‘The beauty of the Congress is that it’s the decision-makers who go’ – interview with Chris Llewellyn

FIPP president and CEO Chris Llewellyn looks forward to the FIPP World Magazine Congress in Rome in September.

Join us in Rome, Italy for the 39th FIPP World Magazine Congress on 23-25 September 2013.

Is there a theme for this year’s conference?

There’s no particular theme. The FIPP World Magazine Congress is the place where the industry’s most important people gather, and the programme addresses the hottest topics, bearing in mind that the reason FIPP exists is to keep members informed so they can create better businesses.

Conference themes in the past have had titles such as, ‘Magazines – the avant-garde of society’. It’s the type of statement which no one remembers and usually doesn’t have much to do with the actual programme. What’s hot at the moment? What will help me to run my business better? What information do I need? What experiences do I want to share with the speakers? Those are the themes.

What benefits do delegates derive from attending the congress?

The benefits have not changed enormously. I went to my first FIPP congress in 1987 in Paris as a bright, thrusting young executive, as the research director for Emap in London, working on new project developments. I met really clever people from around the world talking about case studies and magazine industry trends, and I discovered two things.

One was that the presentations themselves really opened your eyes. 

For a national publisher suddenly to realise that there was a bigger world out there was very exciting. The second thing was unexpected – I realised that the congress was a great networking event. I met people there that I’ve stayed in touch with for a long, long time. You learn almost more at the coffee breaks and from lunches with other delegates than you do from the presentations. You can get into deep conversation about whatever topics interest you, and you’re speaking to like-minded, experienced individuals.

European countries, including Italy, are experiencing difficult economic times. Why is the Congress returning to Rome for a third time?

Three times in 88 years is hardly regular!  More seriously, Rome is a tremendously popular destination. I go around the world speaking to people, and they’re very excited about going there. The social side of the conference will be set against the background of the eternal city. What’s there not to like?

Will Europe’s problems affect the content of the congress?

It’s really hard to tell. The market is quite challenging in Italy at the moment, but publishers there recognize that a conference that celebrates the strength of magazines is perhaps the ideal way to show confidence in the medium to the advertising community. So many international advertisers are based in Italy, if you think of all the fashion, beauty and home decor brands. They’re global players, they can see that the magazine world is supporting Italy, and the conference will have lots of positive case studies. When times are tough, people want to come together to wave the flag of confidence.

What are the hot trends in magazine media now?

I’ve noticed a significant shift in the last six to nine months, in that the way the consumer is demanding digital content is moving faster than some publishers expected it to move. The analogue world, the print world, still has opportunities and magazines are still being launched. But the trend that I don’t think all publishers have realized is the speed of change – the consumer wants content in a digital form.

This has echoes of what happened recently to B2B publishers. They saw the digital train coming, but they didn’t realize how fast it was coming and almost missed it. Consumer publishers have got a lot to learn from the B2B experience. That’s why at the Rome conference we’ve introduced more sessions to allow more B2B experiences to be discussed.

The message I want to get over is, our digital future is no longer in the future – it’s our digital present. If you’re not experimenting with digital now, you’re too late.

Will the magazine media industry ever be able to make the kind of profits from digital publishing that it has done from print?

Some magazine media groups are growing profits from digital. Are the margins the same as in successful magazine print businesses? No, but that’s an issue of timing. Magazine businesses have existed for about 300 years. Three hundred years! That business model was refined and refined and refined, so people knew exactly how to make money.

The digital world really changed in 2010 with the introduction of tablets, so we’ve had that world for only three years. It’s been a time of experiments: some have failed, some have succeeded  The business models are in their infancy.

Will we make good money from digital? Yes, but I repeat – it’s a matter of time. It’s a question of understanding best practices and sharing knowledge. Eventually there will be highly profitable businesses. Some of our sessions at the conference will talk about the business models that are working. Again, the fundamental role of FIPP and the congress is to share knowledge and best practice, all with the aim of helping you to create a better business.

How much brand licensing takes place at the congress?

FIPP’s Worldwide Media Marketplace is a specific licensing event, but at the World Magazine Congress there will be conversations that lead to business opportunities. When I was running around the world with FHM, I went to the congress in Hamburg in 1999, and my colleague Simon Greaves and I did seven deals. That element of doing business has always been there. The beauty of the congress is that it’s the decision-makers who go. You’re not talking to people who have to go back and get permission. I fully expect that more deals will be done.

Is the pace of licensing slowing down?

The international licensing of magazines started seriously in about 1995, and it really picked up during the 2000s. There’s a couple of reasons for that:

Content can now be delivered digitally, in real time. Previously, editors had to make copies of transparencies, which had to be physically posted;

The opening up of the Asian and Eastern European markets. These two regions particularly wanted the developed markets’ brands, because advertisers recognized an Elle, a Marie Clare, Men’s Health, GQ, FHM, Vogue, before a local brand.

In terms of print licensing, we appear to have reached something of a plateau, looking at the figures for launches around the world. There’s still significant brand licensing going on, but people are now talking about licensing brands on different platforms. This trend is still young, and we’re having to face new problems, such as issues of frequency and piracy.

The licensing and syndication of print magazines is changing, but it’s not quite clear how just yet. Even so there are still about 100 cross-border launches a year, which is the equivalent of two launches a week on average.

Do you have great memories of particular World Magazine Conferences?

There are so many! I remember hearing for the first time about this amazing magazine called Wired, in 1995 in Amsterdam. At that time it was the fastest growing magazine in the USA. I remember meeting sumo wrestlers in Tokyo in 1997, and speaking at a FIPP congress for the first time in Rio in 2001. In 2003 in Paris we ran a video link with Beijing because the Sars crisis prevented the Chinese delegates from travelling, and in 2005 there was a magnificent firework display on Ellis Island in New York.

Are there plans to merge FIPP’s Digital Innovators’ Summit with the World Magazine Congress?

The Digital Innovators’ Summit is a special event designed specifically to help publishers on their digital journey by presenting case studies, often from companies that they won’t have heard of before. It’s FIPP’s  task to introduce new thinking and new ways of doing things that publishers may not ordinarily come across.

This is different to what the World Magazine Congress does. There, it’s the industry talking about best practices, although usually there will also be sessions on innovation.

How would you describe your job at FIPP?

My role is to find people who have something to say, and introduce them to people who might want to listen.

Chris Llewellyn: CV

1977    Sheffield Newspapers, UK: publicity manager

1980    Emap National Publications, UK: brand manager, marketing and R&D roles

1985    Emap PLC: group research director. 

1988    Emap National Publications: managing director roles

1992    Emap France – directeur général . 

1998    Emap International: managing director. 

2008    Bauer Media (Emap Consumer Media to 2008): international managing director

2009   FIPP: president and CEO

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