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Fireside Chat with Mark Sennett
I’m Mark Sennett and I’m the CEO for Western Business Media, which is a publisher of Fire Safety Matters magazine and a number of other publications, we have Health and Safety Matters, Security Matters, Handling and Storage Solutions, Cleaning Matters, Controls Drives and Automation and Industrial Plant and Equipment.
All of those magazines are free for FIA members to subscribe to, should they wish to. We also have a key strategic partnership with the FIA which I’ll mention later. But my own background is, I’m a journalist, or I was before I bought the company, so I have about 15 years of experience as a journalist - I’m 37 now. I’m known for launching the Fire Safety Event at the NEC and I’ve worked at Fire Protection Association looking after their membership and their journal at the time. I’ve worked at UBM/Informa on a health and safety title there. But now I’m here and I became Managing Director of Western Media Business Exhibitions as it was two and half years ago and we bought the company. Danny Kosfiou and Keith Gabriel and I bought the company about 18 months ago and we’ve got a couple of awards events, we have some small exhibitions, some conferences and we have seven business publications. So, I hope that gives you a bit of background as to who I am.
- How have you been affected by COVID-19?
First and foremost, anyone that talks about Covid 19 talks about the personal element to it. I think all of us by now have either got family, friends and colleagues that have had Covid 19, I’ve been lucky, I haven’t had it yet, but at my age of 37 I also haven’t had a vaccine yet (at the time of the Fireside Chat being recorded). So, it’s been an awful year for everybody. We had a member of staff that lost a loved one through Covid 19, which was awful and I know plenty of my friends and our staff that have had it so on a personal level, it’s been difficult for everybody. I’ve personally been lucky in terms of my children and myself, my family have not had it and our health has been good. But we still know plenty of people that have.
On a work front, the publishing sector as a whole and the events sector has been decimated by it. You can’t do mass gatherings and marketing spending has been cut because people have been furloughed. We’re very fortunate at Western Business Media that our turnover stayed static. People backed us in a big way in fact we’ve seen big growth this year in 2021 in terms of revenue turnover and the short answer is why are we bucking the trend, compared to other publishers or other event organisers and that in my opinion is because we’ve invested in our products and the relationships we have with clients.
If I make it relevant to your audience, the fire sector, we’re the biggest publication in the fire sector. We have a bigger database than anybody else in the events or publishing sector to do with fire safety, with over 50,000 names that receive our correspondence, emails and newsletters. So, the trust we’ve built up with our clients is we’re able to deliver results. The reason we’ve done ok thankfully and the reason we’re growing now is because people have realised when there aren’t live events, they still do need to get leads.
The manufacturing members of the FIA have still got the pressures if they need to get leads and we can do that in various shapes and forms. We’ve survived well and grown because we’ve been delivering results for clients. We’re not just a content business, we’re a data business and we offer so many different ways of connecting people when you can’t do face to face at the moment. Thankfully face to face will be coming back at the back end of the year and obviously, we offer those elements too.
- Do you have any pets?
Yes, I have an English springer spaniel called Rocky who is 15 and my vet has never seen that breed of dog that old. He’s still naughty, never properly trained, he’s still nuts and I love him to death. I think he’s going to out live me. He’s had cancer for 2 years but he keeps on going bless him. He pre-dates my kids, marriage and divorce so he’s seen it all.
- What’s your favourite movie of all time?
I love comedy so ‘Anchorman’ I love Will Ferrell films. For me, I love what I do for a living, I love spending time with my kids and family, but actually the best thing for me to unwind is to make me laugh and most people know I’m always joking around. So that’s my answer. We quote it round the office even now despite it has been so long since it first came out.
- Describe yourself as a teenager in 3 words?
Know it all. But with a sense of humour and I’m still a wind-up merchant.
- What is your biggest pet peeve/hate?
I never want to string people along in life and in work. I always want to be honest and transparent and what I don’t enjoy dealing with is people that share the same ethos. In life my biggest ethos is to treat people how you want to be treated and if you stick to that standard then you should be able to expect the same in return. That’s the same for personal relationships as it is in work.
So, as long as I’m honest and to the point and don’t lead someone on, that’s all I ask back from business partners, associates, clients etc. When it comes to sales, if you don’t want to do something, don’t do it, just be honest and upfront about it. Don’t give false hope as that’s probably my biggest pet peeve, if I’m honest. Talk to people to their face how you would behind their back.
- If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?
