Friday 3 September 1993, Brussels

I leave for the airport to travel back to London in an hour. I almost always leave at the end of a working day, so to leave at nine in the morning gives me a different clearing-up schedule. I shall now have a relaxed breakfast listening to ‘Europe Today’ on the World Service and spend 40 minutes on the journal.

The first item on ‘Europe Today’ concerned the visit by Shimon Peres to Brussels to plead for financial assistance to the Palestinian areas. An historic peace deal between Israel and the PLO is apparently very close following secret talks in Norway. Such a deal would indeed be ‘historic’ but because the word is used so often these days by newsmen we really need a more majestic word to describe it - superhistoric perhaps. The deal, I think, will involve recognition by Israel of the PLO, and the PLO removing from its statutes justification for violence.

Without any doubt, the most important consequence of Peres’s trip to Brussels was that we journalists could not get into the main body of the Commission building. After the mid-day press briefing, which is held in the special auditorium on one side of the building, we are used to going up to the 6th floor to the press offices, or to floor 15 to eat in the restaurant. Yesterday, however, the reception area was littered with TV cameras and press men and access to all floors was entirely denied to anyone other than Commission officials - I don’t remember that happening before.

I have been able to track down enough material for the September issue of ‘EC Inform-Energy’ but there is nothing new or fancy to report. Many people are still on holiday, and the institutions do not actually start up properly again until next week. This may be one reason for changing my schedules for next year so that ‘EC Inform-Energy’ comes out on the third Friday of the month not the second. This would also give me more time to have the quarterly ready which is published on the same day and can sometimes be as few as eight days (six days in fact to deadline day) after the end of the month and quarter. I also notice the Energy Council has been put back to 10 December, which is after my December issue. My readers are not going to want to wait until January for their ‘unique inside track’.

I lunch with Brooks briefly on two days. One day we talk about our holidays and the next about our newsletters. His, called ‘EC Times’ and concerned with financial services, has been running a year longer than mine and has the same circulation. He remains optimistic and blames the recession. He tells me they have clients who take the newsletter on trial and keep it going for as long as possible and then don’t pay.

Saturday 18 September 1993, London

How is the business doing? I am now three-quarters of the way through my first trading year. I have around 85 subscribers; and, bearing in mind that subscriptions are paid in advance, I have made a slight profit of income over expenditure, but then I have kept my costs to an absolute minimum and taken no risks. It would be fair to assume now that I shall make my arbitrary target of 100 by the end of the year. Although I might have hoped for a larger migration from the FT’s ‘EC Energy Monthly’ by now, I cannot be too disheartened. I have not had a single cancellation or complaint; and every invoice has turned into a cheque; indeed almost every enquiry has turned into an order. I am disappointed that the idea of the quarterly has not worked but the strength of the initiative was that it was fully justified as a supplement to ‘EC Inform-Energy’ and is part of the strategy to win subscribers for the main newsletter. It is also a vehicle for advertising a private publishing service, and although no one has yet taken the bait, I have not lost hope that by the end of 1994, several companies may yet take this service.

It has been hard, involving work, but overall this year will rank as one of the most uninteresting and uneventful in my life to date. I’ve managed to start up my company and get it off the ground as though it were second nature. I did know this, which is why I wanted to start bigger, with a newsletter already in the bag. Still, I suppose I must stay patient - in the end I’m sure the plod plod approach will bear fruit. If I do absolutely nothing else, I can survive quite reasonably with a circulation of 200 - turnover £60,000. As a minimum, I will aim for 160 by the end of 1994 (which will make me a little money) and 200 by the end of 1995. This is a simple, perhaps modest, calculation but should help me have confidence in the business.

Most of this week, I have been finalising an EC Inform brochure. Artigraf will print 5,000 of them and mail them out in two batches - one next week and one a month later. Designing and proofing the eight page A5 brochure has been one mammoth task and organising the labels for the mailing has been another. To a large extent, the addressees have all received a copy of the newsletter sometime during the year and, therefore, I cannot expect to get many orders. Whereas, with the newsletter mailings I have been getting close to a 1% conversion on average, with a brochure I can’t really expect more than 0.1%. The main aim of the brochure is to bolster the overall image of EC Inform, to give the company more apparent depth, more dimensions, in order to improve its credibility - for the same reason I felt it was important to have two newsletters, to have credit card facilities, to get ISSN numbers, to register for VAT, to co-sponsor the Dundee conference etc. Every small thing helps to add to EC Inform’s volume. There has also been some evidence that companies believe they are ‘EC Inform-Energy’ subscribers because they have received so many free copies. I will try to ensure in my smaller newsletter mailings for the rest of the year that I bypass addresses which have already been sent three issues.

