Ten snapshots from the PPA Festival

‘This place has a history of tobacco, slaves and caged animals,’ said PPA CEO Barry McIlheney, welcoming 700 guests to London’s Tobacco Dock for this year’s PPA Festival. ‘That makes it the ideal location for a publishing conference.’

With six stages, more than a hundred speakers and every imaginable topic covered, there was a wealth of brain food to dip into. And the airy, festival feel complemented a sense that, for the first time in decades, magazine publishers have a little bit of a spring in their step.

The humbling of Facebook et al over fake news, dodgy statistics, lack of control over advertising and terrorist/criminal content, means the magazine sector is regaining a little of its underappreciated appeal. When it comes to trust, engagement, reader relationship and measurement, the Festival featured numerous powerful stories for brands and media agencies to take note of – particularly the programme on the Magnetic stage.



But there was a lot else to enjoy too – everything from Loaded founder James Brown speaking unexpectedly movingly about the personal dynamics of five-a-side football, to sessions on yoga and mental health. Meanwhile, all the ‘must have’ topics – data, subs, sales, e-commerce, video, events, content marketing etc. – were tackled with imagination and purpose (brilliantly curated by Festival Director Andy Cowles).



Apart from having the opportunity to speak about our World Whisky Day project on the Innovate stage (by the way, it’s on Saturday 20 May – so get the drams in), I weaved around all day, and was never disappointed. Here are 10 random observations from speakers that I jotted down when I wasn’t eating hot dogs, having my cover picture taken for NME or threading 150 chocolate raisins onto cocktail sticks for our evening whisky tasting session. 



1. You can trust us

“People had forgotten about the value of trust but recent developments have brought that back into focus. Readers trust magazines.”


Abby Carvosso, Bauer Media

2. The new kids on the block are now on the naughty step

“How did we get to the point where intrusive marketing was regarded as okay? How did we forget about the importance of context? How did we lose sight of the brand and get so transactional?”


Sue Elms, Skin The Cat

3. We are the gold standard

“In magazine publishing, we have gold standard measurement. Compare that to the murky supply chain of fake news and fraudulent analytics.”


Marcus Rich, Time Inc

4. Are recent Facebook press ads merely sticking lipstick on a pig?

“Trust is what you do, not what you say. Comms is what you say, not what you do. Comms can’t solve the trust problem on its own – it has to go higher up the chain.”


Dominic Mills, media commentator

5. Shake up your network

“Good leaders build a genuinely diverse network. Are you just networking with the same type of people all the time or are you challenging yourself by broadening your horizons?”


James Tye, Dennis Publishing

6. Involve your competitors

“If you want to create a genuine industry event, you need to involve your competitors – however painful that may be.”


Jonny Sullens, Future

7. Content marketing isn’t advertorial

“Publishers who dabble in content for clients can never compete with content marketing agencies. This isn’t stuff you knock up at lunchtime, which is how many publishers have traditionally treated ‘advertorial’.”


Marie O’Riordan, John Brown Media

8. Most brands can’t create great content on their own

“For some brands such as Aesos, it makes sense to invest heavily in content. For others, it’s not – either because they wouldn’t be able to attract quality staff to work for them or because it wouldn’t make financial sense. It hasn’t stopped many from trying though.”


Nic McCarthy, Seven

9. Just use your phone

“Because the majority of video is watched on the phone, it often looks better if it’s shot on a phone. A lot of our video is.”


Conrad Quilty-Harper, Condé Nast Publishing

10. Anyone fancy a game of football?

“Publishing teams should play football together. It’s much easier to ask a favour from someone in the editorial department if you’ve laid on the perfect cross to them at lunchtime. And tensions build up in magazine publishing. Sometimes you just need to kick the shit out of each other.”


James Brown, Provocateur