Directory is a good product and they have certainly raised their game since we came along. I would say it is us and them that are the main players in the wedding market in Scotland now, but I think that coming from a standing start three years ago to catching them up, when they started about ten years ago, is some achievement for us.”
Riddell and McEwan could have, at this point, sat back and let the money roll in. But no. They rolled their weddings title into the North of England and then threw caution to the wind by heading south to launch their wedding title into London.
London Weddings was launched in September 2004 and has proven to be a hit in the English capital with wedding planners and advertisers alike. McEwan said: “Our model has been something totally new for the London marketplace. People living in London tend to view the city as the epicentre of the world, and they view magazines such as Tatler and Vogue as their local magazines. Therefore nobody feels that they need to produce a regional wedding magazine for the London area. Before we launched, if you were getting married in London, there was no magazine that told you where you could hire a toastmaster, or a limo, or where you could get a decent tiara, because the local companies could not afford to advertise in the magazines available. We caused quite a stir when we went down to London. They were a bit pissed off and asked who these upstarts from Glasgow were?”
Riddell interjects: “...We spoke to someone a few weeks ago who said that they got 12 pieces of business from advertising in You and Your Wedding and 27 from our London Weddings title. We have now got representation at every major wedding exhibition in London, so that the people that are actually in the process of planning a wedding will get a copy of the magazine handed directly to them.
“There is no way on earth that companies like ours could go to London and compete with the big London companies to get space in WHSmith for instance. If we had said to them we want to launch this London Weddings magazine, they would have said, ‘You and Your Wedding spends £100,000 with us, so, No thanks.’ We still have a long way to go with this as it is less than a year old, but if we are getting advertisers such as The Ritz then we must be doing something right.”
The coming year marks another defining moment in the story of International Magazines as the company is set to host two exhibitions during September. On 2 and 3 September, a hall at the SECC will host the first Homes and Interiors Scotland exhibition, while later in September Braehead will host The Best Scottish Weddings exhibition.
Riddell said: “We were looking for a brand extension for Homes and Interiors Scotland and we didn’t feel that there was really an up-market home interest exhibition for Scotland.
McEwan added: “It will be a modest start for us, but we have some really good exhibitors on board. It is all top of the range stuff that our readers will want. If you go to the Ideal Homes Show, no disrespect to them, but it is a collection of cheap leather sofas, double glazing companies and oddities. There are some quality stands there but it is a hotchpotch of things and I think they are aware of that.”
“We do not want our exhibition to be like that,” said Riddell. “We want to pitch our exhibition slightly higher than Ideal Homes. Even if you look at a copy of Ideal Homes magazine and a copy of ours you will see it is a different type of advertiser. Ours is more full of quality interior products, up-market sofa companies which is what our readership is looking for. If we can fill a hall at the SECC with those kinds of products and attractions then we believe people will want to come and see it. We are starting with a very modest target for this first exhibition of 6,000 people over the two days.”
McEwan is confident that they can achieve their targets during their first foray into exhibitions: “Country Living did a similar event at the SECC last year and they attracted 12,000 people, and they only have 5,000 readers in Scotland. We have up to three times as many readers in Scotland as they do so we are confident that we can exceed our targets. We are going to be investing a lot in marketing this event. We have sold the event on 6,000 people, so our exhibitors will be happy if we achieve that. You don’t want to be in a position where you say you are going to get 20,000, but they are 20,000 of the wrong sort of people. Better that you get 6,000 of the right people. It’s a careful balance.”
The Wedding Show sold out to exhibitors in a week-and-a-half, and again they are sure that they can transfer the quality of content from the pages of their magazines to the exhibition space at Braehead at the end of September.
International Magazines has hired Spirit Media, Bright PR and SPI Marketing to co-ordinate the marketing to ensure that visitor numbers exceed all expectations. However, they both know that September 2005 is a real make or break month for the company’s exhibition ambitions, as McEwan said: “We will only get one shot at this, so we are spending a lot of time and are bringing in a number of outside consultants, and making sure it is as good a show as we would want to go to. A lot of our exhibitors have never exhibited before so it is a big deal for them and we want it to go well. I am sure we are not going to make everyone happy, but we will try our best to make sure that the exhibitors get a return on their investment. If we can do that then the plan is next year to double the size of it.”
One plan being worked on at the moment is whether to roll the Homes and Interiors brand into the North of England. Another is whether to roll it out into New York – but as both men agree any move across the pond is much further down the line.