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The media career that means business

Niche magazines offer a wealth of opportunity for graduates, writes Richard Cook
The business press has a problem - a problem of presentation. There used to be a section on Have I Got News For You, when the TV team would deconstruct headlines from business press magazines.

Researchers would comb the industry for titles such as Plastics and Rubber Weekly and Small Wars and Insurgencies and expose them to the combined comic efforts of Ian Hislop and Paul Merton. But the business press, now worth more than pounds 1bn a year, is more than capable of looking after itself.

More than a quarter of British adults - a total of 12 million people - have read at least one specialist magazine in the past year. More than 5,000 business or specialist titles are now published in the UK - almost 25 per cent more than a year ago, and the sector is now responsible for twice as much advertising revenue as the more glamorous consumer magazines and, amazingly, for more money overall than the entire poster and radio industries put together.

Yet the sector is often overlooked by graduates determined to make it into the media.

"Business magazines may not seem like the sexiest career choice for a new graduate," agrees Diana Lomax, of Miller Freeman. "It's up to us to change that, and to convince the bright people that we need to attract and keep that they really can make a satisfying career in the business press."

It helps that the industry is now dominated by some of Britain biggest media groups. And Reed Business Information, Emap Business Publishing, VNU Business Publications and the rest are all dedicated to training and improving industry standards, while Miller Freeman, part of United News & Media, produces more than 100 trade publications, organises 50 or so trade exhibitions and employs 1,300-plus people in the UK, the Netherlands and the US.

"What people forget is that there is such a huge range of business magazines," explains Peter Dear, of the Periodical Publishers Association.

"They range all the way from glossy newsstand titles like The Economist and Management Today, to niche magazines such as Tunnels and Tunnelling. What they all offer, though, for people working on them, is the opportunity to build a really high profile quite quickly. Staff can quickly become sought-after experts in their field. Another satisfying thing is that so little of your communication, whether you're working in sales or editorial, is wasted."

Training for the industry is now highly structured and monitored. The Periodical Training Council is a good first port of call for anyone interested in a career in magazines. It has its own magazine guide to getting a job in the industry, and monitors training schemes, accredits university courses and works to improve industry standards.

"Business magazines do offer a tremendous opportunity, precisely because they still tend to be undervalued," points out PTC director Joanne Butcher. "The training offered is excellent. According to our own most recent skills survey, for example, 89 per cent of business press companies offer off- the-job training schemes and 92 per cent run on-the-job schemes."

The PTC typically receives around 100 enquiries a week from job seekers, while the publishers advertise specific vacancies in individual magazines.

"We are really looking for graduates or graduate-calibre applicants," says Lomax, "but we're not as interested in high academic achievement as in evidence that they can work in a team, and have taken the time and trouble to find out a little about the industry."

Typically, new sales staff at Miller Freeman will receive training before being let anywhere near a magazine. They will then usually spend a year or so working in classified sales on a particular title, before graduating either to management of the classified sales team, or into the display team that makes presentations to clients.

That's the stage at which many staff traditionally make a switch into consumer magazine or national newspaper sales. But though that is still a popular option, rates of pay and opportunities for promotion may now be better in the business sector.

"Most of our publishers have worked their way up from the ad sales side on our magazines," says Lomax, "and this is something that we are determined to continue to encourage."