Made With INK (Globally): Five New Magazines Landing At An Airplane Near You! The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Michael Keating, CEO & Co-Founder, INKJanuary 14, 2015
Content In The Sky Has Never Looked Or Read Better
“Our particular niche, which is inflight magazines, bucks trends because more and more people are traveling each year, so in fact, where you might have a decline in newsstand titles, we’re actually getting more readers.” Michael Keating
Michael is responsible for establishing new business relationships and partnerships with airlines and railways and began his career in radio and television, working for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and MTV. He went on to co-found Pacific, an independent television production company and co-founded Ink with Simon Leslie in 1994.
Today, with a staff of more than 400 people, Ink creates award-winning media and builds innovative technology to provide more than 100 differentiated products across airlines and rail partners.
I spoke with Michael recently about this pie-in-the-sky publishing empire of his and how the success of inflight magazines, from content to advertisement, is a positive outlook and statement to all print publishers. We talked about his beginnings, the present, and the future of Ink Global. Having just won the American Airlines contract recently; the company’s future certainly looks brighter than ever.
So sit back, fasten your seatbelts please, and get ready to enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Michael Keating, CEO and Founder, Ink Global.
But first the sound-bites:
On the expansion of his print empire in a digital age: Our particular niche, which is inflight magazines, bucks trends because more and more people are traveling each year, so in fact, where you might have a decline in newsstand titles, we’re actually getting more readers.
On his strategy to continue the upward trend of inflight magazines: It’s true; you do have to vie for people’s attention, but just because someone may be watching a movie on their own device doesn’t mean they don’t read the magazines. You know, TV screens have always existed on the long-haul flights, so I don’t believe that people only do one thing.
On the significant differences between all the magazines Ink publishes: We never recycle the editorials; they’re really written for their own specific brand with that particular magazine’s audience in mind.
On the advertising outlook with inflight magazines: Our advertisers get a very good response; otherwise they wouldn’t keep coming back.
On expanding the presence of Ink Global in the United States: When we won American, part of the terms of the contract was to have a local presence in Dallas because their headquarters are here.
On his move from broadcast journalism to print: I went to Lebanon to do this news item and I met a gentleman who was starting a new airline called British Mediterranean Airways.
On the major stumbling block he’s had to face: Not every single magazine we’ve undertaken has been a success. In some instances, when we found it very difficult to sell advertising in a particular market, that was a big stumbling block.
On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night is often what happens around a launch period. If you think about at the first of January we have to have American Way on the planes and we have to have Ronda and Excelente on the planes as well, launching three major titles in exactly the same week causes me a few sleepless nights.
And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine conversation with Michael Keating, CEO and Founder, Ink Global…Samir Husni: I was recently on your website and I saw the new magazines that have been launched. In launching those titles what were you thinking about, simply trying to expand your print empire of travel-related titles in an age where everyone else is saying print is in decline?
Michael Keating: Our particular niche, which is inflight magazines, bucks trends because more and more people are traveling each year, so in fact, where you might have a decline in newsstand titles, we’re actually getting more readers. In the case of American Airlines, with the recent merger with U.S. Airways, their annual passenger numbers will reach around 200 million, so inflight readership is growing.
Samir Husni: We used to say that the inflight magazines were read by a captive audience, but now in a digital age, where people are bringing their iPads or their smartphones or tablets that is no longer apropos of the situation. So, what’s your strategy to continue this upward trend with inflight magazines?
Michael Keating: It’s true; you do have to vie for people’s attention, but just because someone may be watching a movie on their own device doesn’t mean they don’t read the magazines. TV screens have always existed on the long-haul flights, so I don’t believe that people only do one thing. They’ll get on a flight and have a nice meal, a glass of wine, read a book or a newspaper that they brought with them or watch a movie, but they’ll still pick up the magazine. We actually have a head of insight called Kevin Miller who is very experienced in doing research having worked for JC Decaux Airport,and we know that readership is exceptionally high.
Of course, I would like to think it’s just for excellent high-quality editorial, but people also love looking at the route maps and there is certain essential information that’s also in the magazines. And with low-cost carriers, when they’re selling food or drink onboard, they’ll often put a lot of the menu information into the magazine as well.
Despite the fact that I would love to think that every single passenger is picking it up only because of the entertaining features, sometimes they want simply to know how much a cup of coffee is or a sandwich and they’ll pick it up.
But once the magazine is in people’s hands, of course then it’s the job of our creative teams to make sure that passengers engage with it. Once in their hands they’ll have a flip-through or want to read the features that are presented. And in some instances, destination guides, like an EasyJet magazine, for example, there are more than 30 pages of city information in the back, so some of that is practical information, like really good restaurants and bar advice. Those destination guides are written by locals who live in each city. We have over 130 freelance writers on the easyJet network who all reside in those cities so it really is good local information.
Samir Husni: One of the things I’ve noticed is that American Way is completely different than Ronda; Ronda is different than Excelente and the same with the other magazines that you publish. Tell me about Ink Global, which you’re celebrating the 21st year of starting the company and what’s your strategy of growth and your plan for conquering the travel market?
Michael Keating: Yes, the magazines are completely different for every single airline. The first thing that we have to do is consider that particular brand, and clearly even the way in which we approach writing about a city would be completely different. For example, we do the Eurostar, which is the premium train between London, Paris and Brussels. And it’s bilingual, English and French. So, if we were writing a story on Paris for the Eurostar magazine, where there is an awful lot of Parisians traveling on the train, clearly the story would be differently positioned than if writing for American Way. What Americans want to do when visiting Paris is quite different to a local.
