Pockets of excellence: From a single plumbing magazine to an empire
Back in 1995, Macnamara found himself without a job after the company he was working for was facing liquidation. In a bold move he decided to put in an offer for the faltering company. The liquidation process took a year to complete, but at the end of it his offer was accepted and he found himself as the new owner. In Macnamara’s words, “I had a title, which I knew nothing about, and no money.” But he did have 45 years’ experience in technical publishing. That title was Plumbing Africa, a joint venture created by a South African and a German publishing house, and is still around today. The difference is, now it is not alone. Interact Media Defined, through a combination of acquisitions and original creations, now has a stable of five publications, each catering for different service industries. These include refrigeration and air-conditioning, emergency services, plumbing and mining.
Macnamara says, it was a “long road to build plumbing Africa back up, after the company went into liquidation.” But the journey was a success. He says that the title has survived so long for two reasons. Firstly it is because the magazine explores a topic which is not thought about or discussed much and is a lot more complex than people initially think. As Macnamara put it, “it’s not a dinner subject.”
Secondly, it is because of how the magazine presents plumbing in a broader context. The publication is the official journal of the Institute of Plumbing SA. Macnamara says the success of all the magazines under the Interact Media Defined umbrella can be attributed to “the way the magazines and the group are involved with the industries they discuss.” He says that as a trade publication you have to be involved and the success of the publication and the success of the industry are intrinsically linked. He also added that another advantage is that “there are no direct magazine competitors.”
But it has not been all smooth sailing, particularly lately. Macnamara says one of the challenges is laws that politicians have made, which in his view are anti-small and medium business. But he says the biggest challenge has been the South African Post Office (SAPO). He explained that, with SAPO being the main form of distribution for publishers, any disruptions it sees has major consequences for them. Last year 29 publishers banded together after the SAPO strike to try and resolve the issues. Only this week, was the case heard. He also said that for Interact Media Defined, postage costs are now number two on the budget, almost as important as salaries. But Macnamara says the business has been looking for and testing alternatives to get its products out.
And a major benefit has emerged from all the chaos at SAPO. Macnamara says, “Electronic media has been the biggest success in the last year or two. We are now sending digital copies of our magazines into Africa. The crash in the Post Office forced us to move quicker with digital into Africa than we had planned, but it was inevitable.”
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