The invitation-only subscription magazine for the super-rich

Spear's Wealth Management Survey has confounded the critics. After surviving 'a very hairy financial roller-coaster ride', publisher William Cash reveals the secrets of its success

Spear's what? It won't work," replied of one of Condé Nast's highest profile editors after he asked me what I published. It was a Saturday early last June and the champagne was flowing. I was lunching in a box at Royal Ascot as a guest of Bentley who had invited a small group of VIP hacks to enjoy the racing – chauffeured up in Bentley Continental GT Coupés, of course.

I went on to explain to this glossy editor that Spear's Wealth Management Survey, which had only been launched two months before in April 2006, was different from any other magazine targeting the growing army of super-affluent UK readers in that it wasn't available on news-stands. Our distribution was to an exclusive database of the 30,000 wealthiest, most successful and influential people in the UK: from Rich Listers to royalty; hedge fund managers to serial entrepreneurs; oligarchs to internet moguls; cabinet ministers to Sir Alex Ferguson. "You can't just walk into WH Smith and buy it," I said.

The editor took a swill of champagne and looked at me quizzically. "You mean it's free?"

"No," I said. "It's only available by subscription invitation and costs £25 a copy."

At which point he looked at me as if I was truly mad and started talking to our host from Bentley.

To be fair, he had a point. Anybody who launches a magazine in today's highly competitive market has to be partly crazy. Especially if they are a journalist (in my case, a former foreign correspondent for The Times and The Daily Telegraph in America turned magazine writer) without any investors, without the least experience of consumer or business publishing, who has never set eyes on a set of management accounts, has never been near a printing plant, or a repro house, and who thinks a "liquidity event" is a lunch at Soho House with their editor.

Such were my qualifications when I decided to launch Spear's WMS last year. But I knew there was no other magazine that was talking to the growing high-net- wealth (HNW) community who were descending on London. With UK assets under management having risen to over £380bn, and London (dubbed "Switzerland-on-Thames" by Spear's), the idea was to create a New Yorker-style wealth management magazine that spoke to HNW readers in their own language – with articles by witty and engaging writers, from Peter York to Martin Vander Weyer, on the best tax lawyers to best private bankers in Lichtenstein. Instead of boring readers with worthy articles about "good family planning" (that means who gets to inherit what in HNW-speak) we wanted to make the prospect of being super-wealthy at least partly enjoyable.

The HNW community, I realised from my experience of writing about the super-rich for the Evening Standard's ES Magazine, (being married to a luxury goods brand heiress provided some useful insights as well) had particular needs and issues that nobody was catering to.

Spear's launched last May – with a party in the HQ of HSBC Private Bank in St James's where Prince William once worked – with a start-up budget of around £150,000. We were a year ahead of Condé Nast launching Portfolio (their new finance magazine) out of New York with a budget of around $130m. Much of our budget went on mistaken hirings and building our exclusive database of 30,000 HNWs. Financial data companies are expensive but worth it. Companies House was a treasure trove of information and we trawled newspapers for anybody who was selling their business, movers and shakers, from football team owners to property moguls.

Why some new magazines commercially surf the zeitgeist while others – like James Brown's ill-fated Jack – crash is a tricky media science. Earlier this year Tina Brown gave an interesting talk in London. She discussed why Talk, her New York start-up glossy magazine, which tried to rival Vanity Fair, failed. The main reason was that her backers – the Weinstein brothers of Miramax fame – didn't have the same financial balls as the Newhouse family who had stuck with Vanity Fair even when it was losing millions by the month.

The Sportsman, a British sports betting paper backed by the likes of the Irish tycoon Dermot Desmond, folded after six months despite having raised £12m. "We were just starting to make a profit and turn the corner," journalist turned publisher Charlie Methven told me. "Some of the investors just didn't have the stomach for the long term."

My theory is that the more money raised pre-launch, the less likely an independent title is to succeed. The Sportsman's decision to spend weeks moving into fancy offices and doing endless dummy editions was money wasted. We never had any money to waste so we just got on with it. We were helped by a brilliant sales head called Wendy Coumantaros who has no reservations about calling up the CEO of a private bank at 7am on his mobile.

