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Ink Co-CEO & Founder, Simon Leslie, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “We Support Print Because Print Works.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

June 21, 2018

“We support print because print works. People still love that ephemeral moment of picking up the magazine and flipping through it; that lean-back experience rather than lean-forward. Sometimes it’s nice to get off the screen and have that moment to yourself.” Simon Leslie…

Ink travel media was founded in 1994 and has six offices around the globe. They’re storytellers and sellers of advertising to some of the largest brands in the world today, such as American, Qatar, Etihad and Virgin Airlines. In addition, Ink also sells digital media space to airlines as well. But Joint CEO and Cofounder, Simon Leslie, is not a man to trifle with when it comes to print. He is a firm believer in a high quality ink on paper product and has the numbers to back it up.

As some of you know, I recently attended the IMAG Conference in Boston, hosted by MPA: The Association of Magazine Media. In this, my third and final interview installment of that wonderful experience, Simon graciously gave me some time to sit down with him and pick his brain about the cost effectiveness of print and about the success he and his company have found from not only the printed product, but also benevolence toward their employees and the human race in general. And while we all want to make a profit, including Simon, to him money is not the be all/end all of a company’s success. Not by a long shot.

As you read this interview, you will discover a man who has reached that pivotal moment in his life where success is measured by lives one has touched in a positive way, not by how many zeroes take up space in one’s bank account. And a man who has also found that people, human beings, still enjoy, want and revel in the printed product.

So, sit back and enjoy a conversation that will prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there are still nice people in the world who are definitely print proud and print prosperous – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Simon Leslie, Joint CEO & Cofounder, Ink.

But first the sound-bites:

On what’s going on with Ink today: Michael (Keating) and I started the business 24 years ago. And in 2003 we merged with two other partners and we all took very different roles. And in 2014 we took back control of the business and we’ve really focused on our people, on our process, and on the things that we’re really good at, which are creating great content and selling advertising.

On whether he considers himself an ambassador of print: Am I an ambassador? I’m pro-print; I’m happy that print is doing well, certainly for us as a business. We’re doing a lot of video and we’re producing a lot of content. And whatever format the readers want to consume it in, that’s what we’ll focus on. And today people still love magazines.

On whether Ink will ever do anything but travel media: I get asked that question a lot, you know? Why don’t you do something here or do something there. The more you focus on something, the better you become at it. It’s a process. The best in the world focus on one thing. We have done projects for some of our advertisers because they come to us and say that they love what we do and then ask can we help them? So, I wouldn’t say never, but we’re busy. And we’re seeing lots more opportunity coming from this sector. There are 350 airlines in the world, we do 27 of them. We haven’t really scratched the surface. Now, we do 27 of the best ones, but there are still plenty more to go for and there are plenty of markets that we don’t have a presence in. We are very much mining in those markets, quite aggressively.

On why Ink’s travel content isn’t repurposed for each airline or client: It’s something that we’ve looked at many times; people say why don’t they just repurpose this? But an article that we write on Paris for American is very different than an article we write on Paris for EasyJet. And the same for Etihad and Qatar, we have a different tone. What we agree with the airlines on is this is the person we are targeting, this is their client, this is the area that they want us to focus on, and that way it keeps it spoke on brand. Each airline has their own brand voice, has their own brand that they want to have. Some want to be really quirky, some want to be slick. Some want to be very adventurous, and we work at what the right tone is for each of those magazines.

On whether there has been a moment in his career where he felt as though “this is it – we’ve made it”: (Laughs) That’s a great question. Sometimes I walk through the office and I look around and there are hundreds of people and they’re working and I’ll think: when will they realize that I don’t know what I’m doing? Do you think they’ll ever figure it out? (Laughs) I mean, some of them already have. But it does make me very proud. It makes me proud seeing them achieve amazing things.

In front of the Boston, MA Public Library. This is the last of three interviews I conducted in Boston while attending the MPA: The Association of Magazine Media’s IMAG 2018 conference.

On his people-oriented beliefs and thinking and where that soft spot for his fellow man comes from: You’d have to ask my mother. (Laughs) She obviously brought me up well. You know, I spent 15 years trying to make money and being very much at the cold-face. I left school very early and just wanted to be rich. That’s what I thought anyway. And then something happened in my mid-thirties where I realized…something clicked that said if I wanted to be successful, I had to make sure I worked with people and focused on them, rather than focusing on the profits. And it started to work. And the more it worked, the more I said let’s do more of it.

