I started my professional life in 1986 as a magazine journalist, working either freelance or full time on a range of magazines that included The Voice, Record Mirror, Pop Shop, FHM, Rage, Cosmopolitan, Bella, Top 40 (South Africa) and others. I moved to the Internet in 1996, working for Computing, then MSN, then on to a number of projects through a start-up incubator. I work as Services Director at Vertical Leap.
I publish this blog because I like to share the business, marketing and publishing experience I have gleaned from my years in the industry; as well as stories I think are interesting.
Let me tell you a story
1985 – the year of Live Aid, of learning to drive and of finishing A levels. I didn’t have an idea what to do next, but I did enjoy putting together a cheap college magazine, so I applied to the London College of Printing (now called the London College of Communication) and was accepted for a one-year magazine training course.
This led to some work experience writing freelance pieces and doing sub-editing stints at the likes of Chat, Girl About Town and The Voice. Before my college year ended, I was offered a job at The Voice as a sub-editor, working on the weekend entertainment insert. This morphed into a start-up magazine called The Cover, which only ran to two issues before the publisher, Val McCalla, decided to close it.
In the freelance wilderness
Forced into the wilderness, I found some freelance commissions as well as some sub-editing gigs. Being a sub-25-year-old journalist, I was proud of getting commissions from Chat (for a cover interview with Julio Iglesias) and Take That magazine (an interview with tennis player Annabel Croft).
I also managed to fill my week with a two-day stint sub-editing for Record Mirror and three days at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (now named Action on Hearing Loss). I learned a lot in that job about magazine layout. The RNID magazine, Soundbarrier, had just bought new Apple Macs, equipped with Aldus PageMaker.
Record Mirror was a great magazine with a good team of music journos, and I got to go to some great concerts to write reviews (including Barry White, David Lee Roth, Bobby Brown) and did a couple of interesting interviews – the most memorable being with Fine Young Cannibals.
PopShop and the world of Barry Cain
A colleague from The Voice introduced me to Barry Cain, who was publishing a magazine called PopShop in the same building as Record Mirror. I was offered the job of production and news editor. This was a great time to work in music magazines – with regular invites to movie screenings and new artist launches at Ronnie Scott’s over lunch.
Barry had made his mark as a music journalist before launching the innovative Flexipop magazine – which I had bought as a teenager. He’s more recently been reliving his music journo youth by writing books reliving past interviews. Look up 77 on the Sulphate Strip and 57 Varieties of Talk Soup.
The publishers of PopShop (Maxwell Consumer Magazines), once Barry had left, decided to change the title and so Rage was born. By this time, I had started writing a contributor column for Top Forty magazine, based in South Africa, and I was phoning in pop gossip to a Saturday morning radio show, which the column’s sponsor was paying for.
The South Africa adventure
In 1991, I moved to South Africa with my wife, who had family in Johannesburg, to take up editorship of Top Forty and later a magazine called CD International. My four years in RSA were great because I got to meet many interesting people – Johnny Clegg, Sipho Mabuse, Manfred Mann, Lucky Dube, not to mention visiting pop stars like Shaggy, Tony Hadley, OMD, Duran Duran and Richie Sambora.
We also got to see Elton John play the Lost City, Sting play Sun City and The Rolling Stones play Ellis Park. In the last of my four years in Jo’burg, I did some PR work for a couple of record companies and took on the role of designer/production editor for the South African edition of Playgirl.
I moved back to London in 1995 and began sub-editing shifts again. I spent three months at FHM, followed by a couple of months at Top of the Pops magazine, and shifts at several women’s magazines – Cosmo, She, Bella, Company, Take a Break – before I was offered a full-time position at Bella.
Sadly, the editor decided that sub-editors were no longer needed (they were). So, bye bye team of eight subs and hello to a new job at Eva magazine.
The internet changed everything for me
I’d been dabbling with HTML at home since 1996 and my first website was a curation of media jobs published in the UK. My second site was a tribute to my first daughter, born in 1997. I used to publish a new photo and an update each month.
Because I loved publishing more than just writing, I knew that it was a lot easier to become an online publisher than go through the expense and pain of trying to launch something in print, so I changed my career slightly – taking a job as web editor for Computing newspaper. At the time, Computing, and its publisher VNU, was only dabbling in web publishing and my job was to build up a site.
This led me to a role as IT editor at MSN.co.uk, where I spent a happy eleven months working with an amazing team before being poached by a dotcom startup.
It was 1999 and the dotcom rush was taking off big time. Google was established and Freeserve had broken the mould of internet connectivity with free internet (ie, no monthly fees, only dial-up charges).
There were no smart phones – the only internet you could get on a phone was WAP. Everything took ages to load, so the idea of video content was a pipe dream.
The dotcom start-up that poached me was BlueCarrots.com (as online director), which morphed into an incubator in 2000, floating on the AIM exchange in record time, raising £10m. During this time, I was a non-exec director of several investee companies (most of whom no longer exist) and a mixture of marketing consultant, business analyst and publisher.
There are still some stories from that time online:
- Guardian: Service charge not included
- The Register: Cube8 forms commercial relationship with teenage dotcom millionaire
- Investegate: Sale of 61% of Freeloader.com
Cube8’s slide started the week after it floated on AIM – the week when LastMinute.com floated, causing analysts to say it was over-priced. This led to other investors questioning the value of dotcom companies. A year after it launched, Cube8 was swallowed in a reverse merger.
12 years as a digital jack of all trades
I worked for myself for 12 years, on a mixture of consulting, website design and construction and even a bit of print publishing. I didn’t know if I was a marketing specialist, a publisher, or a consultant. I was whichever I needed to be for the clients I handled.
During my solo years I started and later closed a fantasy sports site called Fantasy Scoreboard. I launched Prize Engine, later buying Prizes.co.uk and merging them together before selling that on to another company. I fell into a relationship with UK Parents, the first UK parenting forum that had been set up by Helen Barbour, of the Barbour clothing family.
The advent of Facebook killed off opportunities for forums that weren’t as well-established as Mumsnet or Netmums, so I focused more on other clients – Jackpot Joy in its early days; running the weekly lottery website for Age Concern; managing a weekly newsletter for adult retailer Blissbox; Creating and managing websites for Poker Channel and Poker Heaven, before they out-grew me.
A sojourn to Portugal
Since I married my Portuguese wife in 1989, I have regarded Porto as my second home. It’s where my heart is (after Bristol, where I spent most of my childhood years).
After many years of considering a move there, we finally did it in 2009 – packing up our daughters in the car and driving through southern England, the length of France and Spain to Porto, which was our home for the next two years.
Most of the paying work I received while there was coming from the UK and the rest of the family were all homesick for the UK, so we returned – moving to Gosport to be near other members of the family. I still love Portugal and wish I could visit more – but I stay in touch through my Portugal Travel Tips website.
Not long after that, I received a phone call inviting me to an interview at Vertical Leap. I’ve been there since January 2012.