A career analysing statistics in community and mental health services may not be an obvious route to heading up a publishing business, but that didn’t stop Diane Young, co-founder of media company The Drum.
The move from healthcare into business came when Young’s husband, Gordon, and his business partner Nick Creed, saw an opportunity to expand their Glasgow-based marketing magazine, Scot Media, into the UK.
Young leapt at the opportunity to join them and, in the late 1990s, the three bought out the original founders and completely rebranded the business. And The Drum – a name inspired by the first form of mass communication – was born. The Drum's activities range from its specialist magazine and branded video content to events and awards for marketers.
The business began edging its way south of the border by establishing an outpost in Manchester. However, despite The Drum gaining popularity, taking over its rival in England, the business was struggling.
“We were surviving, but it wasn’t any fun,” says Young. “It was a slog all the time and we weren’t getting rewarded for it. I knew we had to do something radical.”
Aware that her background in healthcare may not be the best foundation to grow the business, Young decided that it was time to gain some experience. “We had always had a business plan, but we needed a strategy. It was a process of education to drive the business forward. I spent a lot of time reading books, joining mastermind groups, doing coaching courses and associating with successful business people to absorb information.”
That was five years ago, a time that marked a turning point for the business. A refreshed strategy, alongside the rapidly changing world of media and communications, opened up a new opportunity for The Drum.
“The problem with a magazine is that you make it, sell it, and then you have to make it again. That can be hard to make a decent margin on. And what margin you do make can be wiped out quickly with poor sales. We knew we needed to rely less on print advertising and be geographically neutral. We also knew we could create products that we could make once and sell again.”
So they began to build on other services, becoming a media agency for marketers and supplying a range of content across different media. “If someone didn’t want to read a magazine, we had the website. And if they didn’t want to advertise, they could come to events or promote themselves through our awards.” And despite the concerns, The Drum’s print advertising revenue still makes up 15 per cent of its business.
From there, Young launched the Recommended Agency Register, a service she describes as a “TripAdvisor for brands choosing agencies” and which currently holds 30,000 ratings. More recently, they have added branded content and video production onto their list of services. So, as Young says, “there are a lot of spinning plates”.
The next big move came when The Drum opened its London office three years ago – something that Young sees as a direct result of changes in the industry. Since then, the business has seen impressive growth.
“Everything in media is changing so fast now. We have opportunities that we could have never dreamed of if we were still a print magazine in Scotland. We certainly couldn’t go up against our rivals here in London. But the arrival of the internet has broken down barriers, and we have seen huge success.” In its first year in London, revenues were up 26 per cent. Then since then, year-on-year, they have grown 37 per cent, 46 per cent and projected growth for this year is 58 per cent.
As a Scot, the significance of this move to London in The Drum’s success story weighs particularly on Young’s mind. And it is something that influenced her opinion on the recent independence referendum outcome. Young was firmly a Yes vote.
“We slogged away in Scotland for a long time. We were selling things to people without a lot of money, because they were struggling with their businesses. We’ve come to London and our business has grown phenomenally. It is like a parallel universe down here. Decisions made in London don’t work in Scotland – or even in the regions. It’s like two different countries. I think there is a lot of talent in Scotland, but not a lot of opportunity, so people find themselves having to move away.”
But London isn’t the limit. This week, Young has been discussing a US corporation, and sees a huge opportunity for international expansion. As it stands, 30 per cent of The Drum’s 1m monthly online audience is located outside the UK. “We’ve also been out to Asia, to Singapore and to Hong Kong to discuss moves into those markets.”
“This type of growth simply wouldn’t have been possible before – to be a global business from where we started. We have a very clear ambition: we want to be the first global marketing platform.”
And if global domination wasn’t enough, Young is also passionate about promoting business in schools. “Entrepreneurship is more glamourous than it was, and the more we open up the opportunity to young people to get into business, the better.” It has already had an effect on Young’s daughter, who has eyes on a senior role in the business. So it looks like the success of The Drum may well beat on for years to come.
DIANE YOUNG CV
Company: The Drum
Job title: Co-founder
Number of staff: 74
Studied: Pure and Applied Maths, University of Strathclyde
Drinking: Margarita, with salt on the rim
Eating: Anything except blue cheese
Reading: Endless Biff and Chip books with my daughters
Favourite business book: Think and Grow Up Rich, by Napoleon Hill and The Language of Leaders, by Kevin Murray
Talents: Analytical, hard-working, good with detail
Heroes: Oprah Winfrey, Andy Murray, Richard Branson and my husband, Gordon Young
First ambition: To be a teacher, like my dad
Motto: “Live life to the full”
Awards: UK Publishing Innovator of the Year 2014, Media Brand of the Year 2014, UK Business Magazine of the Year 2013