On whether or not it’s all been a walk in a rose garden or there were some thorns every now and then: (Laughs) There have been lots of thorns. I think you become more resilient as you learn and grow. Once upon a time when the phone rang and you saw your client’s name there, you would think, what’s happened now? But now when the phone rings I’m excited to speak to them. And I don’t have the same fear that something has gone wrong. And I think that just comes from experience and knowing that whatever happens you’re going to deal with it. There is nothing that’s going to happen that one can’t deal with.

On how many magazines he has to publish to reach that complete satisfaction level: I think if you’d said to me three years ago that we’d be where we are today, I would have laughed at you. I was really trying to keep the lights on. And I guess the answer is, I’m satisfied all of the time, but if I stop, I’m letting 300 people down, not one. My ambition, if you have people more ambitious than you, then you shouldn’t be running the business. And that’s the answer. The day that someone is more ambitious than me, and there are a few of them coming through, then it’s time for me to hand over the reins to them and let them take the ship forward.

On anything he’d like to add: I’m excited. I think the market is so ripe for good products, there isn’t a shortage of companies. Companies are starting every day, there are millions and millions of companies and millions and millions of places. What there is a shortage of is people with the ability to go hunt, to go find them.

On how he would like to be remembered: I want them to think that he definitely left me better than he found me, in whatever context, whoever I meet. I always want to give them something that they’ll think was good, and that they didn’t know. And I certainly don’t want to be the cleverest man in any room. If I’m the cleverest man in the room, then I’m in the wrong room.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: If you find me at home, you’ve done a better job than my wife has done. (Laughs) I’ll tell you the thing that’s happened this year which has been great; I swapped my wristwatch for a Fitbit band and I bought one for all of my kids and my wife. And after dinner now we all go for a walk; we walk together, because we want to get to our 10,000-12,000 steps. We’re a bit competitive and we all want to do more than each other. And I have to say, we leave the phones at home and we walk and we talk and we play football and mess around in the park. And that has been the best thing. Too many people sit on the sofa and don’t talk to each other, don’t communicate, don’t ask each other how their day has been and they’re not getting any exercise. So, to me that was a great invention.

On what keeps him up at night: Normally it’s indigestion. (Laughs) I sleep really well. I’m a really good sleeper. I used to only have five to six hours of sleep and now I try to sleep longer, but I can’t. I don’t need that many more hours of sleep. There’s a saying that goes: worry, then you die, don’t worry, then you die. Why worry? (Laughs) It’s not going to change anything.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Simon Leslie, joint CEO & cofounder, Ink.

Samir Husni: Give me an update, where are you now with Ink? Last time we spoke you still had a CEO, and now you’re the joint CEO and things have changed.

Simon Leslie: Michael (Keating) and I started the business 24 years ago. And in 2003 we merged with two other partners and we all took very different roles. And in 2014 we took back control of the business and we’ve really focused on our people, on our process, and on the things that we’re really good at, which are creating great content and selling advertising.

And over the last 12 months, we’ve gotten nine new contracts. We’ve added airlines like Qatar, Etihad, Virgin, Singapore Airlines, some of them the most coolest and prestigious airline brands in the world. And I guess people have now realized that we’re good at what we do and even the biggest and the best airlines in the world are a part of our stable.

Samir Husni: Do you consider yourself now as more of a print ambassador? Because you’re one of the few people in the industry who continue to promote print, who continues to say, look, we’re doing print and we’re getting more contracts in print.

Simon Leslie: Our airlines want to give their customers content to read. If they had a mechanism to deliver that content in a different format, I’m sure we would. We support print because print works. People still love that ephemeral moment of picking up the magazine and flipping through it; that lean-back experience rather than lean-forward. Sometimes it’s nice to get off the screen and have that moment to yourself.

Am I an ambassador? I’m pro-print; I’m happy that print is doing well, certainly for us as a business. We’re doing a lot of video and we’re producing a lot of content. And whatever format the readers want to consume it in, that’s what we’ll focus on. And today people still love magazines.

Samir Husni: You’ve specialized your company. You’ve become “the travel media ambassador.”

Simon Leslie: We are travel media.

Samir Husni: Is that all you’re going to do or never say never?