The 80’s and I would have seen Oxford United’s greatest side when we won the league cup and when we were in the top tier for 3 years. I think I would have enjoyed the music scene and stuff back then. Although saying that I think we’re all pretty blessed, I’m not sure if I would call myself a millennial in my 30’s but I’m not sure I’d do all that well with all the tech that we have these days. I think I’m quite lucky to have grown up in the year that I have to be honest. Football wise, easy answer, I should have been 10 years older. I’m still angry at my dad for not taking me to the League Cup Final in 1986, when I was 2, he should have known I would have wanted to have gone.
- What is your favourite quote and why?
If it looks good, you’ll see it, if it sounds good, you’ll hear it, if it’s marketed right, you’ll buy it, but if it’s real, you’ll feel it. That’s a quote by Kid Rock. That is something I can completely get behind both personally and professionally. If you believe in what you do it’s real and other people will feel it and will buy into it. I love that quote.
- If you weren’t in the fire industry – what would you be doing and why?
I suspect I’d end up in PR or something like that if I’m honest. It would be some form of journalism or PR. Never did I expect to get into the fire sector or the business-to-business journalism sector but I love it, best thing I’ve ever done, I’m now in it or until I retire. I’ve been in the fire sector through journalism nearly a decade now and I love it. It’s something I really enjoy and getting to know the people in the industry has been great.
- What’s on your Spotify or iTunes?
I’ve gone a bit retro at the moment, I’m listening to a lot of Creed and Scott Stapp who’s the lead singer of Creed as well as Kid Rock who I mentioned earlier. I like anything, I have quite an eclectic taste in music. I get a lot of motivation and enjoyment from listening to American rock.
- If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?
Sir Winston Churchill no man has done a greater service to this country than him. Will Ferrell who would just have me in stitches of laughter and Vincent McMahon, what he’s done in entertainment and wrestling, I don’t think there’s anyone I admire more in terms of the work ethic that he has and he’s created something out of nothing that has become a global brand. He’s the most interesting character and if he ever released an autobiography, I’d be the first to read it.
- What two things would you take to a Desert Island?
Cody and Grace, my children. I’ve got twin 9-year-olds. If there is cheating, can I say sun tan lotion and Pina Colada?
- If you were an animal, what would it be and why?
A difficult question because I’m not sure there is an answer that doesn’t sound naff. I’ve gone with a wolf for the simple reason that I’m more than comfortable in my own company and working on my own, but actually, much like a wolf, I work better when I’m in a pack with other people. That’s what I love about working with my business partners Danny and Keith. We each add something to this business that the other doesn’t and when we’re stronger together and I say that for partnerships like we have with the FIA. The FIA and Fire Safety Matters magazine could more than happily carry on, on their own without a partnership, but we’re stronger together.
- What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
Cody and Grace, my children. I love my children to death. I’m very lucky that I’ve got them, they mean the world to me. I love my career and I work very, very hard, but I work so that I can look after them in the best way I possibly can. I had a great upbringing, my parents were brilliant, I want to give Cody and Grace as much as I possibly can, as much time, love, attention and opportunity as I can. They are the best gift I’ve ever had.
- What's your favourite thing in your closet right now?
Unlike other guests that you’ve had, unfortunately, I don’t have a wardrobe full of designer shoes but I do have golf shoes and Ian Moore will love this, because I’m learning golf. I’ve been learning golf since just before the Pandemic began and I’ve always loved golf, just never had the time to take it up. My Dad was seven handicap golfer and I aspire to be like your CEO, Ian, and to spend more time on the golf course.
- If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
It’s got to be mind control right, surely? It just makes life easier I might win an argument occasionally if I had mind control. I could shave hours off my day if people just did what I needed them to do. There would be no negotiation with clients, dating would be so much easier as well, I might not be divorced if I had mind control. I’m not sure it’s the best sales pitch but it would give me hours in my day back and probably make me less likely for a heart attack.
- What's the best piece of advice you've received?
A good friend of mine said ‘just back yourself’. If you believe in yourself others will believe in you. All of us can achieve amazing things if we put our mind to it. You can’t do it unless you believe in yourself. If you create something and you don’t believe in it, it won’t be a success. If you truly believe in yourself and what you’re doing, things will be a success, even if the odds are against you.
- What time did you get to work this morning?
I started work in my hotel room about 4am this morning and I got into the office at 7am. What you learn when you have twins that never slept the first three years, apparently you don’t need sleep anymore. You become bionic.
- What does your usual day look like?
The great thing about my job is no two days are ever the same. One day I could be talking about sales in one of our virtual markets or I could be talking about new editorial direction or a new launch. We are trying to grow the company at the moment. We’re looking at launching other magazines or acquiring other publications or events. It’s different because one day I could be sat doing a Fire Safety Matters podcast, our going through news stories with our editor Brian Simms or interviewing industry personalities or your FIA members, then later in the day, I could be in a budget meeting with my business partners. Then it could be creating an editorial house style, it could be hosting a webinar on the cleaning sector, it’s so varied.
Clients call all the time and that’s a nice thing to break up the day, clients will call and catch up in general and ask what we’re doing next, how then can work with us? It’s broken up between trying to move the business forward and trying to expand it to a mixture of sales, editorial and strategy. So, with seven other brands currently all those things remain the same. So, when you’ve got those three components with seven other brands, it’s very, very varied. We’ve got twenty-four staff and we’re in contact with all of them throughout the day, one way or another. I love what I do and it’s very varied.
- What makes you excited about the future of this industry?
I think this is a really exciting year, we’ve got two new major pieces of legislation coming in. The Fire Safety bill and the Building Safety bill, we’ve got a new regulator coming in. This is like almost unheard of in the fire sector. Something actually really moving in a major way. Look at how long it took for a review of approved document B and things like that, the governments and the government in part have not been quick to create new regulation or legislation and we’ve got two major amendments and these two bills coming through.
The competence drive in the wake of the Hackitt review is essential too, so I actually thing it’s in interesting exciting time. It feels like there is real change happening in the sector that really is going to be impactful.
Unfortunately, that has come in the wake of a terrible tragedy in terms of Grenfell and that should never be forgotten and one of the biggest gripes of may people in the sector is it shouldn’t take a major tragedy to raise awareness and the need for change. With associations like the FIA, they do an essential job of lobbying for change.
The FIA particularly is, as influential association, in my opinion, as there is in the fire sector and I think that is proved during Judith Hackitt’s review the amount of people in the FIA that were asked for their input. That’s a testament to the work that the FIA does. That excites me at the moment and it feels like there is a real change happening and real landmark things are happening.
What does the fire industry need?
Actually, it’s not so much technology that I want to focus on in this question. I think the most important thing the sector needs is the competency agenda to be pushed forwards. If you’re a manufacturer of fire detection equipment, you need to ensure that its being installed by competent people.
The work that FIA, BAFE, NSI and SSIAB do to try and ensure competency of people working with in the fire sector to install products etc is absolutely key and long the problem has been, that anybody can set up a company to install a fire or security system for that matter and it’s not the same as the old gas safe register and that’s something that I think really needs to change.
Only competent people should be carrying out fire safety work because the work that the people reading this do in the sector, is vital, it keeps people and property safe. You keep people alive you keep property safe. It is an essential job that this sector does and that’s why it was recognised with key worker status during the pandemic, so actually it’s not technology as such that I want to see, technology will form a part of that, the focus on competency is absolutely right.
The associations and organisations that are pushing that have my full support. So, that is where the focus, in my opinion, should be. You could have the best system in the world and if it’s installed by an incompetent person, it’s not going to do the job it was meant to do and that can have a damaging impact on the manufacturer that’s made it when it’s not their fault, they’ve got a particularly reliable system, it just wasn’t installed properly. Or the person whose property it’s protecting is going to think that that the system let them down when it wasn’t the systems fault it was installed by an incompetent person. That’s why the training the FIA provides in general is really, really important. You should be able to trust the people that install the systems for you and the manufacturers the distributers should be able to trust the people that are installing those systems.
- What do you like about the fire industry?
That’s really easy, the people. Ian Moore and I have talked about this a lot because of the work the FIA are doing. People don’t grow up when they’re at school wishing they were in the fire industry, they don’t know what the fire industry is and Ian very eloquently said to me once “The fire industry has taken me all over the world, it’s taken me to unbelievable sites and nuclear power plants in the middle of no-where, it’s taken me over-seas”. That’s a man that’s well-travelled with the Navy as well and he’s right. I’ve been to some phenomenal places like, Dubai, Spain, Germany. I’ve been to some major landmarks through working in the fire sector. People don’t realise that the fire sector is so broad. You could just be doing marketing for a manufacturer, you could be a firefighter, you could be an installer or a consultant. It’s so broad, but it gives you the opportunity to see the world and see different things. I don’t think that is relayed enough and the FIA are taking steps to try and say that, in schools that this is a far more attractive profession than you might think it is, but really when you’re in it, the longevity that people stay in it is truly staggering to me.
