Someone who sets up a successful business at the age of 17 sounds like an entrepreneur destined to remain their own boss. So it’s a surprise to learn that it took Chris Pitchford nearly two decades of employment before launching another solo enterprise.
‘I definitely should have done it earlier,’ says Chris who in 2012 launched Real Response Media and now publishes six consumer and trade magazines in the cruise and aviation sectors. ‘But I didn’t feel I was ready and I didn’t have the balls to go it alone.’
But you can’t help feeling that Chris is being hard on himself. Along the way, he picked up a wealth of skills in sales and marketing, brand development and data capture. Not bad for a man who readily admits that school only kept him on because he was good at rugby.
‘I dropped out at 15 after taking my “O levels” to launch and run Waste Watchers Ltd, collecting people’s waste paper in an old van and selling it to paper mills with a friend. Paper recycling was in its infancy and I got very good at knocking on doors! I was living with my parents in Berkswell near Solihull.’ (Chris is pictured here with his mother on his 21st birthday).
His first trip to a West End show to see Time convinced Chris that he wanted to live and work in London, so after 3 years of selling paper, he sold the business, moved into a house share in the capital, and landed a job selling advertising space. ‘It was a lot harder than I thought,’ he laughs. ‘But it was a valuable foot in the door that led to nine years with Haymarket Publishing.’
Chris has been addicted to magazines ever since, starting his publishing portfolio with World of Cruising in 2013 after long days spent studying back issues of travel titles in the British Library. He now publishes a mix of consumer and trade magazines, and runs the Wave Awards for the cruise industry.
‘The last couple of years have been hard for the travel and publishing industries,’ he says with feeling. ‘I bought a new office in December 2019, fitted it out, and moved in on Feb 28 2020, 2 or 3 weeks later moved out of the offices as lockdown started. And I bought an aviation magazine business in September 2019 and published the first issue in early 2020. But we soldiered on and I’m very proud to have carried on publishing throughout the pandemic, where others were more cautious and stopped publishing their printed issues for a while because of the pandemic, we took a bold decision to published all our magazines without adverts throughout the pandemic – we strongly believed we had to keep informed our industries that we served.’
Ask Chris why World of Cruising has joined the Silver Marketing Association and the answer is immediate. ‘It’s easy to work in our own little bubble here and sometimes you need to take a step out. My business partner Pete was good at that, but Pete sadly died during the pandemic and it’s time now for us to get out again and meet other people in our industry, as well as other businesses working with our demographic. We’re a small company, so many people don’t know us, but I hope that we can share some of our experiences to help other SMA members.
‘I am lucky to have an excellent team around me now – 28 highly skilled people with a wide range of specialisms between them from highly experienced editors to experts in content and SEO and technology. And they are all ages. The younger ones tend to be more in tune with technology but I recently took on a new employee who at 50 is just two years younger than I am. He has lived through the recessions of 1994 and 2007 and has built up a wealth of knowledge and expertise that will be invaluable to our business.’
At a time when some entrepreneurs might be thinking of early retirement, Chris is thinking about more magazines. ‘Finding print products with a clear digital angle that hasn’t been exploited is what our speciality is now we have all this technology in the company ,’ insists Chris, who will also be launching a World of Cruising TV channel in early summer. ‘We’ve also just taken on a new editorial direction for our aviation titles who was in his last job for 18 years and as I say he is around the age of 50. People with this level of experience can really help our brands to grow and help passing on valuable knowledge and life experiences when things get tough.’
So looking back over his working life, what does Chris consider to be his best ever business decision.
‘Going digital with World of Cruising!’ he replies instantly. ‘Some people thought I was mad, in the middle of a global pandemic, but we went for it. The magazine website wasn’t well presented so we gave it a complete overhaul. Now it clocks up a seven-figure revenue figure and holds a huge traffic following and because I have a team of people who really care about it the website is growing from strength to strength.
‘I had to learn a lot about digital and take a giant leap of faith that the people around me knew what they were doing, but that decision has made a real difference. Publishing is a rollercoaster industry of ups and downs, so it’s lovely for everyone involved to be riding the upward curve right now!’
Interview by Gillian Thornton.