Fishing Lines: Champagne moment was a coarse joke

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The Independent Online

The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre owe me a darned good lunch and several glasses of champagne. That's what I was expecting when I travelled to a Rugby hotel for the launch of a new fishing magazine. What I got was an empty car park and apologetic staff.

"I'm afraid the launch has been cancelled. We've no idea why."

I was hungry and cross and uninvited. The publisher was only about 10 miles away. I drove there and demanded: "Where's my champagne?"

Turned out he was just as peeved as I was. The occasion should have been David Hall Publishing's biggest launch, the highlight the advertisement that will be appearing 143 times on TV over the next few weeks. Or would have been, except the BACC didn't like it.

"One of their queries was: 'How do we know these are great anglers?'," said David Hall, spitting blood. "Three solid days of dealing with things like that meant we had to call off the launch. We just didn't have an agreed ad to show." The launch of Total Coarse Fishing, however, is going ahead, ad or no ad. The momentum is too great for a few bureaucrats to derail it now. Hall owns Britain's largest angling publisher, but he is still a minnow. His new magazine is going head to head with the star angling title of Emap, one of publishing's monster pike.

Sounds like a good way to lose his hand-made shirt. But Hall is determined, smart, quick-witted - and he knows all the advertisers. He is still hungry, and he wants those 75,000 (and more) readers that Emap's prize monthly once boasted. He has even recruited Gareth Purnell, the former editor of the Emap title.

The launch marks a new level for Hall. Just a decade ago, he owned one small magazine that was going nowhere. He looked to have his best years behind him. At 28, he had been the managing director of an international company, with all the trappings: London flat, E-type, first-class travel. One day he phoned up and said: "I'm not coming in again. Ever."

He sat around for a year, then did what he wanted, which was to launch a fishing magazine. He knew nothing of publishing, print, editing, libel. But Coarse Fisherman was like a burst of sunlight on a stagnant market, and he got the chance to meet his heroes.

For 20 years, he drifted with the current. Then he realised that he could achieve a whole lot more. He told me, only half in jest, a couple of years ago: "I'm building a dynasty." He now employs 70 people, nearly all in their 20s.

"The best thing I ever did was going with youth," he said. That said, he believes that most readers of the new title will be older, people who don't want to catch lots of fish, but bigger ones.

"The market's also changed," he said. "It has to look fantastic, but these days, anglers don't just want how-to-catch-'em [articles]. They want some stories too. At least, I hope so. Otherwise I'm stuck with £250,000 worth of line for cover mounts."

Then the phone rings. The advertisement has finally been cleared. Can Jack slay the giant? At least he's got permission to plant the beanstalk.