Almost all of the people I met ten years ago in the fire sector are still in the fire sector. The people are great to deal with, they’re great fun, I find them pretty honest and direct and I just enjoy spending time in their company, the networking side of it I really, really enjoy. I was really taken aback by how much I really enjoyed coming into the fire sector. I’ve built some great friendships outside of work through the fire sector and the fire sector has enabled me to professionally surpass anything I thought I was going to do. I’ve been able to do that by the relationships I’ve built and the trust that the people have put into me, so the answer to the question is it’s the people, they’re great and I can see why people stay in the sector for a long time.
- How does your work and family life come together?
I’m lucky. I see a lot of my daughters 4 days out of 7, holidays with them are really precious. I always take them away, often we go to the Manga club in Spain where we’ve got a place where I pretty much grew up in my school holidays. My parents had a place out there then and I cherish the time that I spend with my kids, it’s not easy because of the demands of owning your own business especially during a pandemic and you never quite switch off, if you’re passionate about what you do. But then I love going swimming with my kids, I love going bowling with them, I love kicking a football around with them. Just spending time and going out and doing something is what I enjoy and once covid restrictions are lifted, I’m very much looking forward to taking them to where we should have gone before the pandemic which was taking them to Disney in Orlando, they’ve always wanted to go, we had the holiday booked and obviously that plan got put to rest because of the pandemic.
- What matters most to you?
First and foremost, my family, my kids, and my friends matter the most to me and as I mentioned earlier, that ethos of treat people how you want to be treated. People will ask if my career is important and my career is incredibly important and I’m proud of the stuff that we’ve achieved here but it’s my family and my friends that’s the priority, you can’t take things with you once you’re gone, but you can take the memories with you and you only have great memories if you have a great family and circle of friends. So, that above anything else.
- What would you tell yourself at the age of 21?
You’ve got a few bumps in the road over the next few years but it’s going to be one hell of a ride.
- What motivates you?
Providing for my kids 100% and giving them opportunities and spending time with them. My extended family which I suppose are my business partners Danny Kosfiou and Keith Gabriel. It’s a true partnership and everything that I do is to make sure I don’t let them down. That was the great thing about the pandemic, we didn’t downsize, we kept our staff in and they worked really hard for us and I have a responsibility to my business partners and to our staff to maintain and grow this company and grow them as well.
My personality type for anyone that knows me is and being the wind-up merchant that I am, I love proving people wrong. If you tell me that I can’t do something, I’m going to give it a damn good go to try and get it right. I have the thickest skin out there and I don’t care what people say but at the same time, I do enjoy proving people wrong if I can, as a motivation it’s a responsibility for others, whether it’s your family, colleagues, staff or business partners, that’s the motivation to not let them down and to make sure that we succeed together.
- Where do you want to be in 5 years?
I want to be right here, right where I am, right now. There aren’t many people that are blessed enough to be truly comfortable with where they are in life and I’m one of those lucky people. I love what we do here in Western Business Media, this is my last job, this is me done.
I want to grow it and keep growing it and build on the legacy that Neil Western, who was the previous owner did when he founded this company and Tim Else. I want to build on that, I want to be doing this, I love what I do and this is what I want to be doing. I’m lucky. So in 5 years-time I want to be alive, healthy and less stressed and doing more of the same, but better.
- Why is the FIA important to you and the industry?
It’s really important to me on a personal level because the FIA is our key strategic partner for ‘Fire Safety Matters’. We have built a relationship on trust that really helps offer membership benefits to the FIA and adds further credibility to our publication. Our partnership is wide ranging, as you know, that we have regular content from the FIA doing an annual publication this year ‘The UK guide to fire safety’, ‘The FIA guide’ as we’re calling it and we’re launching ‘Fire and security matters awards in partnership with the FIA’. That relationship is key, the FIA is really key to us. Neither of us need the other one, but we’re stronger together. We can offer membership benefits to the FIA so the FIA can then focus on its chore tasks.