I know the title Spears WMS sounds a mouthful but having the golden phrase "wealth management"' was critical. With private banks marketing themselves as luxury brands – see the new Barclays Wealth campaign – I knew from my contract publishing experience in the high net wealth sector that advertisers (and agencies) understand super-wealthy consumer readers (their Holy Grail) are not going to drop by WH Smith to buy a personal finance mag. So, much better – as Spear's does – to put 10,000 copies per issue into BA First Class and Virgin Upper Class lounges and those of other leading airlines for a fraction of the cost.

What I knew – from my experience as a contract publisher of Annabel's Magazine which published the pilot edition of Spear's as a supplement in 2005 – was that while trying to extract advertising out of fashion houses and luxury brands can be like trying to squeeze Charlotte Church into a sample dress, there are an entire cohort of private client financial services companies – private banks (loads of them), asset management firms, lawyers, HNW insurance companies, off-shore tax advisors – queuing up to spend money targeting the UK's fast-growing HNW community.

They didn't like to advertise in retail glossies such as Tatler, Harper's or even The Spectator or FT because they were too mass market (Condé Nast titles are largely aspirational) and could pollute their discreet and elite image. The private banks didn't care that the circulation of the pilot was only 15,000 members of the Annabel's clubs group – it was who they were reaching that was important.

The key to the success of Spear's is that it is not aspirational. What I realised from contract publishing is that a publication sent to the homes and offices of the super-rich – from Philip Green to Arkie Busson – is far more appealing to many advertising brands than blindly spending £15,000 per page on a glossy retail title that is largely read by would-be post-Sloanes and patients and secretaries in Harley Street waiting rooms.

The Spear's wealth management pilot edition – with articles ranging from why not to get divorced in London by the lawyer Sandra Davis to a survey of the best private security firms – pulled in nearly £95,000 in advertising in about two weeks, making a gross margin profit of almost 65 per cent. I knew we were on to something when, shortly after it went out, I got a call at 9am from a distraught sounding Annabel's member whose housekeeper had mislaid his copy.

"I am thinking of getting divorced and the article by Sandra Davis has scared the life out of me," he spluttered. "I'm sending over my driver right now. Can I have six extra copies?"

Six months later we launched Spear's WMS as a stand-alone proprietory title with a circulation of 30,000. We knew retail would be a disastrous idea – so we decided to go down the subscriber route, charging £175 a year (discounted to £100) for just four issues.

Sounds a lot? That's the whole point. If you look at the cover price of hedge fund journals they cost between £50 to £100 per issue. And, of course, most of our super-rich "subscribers" are people we have simply given "complimentary" subscriptions to. Do you think somebody like Roman Abramovich is going to call up our Notting Hill offices with his credit card number to take a subscription? Of course, not.

My journey with Spear's has been a very hairy financial roller- coaster ride that ended up costing me my marriage and making me homeless (sleeping arrangements ranged from Elizabeth Hurley's bunk bed to the office sofa) for three months while I negotiated a possible sale with the likes of Andrew Neil over a bottle of red wine in The Business boardroom (the Barclay family are looking to expand their magazine titles).

Another negotiation was with a secret emissary from the billionaire Holzbrinker publishing family (the Newhouses of Germany who bought Macmillan and own various newspapers) whom I met furtively in the Notting Hill Starbucks. Finally I ended up selling to Luxury Publishing, which is backed by a US private equity fund called Nectar Capital.

I did the seven-figure-plus deal because it allowed me to keep 30 per cent of the title as we roll the wealth management media brand out globally. And they are putting in another £1m. So hopefullly, in a couple of years, when Nectar want to sell to one of the global publishing big boys, there will be another "liquidity event". At least I know what that means now.

Oh, and the above-mentioned Condé Nast editor is now publishing a major article about what in his next issue? Yep, the wealth management boom. I know, because his deputy came by for a chat and left with his briefcase stuffed full of Spear's WMS.

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Sport
sport
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape