INTERVIEW

Gaining altitude

After learning to fly a plane, and then teaching German business executives to speak English, London Info International’s Philip Ditchfield also worked in pharma and publishing sales

When and how did you get involved in the scholarly publishing industry?

In 1995 I returned to the UK and got my first job in scholarly publishing. I spent the next 12 years working for three large publishers Thomson (ISI), Wiley and Springer in various sales management roles. In 2006 one of my customers, GlaxoSmithKline, contacted me out of the blue and offered me the position of global content acquisition, where I became responsible for purchasing several thousand journal subscriptions and other content from about a hundred publishers. 

I’d never imagined taking on a buying role – my interest had been in business development and closing deals – and I initially hesitated about accepting the GSK position. However, working on the other side of the negotiating table turned out to be an excellent decision. Besides learning how large corporations choose subscriptions, I gained insight into rights issues faced by multinationals, how companies measure content value and how a massive procurement machine functions. There were a number of eureka moments at GSK where I recall thinking: ‘If I’d known that when I was selling content to big corporations I would have closed a lot more deals, a lot more quickly!

What other roles have you held in the industry?

While working in pharma I joined a number of publisher advisory boards, was on several industry and copyright committees and represented the pharma industry in Parliament during the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property. Being on industry committees and having negotiated content from most of the STM providers, it was clear that my insight could be of value to organisations that sell content and services into the pharma market. 

I’ve seen so many content providers give away important rights and license terms because they don’t understanding the real value of their content or rights – from their customers’ perspective. So in 2013 I set up my own company to help publishers with the challenges of selling into pharma. I pitched my idea at the Frankfurt Book Fair to a number of potential vendors and, by Christmas, had my first customers. I developed this idea further with my now business partner, Dave Myers, and we later set up a subscription management business to help corporations license content and rights. The pace of change within corporations continues to accelerate, which creates challenges and opportunities in equal measure – so we have developed a number of services to help both the publisher and corporate markets.   

What was the inspiration behind London Info International?

Together with many others across our industry, I lamented the decline of London Online. The exhibition lost direction, became technology-driven and too expensive for smaller vendors to exhibit. Each year there were fewer exhibitors and it became more difficult, as a content buyer, to meet with vendors to renew licenses and explore new products and services. In the end, key stakeholders were not present or if they were, often did not have a dedicated meeting place to discuss licenses. As a large R&D-centric corporation we would expect to spend several million pounds on renewals and new content at an event like London Online – in fact, the event for GSK, from a content licensing perspective, was a critical feature in the diary.

From the business development side, while working for Thomson and other publishers, my sales teams would close many new agreements at London Online and meet with new prospects both at the exhibition and during evening receptions. It was an excellent mix of meetings, acquiring knowledge and networking with international stakeholders. When London Online faded and then disappeared, we lost a community that was relevant for the entire information industry – academic, corporate and government – for all types of scholarly, research and professional information. When the doors inevitably closed in 2014 I thought it was time to have a go at organising a replacement. Surely it couldn’t be that difficult?

Inclusive, independent and challenging

In reality I greatly underestimated the work involved in creating an information event from scratch. I spent about eight months putting on London Info International (LII) 2014: booking a venue, selling stands and sponsorships, arranging a small free conference and promoting the event to attendees. I bankrolled the entire thing, supported only by a few contractors plus my personal contacts. We put on a small pilot event in 2014 at the Royal Horticultural Halls with about 70 exhibitors and 500 attendees. There were some very special people, who were incredibly supportive and encouraging along the journey; however, to do it properly it needed a dedicated team of information professionals and adequate funding. 

For a successful event there are a number of essential ingredients: a balance of publishers that create all types of content, relevant technology companies, rights specialists, subscription agents, plus key international stakeholders from corporations, academia and government. The event needs to take place in one space – what’s the point having attendees if most are in other rooms miles away from the exhibition? It needs to be a place where delegates, attendees and vendors can meet, learn new things, network and do business. There has to be an imaginative, exciting and relevant conference at the heart of the event, appealing to senior stakeholders, plus engaging show-floor content for both delegates and attendees within the exhibition space – with the specific objective of creating connections between all parties. The whole event needs to be inclusive, independent and challenging – and reflect what is actually happening (good and bad) in our information space – and this is the basis of LII 2016.  

In 2015 one of my contacts introduced me to Clive Snell, who was the MD of London Online during its heyday in the late nineties. Clive and I got on straight away and, together with two other directors, Dave Myers and Chris Satchwill, set up a company in order to raise funding and develop LII 2016. We now have more than 20 people working on the event including our advisory board and conference chairs, and have some incredible strategic relationships with a number of high-profile organisations working in the information space.  

What have you gained personally from the experience?

From my perspective, the most wonderful thing about being part of LII is the outstanding people I have had the privilege to work with – the insight, knowledge and experience each person brings, the ideas they have and how together we have shaped an exciting event. The process has been humbling and an incredible learning experience; it is inspiring to see what can be achieved by a team of people with a shared goal. Our vision is to build an independent, inclusive community for those who create, publish and consume information in all its forms –  a community that helps organisations drive research and innovation that ultimately leads to new products and services that benefit mankind.

What can we expect from this year’s event? What do you think will be the key themes?

Attendees and exhibitors can expect an independent and inclusive event, one that is relevant to everyone in the information space, whether they are senior leaders or millennials starting out in their careers. We have created multiple networking opportunities for all parties – we are being proactive in order to help exhibitors meet new prospects – for example where we introduce relevant delegates to our exhibitors on their stands during small tours each day. There are discussion groups taking place on the showfloor, product showcases, vendor training sessions, a disruptor zone and, at the heart, a conference that aims to enable discussions, engage our community and drive change with influencers, users and providers of information across all disciplines.

Another key priority is to involve smaller organisations such as societies, start-ups and others with unique content and services that would benefit our several thousand attendees. That’s why we have created an inexpensive entry-level stand option. The intention is to make LII affordable to even the smallest organisation, or to those with very limited budgets. 

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