FIA members are so engaged, they are the perfect readership and FIA members are our potential client based so it is the most important relationship we have in the fire side, with the FIA and I’m very proud of it and I’m very grateful to the board of the directors at the FIA and Ian Moore for partnering with us. The FIA is really important to the industry. Having worked for an association in the industry as well as being a member of the fire sector federation, I know just how just important associations are. You do a key role, not just educating members, but also FIA is leading the way, in my opinion in terms of lobbying for change in the fire sector. Whether it’s a competency agenda, the various working groups that you have. The influence of the FIA is as strong, if not the strongest of any association of the fire sector. It’s a not-for-profit business. It’s there to make a difference in representing its members interest and I think it does a fantastic job. The growth that’s been seen, in terms of members and training, has been phenomenal in the last four or five years, it’s a real testament to the team that’s there
This sector as I’ve said before, keeps people and property safe. In order to best do that you need a strong trade association, so government can be told what the key issues are that are facing the sector and when you realise that fire can have such a devastating effect, it’s a really important sector to make sure that its properly represented by professional people and the FIA does a fantastic job of that, educating, lobbying and working for change. It’s absolutely vital for the sector and as I’ve said, on a personal professional level, it’s the most important relationship that we have and I’m very grateful for the partnership that I have with the FIA.
- What do you want to say to the readers?
What I really wanted to talk about today is the exciting stuff that we can offer FIA members. Obviously, Fire Safety Matters magazine, you can get for free, register via our website to get the magazine for free at www.fsmatters.com you can go back and listen to any of our archive of webinars that’s there and there’s lots. You can get CPD for it. We’ll be doing a digital conference later in this year which the FIA will be a keynote speaker as will the new Building Safety Regulator, which will be happening in 3 October 2021 you can register to attend and get full details at www.fsmlive.co.uk
We do podcasts, if you search fire safety matters in any where you get your podcast, you can listen to our monthly podcast. Our editor Brian Sims does an amazing job on that.
We’ve launched some new things with the FIA, which I really want to tell everybody about now and which we’re really excited about. We have just opened entries for the all-new Fire and Security Matters Awards in partnership with the FIA.
It’s free to enter, there’s five categories from the fire sector that you can enter, categories like, installer of the year, fire safety project of the year, fire safety team of the year, there’s a life time achievement award.
These awards are really important in my opinion, they’ve got the backing of all the other key associations but the lead one is the FIA and it celebrates excellence and the important work that you do keeping people and property safe, it’s a great way to recognise your team, or a member of your team, your product or your service or your business as a whole, the important role that you do. It only takes a few minutes to do an entry and there’s nothing better than getting a recognition of your peers. Neither myself or the FIA can rig these awards. They have real independence and credibility because the judges, although the FIA is already one judge, is five or six other associations or bodies such as the NSI, SSAIB, the Institute of Fire Safety Managers all of these and that really shows the hunger for these awards.
You can enter the Fire and Security Matters Awards for free right now at www.firesecurityawards.com
The entry deadline is 30 November 2021, and it will all culminate in a gala dinner on 28 April 2022 at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry and the gala dinner will be hosted by comedian and impressionist Alistair McGowan.
We’ve already got great support from the industries, we’ve got AICO who are the headline sponsors and Apollo Fire Detectors, Safety Chair and Tio Fire are already confirmed as sponsor. So, we’re looking for more sponsors obviously and if you do decide to sponsor it, there’s huge marketing opportunities there but actually you’re directly supporting the FIA. For sponsorship opportunities please contact Leanne Velez via [email protected]
Another thing we’re excited about is an annual publication we’re doing with the FIA ‘The FIA guide which is a UK Guide to Fire Safety and that’ll be coming out in December and it’ll be a proper guide on everything in the fire sector.
It will cover everything from alarm and detection systems, suppression passive fire protection, evacuation, extinguishers, emergency lighting, firefighting equipment, training, testing and approvals, real market insight analysis that the FIA will bring in, some best practice, risk assessments, legal advice and competency. It’s going to be a complete A-Z of the state of the UK fire industry for the end of 2021 and we’re really excited about that. We’ve been flooded with people wanting to contribute to that, so many FIA members have signed up to advertise and put content in. If you’d like to be a part of that, then please do drop myself or Leanne a line via [email protected] , because we are happy to make you or your organisation stand out via adverts or editorial in the guide, which will be distributed to not only all of our database but also to all FIA members.
If anyone wants to get in touch with me directly, I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to email me at [email protected]
If you would like to get involved with Fireside Chats please contact Adam Richardson on [email protected]
*All answers given are not reflective of the FIA views and thoughts and are that of the individual who was interviewed.