Simon Leslie: I get asked that question a lot, you know? Why don’t you do something here or do something there. The more you focus on something, the better you become at it. It’s a process. The best in the world focus on one thing. We have done projects for some of our advertisers because they come to us and say that they love what we do and then ask can we help them? So, I wouldn’t say never, but we’re busy. And we’re seeing lots more opportunity coming from this sector. There are 350 airlines in the world, we do 27 of them. We haven’t really scratched the surface. Now, we do 27 of the best ones, but there are still plenty more to go for and there are plenty of markets that we don’t have a presence in. We are very much mining in those markets, quite aggressively.

But I also want to be seen as the place to go when you want to reach a traveler. I want people to think about us as the place to go to find that, both from a research point of view and a content point of view. And then from an advertising point of view of what travel behaviors are like; where the new hotspot is, what Chinese travelers spend their money on, where Indian travelers want to go next. There are a lot of things that we’re picking up during the process of what we do. It’s very interesting.

Samir Husni: Someone might ask why don’t you use the same content in all of these magazines, since the travelers aren’t the same. What do you do to ensure that whatever is in the Etihad magazine or whatever is in the American Way magazine is uniquely designed and created for the American flyer or the Etihad flyer, or each individual airlines’ flyer?

Simon Leslie: It’s something that we’ve looked at many times; people say why don’t they just repurpose this? But an article that we write on Paris for American is very different than an article we write on Paris for EasyJet. And the same for Etihad and Qatar, we have a different tone.

What we agree with the airlines on is this is the person we are targeting, this is their client, this is the area that they want us to focus on, and that way it keeps it spoke on brand. Each airline has their own brand voice, has their own brand that they want to have. Some want to be really quirky, some want to be slick. Some want to be very adventurous, and we work at what the right tone is for each of those magazines.

And each of them have their own dedicated team, both in advertising and editorial, so they really live and breathe the airline so they understand the customer’s behavior. They understand, do they have more short-haul travelers or more long-haul travelers; do they want gourmet; what are their passions; what are the things that really excite them? And then we can make sure the book is filled to the brim with that information.

Samir Husni: Has there been a moment in your recent career, since you started Ink, that you felt – this is it, we’ve made it?

Simon Leslie: (Laughs) That’s a great question. Sometimes I walk through the office and I look around and there are hundreds of people and they’re working and I’ll think: when will they realize that I don’t know what I’m doing? Do you think they’ll ever figure it out? (Laughs) I mean, some of them already have. But it does make me very proud. It makes me proud seeing them achieve amazing things.

One of the things that we’ve really focused on in the last three years is not just doing what we’re doing and making money, but really getting them to give back. Every year 10 people from different offices, people who have probably never met before, they cross the Sahara together. We do two marathons in two days across the Sahara to raise money for charity. Everybody is running, baking; we work with a lot of the homeless missions.

It’s interesting that there’s all this talk about driverless cars and all these amazing things that we’re going to do, but figuring out how to get rid of homeless on the streets might be more valuable. The time consumed on mobiles and social media and everything else is just such wasted time and there are so many good things that could be done that people aren’t even thinking about and I think that’s a crime.

Samir Husni: Each time I talk with you I feel that you have a soft spot about people, about the human race. Where does this come from? You’re a CEO of a major company, a multimillion dollar business, but you’re always thinking about the audience, about the people. You talk about your own people, rather than going through the P&L of your company and all of the money that you’re making. Where does this soft spot come from?

Simon Leslie: You’d have to ask my mother. (Laughs) She obviously brought me up well. You know, I spent 15 years trying to make money and being very much at the cold-face. I left school very early and just wanted to be rich. That’s what I thought anyway. And then something happened in my mid-thirties where I realized…something clicked that said if I wanted to be successful, I had to make sure I worked with people and focused on them, rather than focusing on the profits. And it started to work. And the more it worked, the more I said let’s do more of it.

And I thought about what would motivate me at different phases in my life and if it motivated me, then hopefully I could motivate others with the same stick. And I get asked quite a lot, how do you get this through the Board and how do you get approval to do this? We have sports coaches; we have sports-type holidays; we have physios; I have wellness, sleep and diet coaches; mindfulness coaches, and people are like how do you prove ROI; how do you keep spending on that? And I keep saying that the results are getting better, so we’re clearly doing the right thing.

It’s very hard, and I see this with advertisers as well, they see their competitors in the magazine and they’re saying, yes, but we haven’t got the money to spend. And I say, but they didn’t have the money to spend when they started, they just took a leap of faith.