Again that would be different to easyJet from Iberia, for example. What might Spanish passengers want to do in Paris? Everything is completely tailored for the audience. I have a dedicated editorial team for each publication, so with any contract we’ll go out and hire dedicated editors, art directors to only work on that magazine. It’s not a shared resource. We never recycle the editorials; they’re really written for their own specific brand with that particular magazine’s audience in mind.
Samir Husni: What about the advertising market? I heard an agency executive last month on our National Public Radio saying that she doesn’t see anyone coming to her offices and asking to advertise in print. What’s your reaction to such a statement?
Michael Keating: Our advertisers get a very good response; otherwise they wouldn’t keep coming back. You just have to look at the number of series advertisers, those that will take multiple issues or in some instances annual contracts with the magazine. They wouldn’t be spending the money if they weren’t getting a good response.
In fact, we had a real estate advertiser form Spain who had taken space in the EasyJet magazine and they got a better response from easyJet Traveller than the Sunday Times, a big national newspaper in the U.K.
Why, because the people who may actually want to buy a second home in Spain; they’re more likely to get a response from people who are actually flying on an airplane to Spain than someone sitting in their armchair at home. It’s putting the right message in front of the right people at the right time.
Samir Husni: I noticed that you’re opening offices in Dallas and Miami…
Michael Keating: Yes, I’m talking to you from our Dallas office now.
Samir Husni: Are you expanding the presence of Ink Global in the United States?
Michael Keating: The expansion has been very recent because we won the contract for American Airlines. We’ve had offices for the last six years in New York, in Dumbo, Brooklyn and Atlanta. Atlanta is a sales office and New York is editorial. We placed the editorial staff in New York because there is great creative talent in the city.
When we won American, part of the terms of the contract was to have a local presence in Dallas because their headquarters are here. And we had to take on some of the existing staff because American Airlines has been published in-house for the past 48 years. So, this is really quite a departure for them to outsource it. And part of the deal was that we would take on some of their existing staff and would supplement that staff base with some exciting new talent.
We decided to open in Miami because one of the American Airlines publications is called Nexos and is bi-lingual, Spanish and Portuguese. The whole South American market is hugely important to the airline, that’s why they have a Spanish and Portuguese publication. So we needed to have some Spanish-speaking staff and Miami is a great place to recruit
Samir Husni: In 1994 when you co-founded Ink Global, your background was in broadcast; if you can recall that moment where you and Simon Leslie decided to found Ink Global, what made you move from broadcast journalism to print?
I went to Lebanon to do this news item and I met a gentleman who was starting a new airline called British Mediterranean Airways. They started with one plane and one route, which was London to Beirut. He was there and he said, “Oh, you know about television; I’m going to need someone to do my inflight entertainment.”
We had a discussion and sure enough, I starting licensing movies and producing some audio/visual content for the airline. I knew Simon Leslie at the time because I was doing some writing for him, and I said to him “There is this start-up airline that I’m doing the inflight entertainment for and they need a magazine. Shall we go into business together? And that was the start of Ink Global. Such humble beginnings from a bar in Beirut!” A city obviously close to your heart.
Samir Husni: Indeed. You just took the words out of my mouth, being originally from Lebanon. (Laughs) That’s a perfect story for me.
Michael Keating: And then the airline expanded. It started operating to Amman, Damascus and Alexandria and the commercial director of that airline went on to be the commercial director of Branson’s then-European operation, Virgin Express. He called me and asked, “Do you want to do this Belgium-based airline, Virgin Express?” And I said, yes, please. So, I got that one as well.
And then we also did the magazine for an African airline called Alliance Air which doesn’t exist anymore. That was an alliance between the governments of South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. So, you can probably take a guess why that airline doesn’t exist anymore.
So, we did Alliance Air, picked up easyJet and just kept adding more and more airlines. I really like the vertical. There is an argument that if you’re doing well in a particular field, then keep going and replicate success. Travel has always been a passion and being able to turn that into a career, has been a joy. The way we carved up the workload was that I focused on the creative side of the business and Simon Leslie would look after advertising sales.
Samir Husni: One thing that I’m interested in knowing is what was the major stumbling block? Your story can’t be all one success after the other; what was your major stumbling block and how did you overcome it?
Michael Keating: Not every single magazine we’ve undertaken has been a success. In some instances, when we found it very difficult to sell advertising in a particular market. Many people probably have the idea that airlines take out a nice, big, fat checkbook and pay us a huge amount of money to produce these publications. The reality is different in that they have to be 100% funded through advertising. That’s why I also think that the quality of the editorial and the design has dramatically changed over the decades in the sense that a long time ago the airlines would pay and these publications were completely created by a marketing department. They weren’t particularly commercial and they may not have been so nicely designed.
These days they have to be as good as or even better than newsstand-quality publications because the advertisers demand it. It’s also what passengers expect.
Samir Husni: From the magazines that I’ve seen it’s really great work, both editorially and in the design. My typical last question; what keeps Michael up at night, besides the time difference now?
Michael Keating: Michael Keating: (Laughs) That is often the problem with running a global operation because you literally can be chatting with one of the offices at all times of the day and night.
But what keeps me up at night is often what happens around a launch period. If you think that on the first of January American Way, Ronda and Excelente, all had to launch on the same day, that caused a a few sleepless nights. But I was delighted with the results.
I think in the case of Ronda and Excelente, the team has produced something that’s really quite different and it’s a great accolade to them; the fact that they’ve created something very unique. Especially with Excelente, as it’s not like any other inflight magazine that I’ve ever seen before. I think there are some really clever ideas in there.
Samir Husni: Thank you.