ACE has been around since 1951 and stands for the Association of Circulation Executives. Before you dash for the door thinking ‘circulation’ sounds very old-school and narrow, the acronym could just as easily stand for ‘Audience Career Education’. This is for you, because it’s an association for today.
ACE started off life as a business dining and networking club for national newspaper circulation directors in Fleet Street and wielded considerable influence. Over the years, the likes of Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and John Major all addressed their lunches, as did sports stars, comedians, celebrities and, not forgetting, celebrity madam Cynthia Paine. ACE has long since expanded its membership to include the regional press, magazine publishers (including the free sector) and suppliers. As ACE GC deputy chairman James Beardow says, “ACE, today, is totally inclusive and welcomes members from the whole publishing industry from top to bottom and end to end.”
The common thread is that everyone is involved in getting the published product to market. The printed word is still central, but digital’s increasing importance in marketing and distribution and the fluidity of the market means that ACE’s membership and direction is constantly evolving.
When I asked chairman of trustees Leonard Stall where ACE would be in five years’ time, he said “central to wherever the industry is then”. The unique thing about ACE is that it’s a trade association by its members for its members. It’s a not-for-profit organisation run by volunteers, all people from within the business. ACE is free to join and is financed through the activities and events it lays on. There are five trustees and an eight-man general committee that meets regularly to plot its course. Community and friendship are key pillars of everything they do.
What, I ask, is the message ACE wants to get out to the industry? The answer: if you’re in an audience-related role, then register as a member and the doors will open to a world of multiple opportunities to network, learn and, well, have fun. If you’re a publishing director or business owner, then encourage your audience teams to get involved because when they thrive, so will you. You should join too, if you’ve got more than a passing interest in how your lovingly produced content gets to market.
Dan Collins, GC chairman, adds: “ACE is a phenomenal resource for the whole industry. Membership is free and it’s your association, so join and benefit.”
That all sounds good in theory, but what, in practical terms, does membership of ACE bring? The ACE committee deluges me with information, which I paraphrase:
1. Connections for life
Although Leonard Stall met his wife at the 1990 Christmas Lunch, ACE can’t promise marital bliss for all, but certainly career long companionship. Friendship and fraternity is central. Members might fight like cats and dogs out in the market, but come together under the ACE banner, to swap notes and exchange ideas. In an ever-changing world, where people in the industry will work for many different employers in the course of their careers, ACE membership remains a reassuring constant.
In an increasingly (digitally) connected world, the irony is that … err … people are becoming increasingly disconnected. They work in silos, eat at their desks, never get out; they have hundreds of connections on LinkedIn, but never meet anyone. Frankly, it’s dispiriting. Membership of ACE is effectively, LinkedIn Live! It’s a club, albeit without a clubhouse, that’s all about face to face, career-lasting relationships.
2. Education: the Empower programme
ACE has been actively involved in education for over ten years and has, for the past four, run Empower – a training programme par excellence. Administered on behalf of ACE by Jim Bilton, it consists of nine full or half day modules, spread over six months, and includes on-site sessions at: a major magazine publisher, a magazine distributor, a national newspaper where trainees get a chance to sit in on the daily editorial conference (a real eye-opener by all accounts), a leading digital agency, a free distribution agency and a newspaper print site (awesome if you’ve never seen one). Other sessions include an industry overview and recurring revenue models and the course concludes with team members being divided into syndicates, each with a mentor, and tasked with coming up with solutions to a major industry challenge and then presenting their findings to a top-notch invited audience. It’s an ‘access all areas’ course that takes a holistic approach to the industry; no other training provider can come anywhere near providing anything similar. ACE is in a position to put this exceptional programme together because of its highly respected position and its connections. ACE members are in senior positions across the industry. In the memorable words of one participant, the course helped her discover stuff that she didn’t know she didn’t know. [… STOP PRESS!...SOME PLACES STILL AVAILABLE FOR EMPOWER 2018…£1650+VAT…]
3. Recognition: Newspaper & Magazine Awards
ACE’s Newspaper & Magazine Awards (NMAs) are one of publishing’s most prestigious awards events. A glitzy, glamorous black-tie occasion held in May at London’s Sheraton Grand on Park Lane, the event celebrates achievement in the industry across fifteen categories, that reflect the full depth and breadth of the sector. Categories include: Publication of the Year, National Newspaper of the Year, Regional Newspaper of the Year, Magazine of the Year (separate awards for ‘children’s’, ‘specialist interest’, ‘lifestyle’), Free Publication of the Year, Digital Publication of the Year, Marketing Team of the Year and Young Achiever of the Year. Other categories recognise launches, campaigns, retailers and suppliers. In short, there’s something for everyone, and in true ACE style, there is no fee for entering a nomination, anyone can do it and the nomination process involves a simple short template. It’s designed to be stress-free and inclusive. Judges are looking for excellence, irrespective of resources. It’s not the size of your budget that counts, but what you’ve done with it and small publishers have just as much chance of winning, as large ones. As with any leading awards event, being shortlisted and / or winning is great for team morale and has commercial benefits; people invest in winners! If you’re proud of what you’ve achieved over the past year, then … enter! Mad, not to.
