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Can Mag Body Get It Together?

B & T Weekly | 28 March 2008

Publishers Australia is making moves to boost its profile and the profile of its niche-publishing members. Critics have said it has been too quiet – will this now change? Olivia Collings reports.

FOR DECADES, members of the niche, specialist and business print media have been waiting for their industry association to stand up and make some noise. For 43 years, they've been in the main disappointed, but with a new name and a new man at the helm, is it now Publishers Australia's time?

The industry body has announced some major changes to keep up with what is happening in the industry and to be more supportive for its members. The association, which was established in 1964, was last year re-badged as Publishers Australia, after previously being known as Australian Business and Specialist Publishers Ltd.

Publishers Australia has more than 100 members across the country ranging from small boutique specialist publishing houses to large multi title houses such as the publisher of B&T , Reed Business Information.

The name change was the first of many changes in 2007 including five new board members appointed to the panel of eight in October. And earlier this month the association appointed a new executive director, Alan Sarkissian, replacing the long-serving Chris Tchakalian. Publishers Australia acknowledges it has a long way to go before it gets the kudos of its larger and better known rival Magazine Publishers of Australia (which represents larger publishers such as ACP and Pacific Magazines).

Geoff Hird, chairman of Publishers Australia, says he hopes the new directors and the new executive director would provide an, “opportunity to raise the profile of niche, targeted business and consumer media and better communicate the value of same to the media buying and distribution sectors”.

Hird admits the association needs to do more listening to its members' needs. That involves more networking opportunities, a stronger education and mentoring program, and a higher profile to the general media industry.

Those on the board see these changes as an opportunity to re-position the association within the market place and further push the opportunities available to its members.

Janice Williams, new director and associate publisher at Universal Magazines, believes the time is right for the industry to push forward together. “We need to, as an association, communicate to marketers what can be achieved by niche publications,” she says.

Fiona Hardie, Hardie Grant Magazine managing director, says she would like to see the association introduce changes to make it more valuable to members. “It would be nice for us to have more industry support and networking opportunities, other industry associations provide training to its members and lobby governments, but Publishers Australia does not.”

Hardie says for her, the main benefit has been the annual Bell Awards at which her publications have been regular winners. She says she has doubts about the value of being with PA but decided to stay with the association after a meeting with Sarkissian earlier this month. “They said they would provide a greater amount of information to members and have a website and newsletters. I think a lot of small publishers work in isolation and the association provides an opportunity to network new ideas and experiences with others in the industry,” she says.

Mick Paskos, former board member and managing editor at the Law Institute of Victoria, says he believes the association is heading in the right direction and had already made some big improvements for its members by the time he left the board in early 2007. His aim in joining the board in 2005 was to improve the services of the association for Melbourne-based members like himself, some thing he believes he achieved, with more visits from Tchakalian to the Melbourne meetings and some board meetings moved to Melbourne.

Wilson da Silva, Luna Media's editor-in-chief, is new to the organisation and is pleased to share problems with other publishers but he cites the lack of public visibility of Publishers Australia as an association, and the Bell Awards, as two of its main downfalls. He would also like to see Publishers Australia more active as a lobby group for the industry and as a media commentator on pressing issues of the day for its members.

These are some of the considerations new board member Chris Bishop, from Media Titles, will need to consider in 2008.

“We are in the process of going through some major changes to take the association forward and give it a higher profile,” he says.

While he is enthusiastic about the future, he says there are some major issues the association needs to deal with: “It has been historically difficult to come up with a set of benefits to meet the needs of all members. Our vision is to drive the resources of the association and generate resources so we can better organise functions and improve overall resources. I can understand people having felt that they needed to do this.”

There are high expectations Sarkissian will be the one to lead the association into the new territory with his experiences at PANPA (Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers Association) and previous roles as chairman, director and NSW president of the Australian Marketing Institute. He also has experience in both B2B and consumer magazine publishing.

Sarkissian believes the association has a lot of potential and hopes to take it to new ground. “There is a lot of loyalty in the association and I want to work with that,” he says.

Chairman Hird says niche, targeted media is the media of tomorrow – both for consumers and marketers, and there are many success stories that will come from our ranks in the coming year to strongly support this claim,” he says. n•Industry bodies rated, page 20.


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