COMMENT: Why can’t the MPA and Publishers Australia get it on already?

Yesterday’s news that Australia’s big publishers have pretty much given up on their industry marketing body shouldn’t have been a big surprise.  

Even if it is a tad ironic to be lecturing their customers about the importance of maintaining marketing spend in a downturn while taking the axe to marketing their medium. (Because, and I quote: “the MPA had taken advice and decided that running advertising campaigns was not a worthwhile endeavour”. Imagine if a client said that.)

According to the Fin’s story yesterday, it was also because “getting MPA’s members to agree on anything was always very hard work” and because “ACP and Pacific are big enough to market the magazine medium in their own right”. Hard to guess the source of the comments, although it’s interesting to note that on the previous page, journalist Neil Shoebridge quoted ACP’s Phil Scott and Pacific Magazines’ Nick Chan. Poor old News Magazines doesn’t get a look in.

And along with the death of a joint marketing effort, goes the MPA Awards, which used to be quite a swanky night, even if Pacific and ACP used to take it in turns to walk up to the stage to pick up their trophies. I think that’s what MPA chairman Chan means when he talks about the “cynical” views of the awards in yesterday’s B&T Today.

Yet the obvious opportunity to give the magazines a credible awards is right under their noses – the country has a second trade body for magazines – Publishers Australia. This tends to consist of B2B titles and the smaller players.

That’s mainly on account of the MPA being a closed shop, only open to the largest players – at last count, just the seven of them.

Publishers Australia even does its own, reasonable credible, awards. And while not as glamorous as the MPA bash (it’s at lunchtime, and if the welcome speech from sponsor Geon had gone on any longer I’d have stabbed myself in the eye with my fork), the Bell Awards gets a good turnout.

Imagine if you merged the two events – you’d have decent levels of competition, a huge turnout, and the sort of gathering that would become a great advert for the whole magazine industry.

And what if you merged the two bodies – to create one organisation representing consumer, contract and business publishing. Again, that would have some clout.

It’s something that has been previously contemplated, although I understand that the MPA has been pretty dismissive of it.

It’s a good time to do it. Publishers Australia is moving forward under new executive director Alan Sarkissian. Last year’s Bell Awards had far more energy about them- even if the ceremony did drag on until 3.53pm (I remember because the after-event bar was only open until 4pm). Although I’m told that pressures are building for a separate customer publishing organisation, which this could obviously solve.

And there are barriers too – not least that both organisations would need new constitutions.

But as one industry body, it would be so much stronger.

Whether the big boys of the MPA see it that way is another matter. I fear that if they try to market the medium on their own, it will consist of little more than sticking filler ads in all the empty inventory they’re currently suffering from. But perhaps they’ve been given advice that this is all they need to do to see out the downturn.

I think it’s time for Nick Chan and Publishers Australia chairman Geoff Hird to have a chat. Whaddaya say boys?


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