4. Team building – aka, having fun
ACE is about bringing its members together, in person! Picture this: a June afternoon at Kings House Sports Ground, Chiswick, eight-man teams battle it out in ‘It’s a Knock Out’ – managed by a specialist events company, incidentally, not the ACE trustees! – a series of crazy games involving lots of inflatables, fancy dress and soapy water. It’s mayhem, extremely undignified and a lot more fun than building a raft in the middle of nowhere. At the end of the day, after the winning team has been crowned, the event concludes with a BBQ. If you can’t muster a team of eight, that’s not a problem because a number of scratch teams are pulled together on the day.
Slightly less energetic, a leisurely riverboat cruise – drinks, canapes and networking – on the Thames is scheduled for September for a hundred or so members and, we mustn’t forget the longstanding Summer Pie event in July at Worsley Park, Manchester – golf, cricket, bowls and lots of food and drink.
The common thread running through all of ACE’s activities is connections; giving members the opportunity to meet with colleagues (current, past and, who knows, future), current and potential suppliers, and other publishers in relaxed and convivial surroundings.
5. Festive cheer: the Christmas Lunch
A special mention must be made for the ACE Christmas Lunch, traditionally held on the first Wednesday in December at London’s Grosvenor House hotel (followed a few days later by the slightly smaller, but equally festive, ACE Northern Christmas Lunch in Manchester). I actually attended the London event myself in December, along with 600 others, so I can speak from personal experience. It was A M A Z I N G – a riotous (in a good way) explosion of colour and good cheer. I’d be extremely surprised to find a more festive and exuberant Christmas party anywhere in the publishing world. The lunch is much more than just an excuse for a knees-up, it’s a fantastic opportunity to reward colleagues, thank customers, meet old acquaintances and make new ones, and … to get the Christmas season started.
People buy people, as the saying goes, and nothing beats face to face. For all the virtual connections we make every day, the best business contacts are still made through a physical introduction and a handshake. Eye contact matters. ACE gets people in the industry together… in person, not on a website.
ACE has always been about its membership. From its early days as an exclusive national-newspaper-only dining club to it inclusive present and future, ACE has evolved with the industry and, because it’s driven by its members, it will continue to do so.
What then, I ask, should people do? Leon Benoiton, from the GC, said: “If being part of a club with like-minded people appeals to you, plugging into a support network that lasts your whole career, then get involved, enter the awards, join the Empower programme, come along to our social events.”
“A good place to start”, added GC member Carola York, “is to simply register as a member on the website. It’s free, and means that you will get on our mailing list and receive advance notice of all our activities.”
That sounds like good advice; in fact, I’ve just registered myself. You can also contact ACE general manager Mark Farris directly to find out more. Mark’s email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org He and ACE look forward to welcoming you into the association!
Mark Farris, General Manager