It is worth mentioning some of the difficulties associated with getting the brochure together. An estimate from the printers suggested a two-colour brochure (5,000) would cost in the region of £750. It was important, therefore, to put some effort into producing a good product. I thought that by choosing an 8-page A5 brochure (rather than the 4-page equivalent used by the FT) I would have plenty of room to spread out all the information I wanted to get across. But no, the end product has proved a rather dense mass of words, far denser than I really wanted. Firstly, I had to write advertising copy, which was not at all easy (and I don’t think I’ve done a very good job). But that involved an overall concept for the brochure. Should I have chosen a front with the company name and some statement about the newsletters? In the end I chose to ask a slightly controversial question with the aim of getting people to keep, or at least open, the brochure - ‘Does Europe have/want/need an energy policy?’ and then stating it was a question that EC Inform answered every month. Inside the first page, I lead from the question to what EC Inform does and then to more specifics on the two newsletters. Pages 3 and 4 are devoted to ‘EC Inform-Energy’, page 5 to ‘EC Energy Review’, pages 6 and 7 to subscription forms, and page 8 (back page) provides more general info on both titles. I never felt this was a perfect arrangement but I couldn’t see any better way of organising the information.

One of the constraints on the placing of the info concerned the fact that I wanted the front pages of the brochure to be cropped to show an arrow pointing to the name of the newsletter on a different page, so that you can thumb to the info on that newsletter. I could have chosen not to crop the pages, but I rather liked the concept and was determined to see it through if at all possible. Then, I had to face the problem of the colours and how to combine them. If one is going to the expense of a second colour one needs to use it effectively and this is far from easy. Although I knew I wanted one colour to be blue, I just couldn’t decide on the other. The decision was partly complicated because I planned to use both colours as tints with text of the other colour on top. I was also aware that if I could restrict the second colour to just two A4 pages (four A5 pages) I could save money. However, in the end, the plan I presented to Frank needed four printing jobs, three blue and one the other colour - the first A3 printing of the four sides which are just blue, the A4 page which is to have orange on top, an A3 printing of the two pages with orange, and lastly the A4 page of orange with blue on top. I didn’t actually decide on orange as the second colour until I was with Frank. And then there was the problem of organising the A5 pages into a landscape A4 format. It transpires that 7 of the 8 pages in a landscape (rather than portrait) brochure are the right way up, but the back page is upside down when placed on the A4 sheet with the front page.

I am convinced the whole thing is going to look ghastly. But, since the brochure has a purpose to serve and I can’t face using a proper designer, it will have to do. By the by, I decided not to use a designer because of a) the expense and b) the difficulty of finding a good designer, and c) getting a good designer to do something acceptable.

The politics of racism sucks. Yesterday or the day before a council official was elected in the ward of Millwall on the Isle of Dogs in the East End. It was the sort of election that takes place often without any national media attention at all. This time it was different because, for the first time ever, an avowed fascist, from the British National Party (BNP) was elected. In the inner city area which is considered very poor, the local white population has been systematically starved of resources in favour of an encroaching Asian population, and the whites have revolted, in a very minor way, to the trend. I say a minor way because the election was from just a thousand or so votes and though the first of its kind there are, in fact, three elected councillors from the Monster Raving Loony Party across the country Well, the media has had a field day quizzing every politician from every party, and every politician without exception has criticised it. But none of them have condemned the actual 1,000 or so people who voted for the man. The fact is that in a democracy people have the right to vote for a fascist candidate. Politicians and the media going berserk in a joint protest of distaste over this isolated incident is simply drawing attention to it. And now, yet more people, those who do not trust any of the political parties, may be tempted by the BNP. Far more sensible, it seems to me, would be a reaction that quietly condemned any person for voting for a racist party (and explaining why), that suggested there needed to be more explanation as to why any form of racism in today’s world is unacceptable, and proposed that the situation in the East End needed more study to understand the particular problems there. Judging by the reaction of callers to ‘Any Answers’ this afternoon, which unusually was devoted solely to this issue, the BNP vote underestimated the resentment being felt by whites in the area. A lot of white people understand that racism is wrong but, at the same time, see the local government as biased against them and find that difficult to accept. The issue may not have lived so long on the news programmes had it not been for a charge that the Liberal Democrats were distributing leaflets that served to stir up the racist issue. Paddy has promised a full investigation of the local team’s campaign.

October 1993

Paul K Lyons


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INTRO to diaries:
Part one
Part two