In the new king’s first Birthday Honours List, Graham Yandell, founder and CEO of Yandell Publishing, was awarded an MBE for “services to the media, and to the food industry”.
The award, which Yandell described as “thrilling and humbling” is the latest milestone in a career that started when he left school aged 17 to become a junior in the planning office at The Bedfordshire Times.
His hard work and passion were soon noted by the group ad manager who quickly started taking him out on sales calls. He took to selling like the proverbial duck to water and by the age of 20, was running the Bedford Weekly Advertiser.
After ten years in local newspapers, Graham entered the world of B2B publishing, joining International Thomson Business Publishing (ITBP), eventually becoming publisher of its Meat Trades Journal title.
Keen to “do his own thing”, he left ITBP after six years and went back into local newspapers, acquiring a small local newspaper, the Milton Keynes Standard, only to find that the local press had radically changed in the years he’d been away. Ad yields had plummeted, he said, so he quickly sold the title on and decided to stick with B2B.
In 1986, he founded Yandell Publishing and, from a small suite of offices in Newport Pagnell, launched Meat Manufacturing Magazine, going head to head with his old ITBP title. Meat Manufacturing Magazine has since evolved into Meat Management and remains one of Yandell Publishing’s core brands.
Yandell Publishing is a sales led operation. Its titles are controlled circulation and the bulk of its revenues are commercial: display and sponsored content, sponsorship and events. The company uses Publishing Software Company’s (PSC) Advertising Manager platform to manage its sales, and PSC’s Steph Cope thought the MBE provided a good excuse for a catch-up.
In a world where, for many publishers, ad revenues are in long term decline, yet remain an important revenue stream, I wanted to know more about Graham’s sales philosophy. How had he managed to create and sustain a business over almost 40 years in such a competitive and fast-changing industry?
Talking with Graham in July, I detected six key strands to his business success:
1. Synergistic product development
Graham believes in focusing on a limited number of market verticals, and fully exploiting all the opportunities within them. Yandell currently operates in four verticals: Meat Media, Food Media, Group Travel and School Travel.
He believes in keeping it simple. Broadly speaking, the company adopts a similar approach in each market. Around a flagship print title, they create a range of brand extensions which typically include a website, newsletter, conference / exhibition and awards.
If you can embed yourself in a market and earn its trust, he says, opportunities for brand extensions present themselves which have a synergistic impact on the brand as a whole. In 2019, for instance, in the meat sector, they launched the ‘Women in Meat Industry Awards’ highlighting and celebrating the important work done by women in what has traditionally been seen as a male-dominated industry. The event was “hugely successful” and has become an annual fixture.
2. Produce a quality offering
“Don’t do something unless you can do it really well,” is one of Graham’s mantras. He strives for a quality-focused approach across all departments. In editorial, this means that the content has to be unique, excellent, must-have, authoritative, trust-worthy, relevant and not found elsewhere. In circulation, the mailing list has to be made up of named, registered, vetted and in-date recipients – the top people in each sector. At exhibitions, even where attendance might be free, work is done to only admit people stand holders would welcome to their stand, because the last thing stand holders want is to be sold to or spend time talking to students. In sales teams, when sponsored content packages are sold (he doesn’t like the term ‘advertorial’), the content has to measure up and be worthy of inclusion. It’s not just about correct labelling, important as that is, it’s about ensuring that sponsored content is of equal quality to any other content in the magazine.
‘Quality’ is the watchword. If everything about your operation is well executed, then commercial success will follow.
3. Use the right tools
When choosing a software solution to manage your ad sales, Graham recommends opting for software that has been designed for the publishing industry as opposed to using generic packages which then have to be adapted.
Yandell has been using PSC’s Advertising Manager solution (in conjunction with its associated modules: Exhibition Manager and Contacts Manager) since 2008. The benefits of using a publishing-specific package like PSC’s is that it comes with the vast majority of a typical publisher’s requirements ready to use from the get-go. There is minimal tailoring required.
PSC knows the publishing sector and has been adapting and fine tuning its offering for over thirty years. It has an extensive publishing client base who they work with continually to ensure that the software keeps evolving and abreast of publisher needs.
So, Yandell benefits from all the tweaks and enhancements requested by other PSC clients, as do all of them benefit from changes requested by Yandell. It is this cross fertilisation of ideas between clients with similar business needs that ensures that the software continues to evolve, to the benefit of all PSC’s publishing clients.
Using publishing-specific solutions also means processes can be streamlined and automated, and double-keying avoided, thereby releasing your sales teams to spend more time on selling and less time on admin.
“Using PSC software has improved our internal comms vastly and made us as efficient as we can be. Because the system is made for publishers, they understand us; we are on the same wavelength.”
4. Invest in your sales team
The aim is to have an experienced, well-trained, highly-motivated team with good product and market knowledge, although Graham concedes that finding good salespeople is always a challenge. It’s all about spending time with them, teaching them about the nuances of each market, the importance of honesty and engendering trust (“if we are not the right fit for an advertiser, I expect us to say so”) and instilling a culture that we are here to genuinely help customers achieve their goals.
“It’s about integrity and having a professional approach; it’s not just about selling space.”
A positive professional attitude is central to this.
As for his sales managers, he looks for people who are good with people, have a passion for their discipline and who are naturally curious about everything else: “I can’t stand people who think they know it all, because they never do and never will; you’ve got to enjoy finding out about things.”
Complacency is his other bugbear: “You are only as good as your last issue.”
5. Know what you’re selling and price it right
Graham quotes from John Ruskin: “A thing is worth what it can do for you, not what you choose to pay for it.”
Establishing the value proposition is vital to success in sales and this is underpinned by product knowledge. “We do not sell space, we sell readers. We are selling our standing in the market and all the hard work we put in to deliver an engaged reader who will be receptive to their messaging.”
Heavy discounting puts a publisher on a downward trajectory. Anyone can sell a cheap space once, but if the sale is not making a positive contribution to the bottom line, there is no point selling it.
High quality / high price leaves a lasting impression as does low quality / low price. Graham quotes Benjamin Franklin: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”
6. Focus on customer service
Graham sets great store on excellent customer service. On the Yandell website, he writes, “Our business is built on customer service and that remains our number one priority.”
If a customer says ‘jump’, the only question is, ‘how high?’
“Our customers trust us to deliver on our promise, and we must not let them down. If you tell a customer you will do something by such and such a time, then do it. Breaking promises leads to broken trust and missed business opportunities.”
Graham’s approach has served the company well. It came through the BSE crisis of the 1990s and the foot and mouth crisis of 2001, both of which dramatically impacted the meat industry, and the financial crash of 2008. More recently, the business survived Covid, continuing to publish at its planned frequency throughout the pandemic, despite the shutdown of the travel sector, another of Yandell’s core markets.
Listening to Graham, I would summarise his approach as quality-driven and rooted in ethical high-yield selling and excellent customer service.
As he would say, this is all straightforward stuff – “nothing revolutionary” – and any publisher can follow this path.
Yandell’s sales are managed on Publishing Software Company’s Advertising Manager platform and other publishers can follow them down this path too! To find out more about why he has chosen to rely on their software for the last fifteen years, and to enquire about using it yourself, please get in touch with Steph Cope on 020 3157 4044 / email@example.com.
Publishing Software Company
Stephanie Cope, Sales & Marketing Manager
Tel: 020 3157 4044