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Matthew Townsend remembered in St Bride’s

September 24, 2018

Matthew Townsend, who I worked with for many years, sadly passed away earlier this year just a few days before his 49th birthday. He is now remembered with a simple plaque, bearing the Benn family crest, in St Bride’s, Fleet Street. Matt and I actually worked together just a short walk from there for several years.

I was privileged at his funeral back in March to be asked by his parents, Tim and Tina Benn, to say a few words about Matt’s work as a publisher and our collaboration. Several people who couldn’t be there have asked me for a copy of what I said so, with Tim and Tina’s permission, I publish it here.

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It was a huge privilege to work alongside Matt.

Our careers met twice. First, as he took his initial steps into the world of publishing at United Trade Press when he started selling classified advertising on one of the magazines I edited. Then, more importantly, when we worked together at Timothy Benn Publishing and Incisive Media on Post Magazine and its associated brands.

My years of working with Matt were among the most rewarding and memorable times of my career, as I know they were for so many other people lucky enough to work with. He brought tremendous flair and fun to the Post team, inspiring us all to take that wonderful brand to new heights.

Life working with Matt was never dull.

Our annual trips to the printers in Cornwall were adventures in themselves. The first time we went together I booked us onto the plane to Newquay. Matt was not impressed as we boarded a plane with propellers. He was a nervous flyer. Every year thereafter we drove, an interesting experience the morning after enjoying the generous – legendary – hospitality of St Ives’ sales director.

Matt-Townsend-Matt was a great team leader – and it is our achievements as a publishing team that many of us will always cherish from our time working with him.

As anyone who has worked in business publishing knows, understanding the market you are serving is vital. This was totally instinctive for Matt. He liked the insurance market and they liked him.

This led to a string of triumphs, several of them making stunning commercial successes of ideas that others, not least myself, had failed to bring to fruition.

He launched a magazine called Professional Broking by putting the perfect business model around an editorial concept I had singularly failed to translate into a commercial success.

But it is our collaboration to create and launch the British Insurance Awards almost a quarter of a century ago that will forever be one of the highlights of my career. In so many ways it perfectly illustrates why Matt was a brilliant publisher. But also why his achievements did not always get the credit he deserved.

Before Matt arrived at Post, I had put together a ragbag of stand-alone awards but could not get the commercial traction to take them to another level.

Matt had the vision to see the potential of pulling those awards together and creating a bold, new integrated awards scheme for an industry that was struggling for recognition, not least because it did not promote its own successes.

We argued long and hard over what to call them. I was all for playing safe and calling them the Post Magazine Awards. Matt’s vision was bigger and bolder – he believed we could create a new brand – the British Insurance Awards. He was right and thank goodness he won that argument.

Above all it was his dynamism and professional salesmanship that ensured we got the BIA off the ground. It is hard to imagine the scepticism we faced back then.

People just could not understand what we were trying to create, not least when it came to the awards ceremony.

We even had to have a physical model of the Great Room at Grosvenor House made – digital graphics were in their infancy then – showing where the state trumpeters would be, how the military band would be used and the quality of set we intended to build. We took that around to potential sponsors and developed a polished routine for unveiling our precious model. We were a decent double-act.

Some sponsors also could not understand why their substantial financial commitment did not buy them a place on the judging panel. Matt was unwavering in our shared belief of the need for a totally independent and impartial judging process.

Mind you that resolve was tested in the very first year. Those independent judges decided not to award one of the categories Matt had worked so hard to get sponsored. He was not impressed – and I was immediately dispatched their head office on the south coast to explain what had happened. Fortunately, I managed to concoct a solution that kept everyone happy.

That rigorous independence has been one of the cornerstones of the enduring success of the BIA – the UK’s largest B2B awards scheme – and is part of Matt’s considerable legacy. Because of it the insurance industry today wears the badge of BIA winner with enormous pride.

It also laid a solid foundation for the events and awards that revitalised Post and are an essential element of its continued commercial success.

Matt did not seek the limelight.

Indeed, he shied away from it.

It is one of the reasons why his achievements were not always adequately recognised.

In many ways, I was his frontman. Whether it was standing up at the BIA in Grosvenor House and later the Royal Albert Hall or hosting a series of global roundtables in the reinsurance market when he turned his attention to reviving another of our brands, Matt never stepped out into the spotlight.

It just wasn’t his skillset and he knew it. He was kind enough to trust me to do all that for him.

Matt, it is a privilege to be your front man one last time.

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The_spire_St_BridesThe plaque is easy to find if you visit St Bride’s. It is about halfway down the aisle immediately on your left as you enter the church.

There is also an obituary to Matt on the Countryman website.

From → Publishing

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