I was in Melbourne once and I saw a picture, it was called “Leap of Faith.” And I bought it. I took a replica of it and every time I had somebody who said, well, I don’t know – I’d say, here’s a picture called Leap of Faith, come with us on our journey and I think you’ll be okay. And we’ve had a lot of success with it, a few failures, but a lot of success just from people taking a leap of faith, believing what we believe. And that gets you the results, the results come because of the people. We have no assets, for a business, there are very little assets. The assets are our people.

Samir Husni: Has it been a walk in a rose garden since then? Or every now and then do you catch a thorn?

Simon Leslie: (Laughs) There have been lots of thorns. I think you become more resilient as you learn and grow. Once upon a time when the phone rang and you saw your client’s name there, you would think, what’s happened now? But now when the phone rings I’m excited to speak to them. And I don’t have the same fear that something has gone wrong. And I think that just comes from experience and knowing that whatever happens you’re going to deal with it. There is nothing that’s going to happen that one can’t deal with.

Samir Husni: I know you’re satisfied with what you have, but when do you think you’ll reach that complete satisfaction level? When you publish 50 out of the 350 airline magazines? Now you’re at 27, is there a figure in your head or not?

Simon Leslie: I think if you’d said to me three years ago that we’d be where we are today, I would have laughed at you. I was really trying to keep the lights on. And I guess the answer is, I’m satisfied all of the time, but if I stop, I’m letting 300 people down, not one. My ambition, if you have people more ambitious than you, then you shouldn’t be running the business. And that’s the answer. The day that someone is more ambitious than me, and there are a few of them coming through, then it’s time for me to hand over the reins to them and let them take the ship forward.

But as it stands at this minute, I don’t feel like I’m out of second gear, I feel like a 24-year-old startup; I feel more excited than I’ve ever been. We’re having huge successes every month. We’re breaking records. I listen to everyone talking about how print is not doing well and how people are not buying print, and I just tell them it’s not true. I think the biggest problem with the industry is that the industry doesn’t believe enough in its own products. It doesn’t believe in its own story and that’s something they really have to work on.

A lot of people came up to me after my talk at IMAG and told me how much they loved it, but that what I said wouldn’t work in their organization. And I told them that the problem wasn’t their organization.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Simon Leslie: I’m excited. I think the market is so ripe for good products, there isn’t a shortage of companies. Companies are starting every day, there are millions and millions of companies and millions and millions of places. What there is a shortage of is people with the ability to go hunt, to go find them.

Samir Husni: How do you want people to remember you? If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Simon Leslie: I want them to think that he definitely left me better than he found me, in whatever context, whoever I meet. I always want to give them something that they’ll think was good, and that they didn’t know. And I certainly don’t want to be the cleverest man in any room. If I’m the cleverest man in the room, then I’m in the wrong room.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Simon Leslie: If you find me at home, you’ve done a better job than my wife has done. (Laughs) I’ll tell you the thing that’s happened this year which has been great; I swapped my wristwatch for a Fitbit band and I bought one for all of my kids and my wife. And after dinner now we all go for a walk; we walk together, because we want to get to our 10,000-12,000 steps. We’re a bit competitive and we all want to do more than each other. And I have to say, we leave the phones at home and we walk and we talk and we play football and mess around in the park. And that has been the best thing. Too many people sit on the sofa and don’t talk to each other, don’t communicate, don’t ask each other how their day has been and they’re not getting any exercise. So, to me that was a great invention.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Simon Leslie: Normally it’s indigestion. (Laughs) I sleep really well. I’m a really good sleeper. I used to only have five to six hours of sleep and now I try to sleep longer, but I can’t. I don’t need that many more hours of sleep. There’s a saying that goes: worry, then you die, don’t worry, then you die. Why worry? (Laughs) It’s not going to change anything.

And I don’t look at my phone first thing in the morning. That’s probably one of the best things; I used to wake up and look at the phone, therefore you start your day dealing with problems way before you need to. So now, I wake up in the morning, if my wife is there I give her a kiss, and I leave the phone until I’m ready to start the day. I’ve had my juice and take my tablets and I’m prepared for whatever it is. And do you know what the funny thing is? Most of the time there’s nothing there to be prepared for, because things are running the way you want them to.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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One comment

  1. […] an interview with Mr. Magazine, Simon Leslie, the joint CEO and co-founder of inflight magazine publisher Ink, suggests that even […]



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