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December 8, 2022updated 09 Dec 2022 10:17am

From $100m in-flight mags giant to zero and up again: How Ink bounced back

Ink CEO Simon Leslie on his in-flight magazine business bouncing back after Covid.

By Dominic Ponsford

If your publishing company is facing a dip right now you might draw some consolation from the story of Ink.

In 2019 it was the largest in-flight magazine publisher in the world with turnover of $100m per year. Then, in March 2020, it suddenly had to struggle to stay afloat as every airline in the world was grounded by the pandemic.

Chief executive Simon Leslie told Press Gazette’s Future of Media Explained podcast how he reinvented and re-energised the business with the help of 50 of the world’s leading motivational speakers.

This year Ink is back to $80m a year turnover, is growing fast and looks completely different to how it did in 2019.

Leslie’s book – Equanimity: Diary of a CEO in Crisis – tells the story of how he weathered the pandemic and also includes transcripts of 50 talks given to Ink staff by famous inspirational figures form around the world.

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“The essence of the book is I made 50 phone calls, 52 phone calls, and I asked people to come and help me just to keep my team inspired because that was the only thing that I thought I could do that would be useful.

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“I treated this as off season. We were in training camp and when the season starts again, we’ll be ready to go.”

Speakers joining the team via Zoom included cold water health guru Wim Hoff, Everest climber Alison Levine and Wolf of Wall Street Jordan Belfort.

“These were really highly known motivational speakers. What I realised was that as part of this process of helping them, actually, I was giving myself an education and some inspiration.

“I designed in my head a business that would come out of the other side and that’s what I went about building.

“In ’19, we had 33 in-flight magazines. We just had record issues in most of them in February and March. So it was at its peak when the legs got taken from underneath it. We had a very small TV network and we had some digital websites and that was it.

“Today, it’s a marketplace. We have four in-flight magazines with maybe one more coming back next year.

“We bought Business Traveller (US edition) and we’ve turned that around. We bought some retargeting technology and we sold that to 13 airlines and people like Agoda so we can help them monetise their data.

“CNN decided to leave the airport and I saw an opportunity in that and we took over all their gated screens and luggage carousel screens, and we turned our nice TV business into an absolute monster. It’s now the biggest TV network at the airports, all over the US. It’s just about to open in Addis Ababa of all places.

“And we’ve got very close to an Asian airport as well, so we’ve grown that TV network into something very special. And we’re also providing free wifi in flight, which was an expensive medium before, and now we’re allowing people to get free wifi by watching some adverts.”

Leslie’s hunch that travel would bounce back post pandemic bigger than before has paid off. He said October was the biggest month ever for global travel with many airlines now booked out well into the New Year.

Asked what he sees in his crystal ball for media companies in the year ahead, and for advice about how to react to a recession, he said: “The immediate thing it triggered in me was, to all my recruiters make some phone calls. There’s lots of people available for work. It’s been a tough recruiting market.

“During the whole pandemic, very few businesses went bust because the government underwrote them, lent them money, and there wasn’t a proper clear up. And I think that was part of the problem. So we need a little bit of clear up.

“There’s too much media, there’s too many things going on, being sold, we need a bit of consolidation.

“I think there will always be appetite and there’ll always be a good market. You’ve got to be prepared to fight for it though. The phone’s not going to ring. You’ve got to get out there and make a lot of noise and make people aware of what you’re doing and help them with solutions.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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