We chat with Chris Atkins, Founder and CEO of The CAT Company, aggregator of the official reporting for the Group of Nations Summits, including G20 and G7 Summits, and an Issuu Elite customer.
Angela @Issuu: Thank you for joining us today Chris
Chris Atkins: Happy to be here.
Well I actually started out as a chef! I went to college to be a chef, which is going way back. I did that for a bit, but there’s really no life being a chef. Then I thought perhaps becoming a professional golfer would be the right idea, so I played golf for a bit. But, as you can imagine, that wasn’t really going to work out. In the early 90’s, a buddy of mine was selling advertising in London, and he asked if I wanted to come sell advertising for the 1993 Ryder Cup Magazine. So chef, golf, Ryder Cup, yeah! Natural progression, right?
I did very well at that for a while, selling advertising for a major sports company, and then got a job offer in the United States in 1995. I came out to Salt Lake City, Utah to run that sales company, which was also a publishing company, and that’s actually how we started the G7 publications. In 1997, under the Clinton administration, we did our first issue in Denver Colorado. I later left the organization, but carried on the magazine publishing. This year marks my 25th anniversary of publishing the G7 Global Brief Reports.
The real reason why we started the G7 Global Brief Reports was because not many people really understand what G7 is all about. If you’re in the “bubble” or you’re one of the global leaders attending, you get it. But if you’re outside the bubble, there’s not a lot of insight into these meetings. Of course this became the first ever publication talking about the G7 Summits. The purpose was to help educate people that wanted to know more about what the G7 was all about, the topics, etc. Then we started getting companies that wanted to showcase their corporate responsibilities and what they’re doing that helps the planet.
G7 progressed and once G20 came about, we started doing a G20 magazine. Now there's also the B20, which is more the business angle for G20, and APEC. Thus far we cover G7, G20, B20, APEC and more recently we’ve been working with an organization out of Africa. The NEPAD Business Foundation involves G7 and G20 matters around Africa.
Yes, exactly. Obviously Africa is involved in G7 and G20 but they don't fully have a seat at the table (yet), they just get invited, which I hope will change to include a seat at the table in the future. But that's why we started creating a G7 and G20 NEPAD Business Foundation publication in addition to the other publications, to give NEPAD the chance to get their message out as well. And that's that's how it all started.
Also self taught. But that’s just part of the entrepreneurial spirit in me!
Oh there are certainly ups and downs. I think if you look at the locations of where the summits are, there's definitely a peak with an eb and flow in terms of the number of companies that want to engage depending on the location. Last year, obviously Covid-19 was tricky; there was no G7 in the US for the first time since I've been involved.
Then G20 was in Saudi Arabia, and with a lot of controversial matters going on there, so depending on where the summit's are, it certainly lends itself to exactly who wants to participate and what companies want to share their message at that particular point. There are definitely ups and downs but it’s wonderful to be a part of it all.
Yes. Obviously not optimal, but virtual is fine, it certainly cuts on security costs. When Canada hosted in 2010, they held G7 and G20 at the same time and there were rumors of somewhere in the realm of a couple billion dollars put into security alone. Which is crazy.
So virtual events are fine, and APEC this year has already said that they're doing a virtual event which will be held in November. Virtualization is certainly where everybody is heading these days anyway, with digitalization you get things done, in many cases a lot faster or in less cost-prohibitive ways. Though it must be difficult in circumstances like G7 or G20 where world leaders generally like to meet in person, having private chats and so forth.
It certainly changed the agenda. Last year, obviously the major focus was all around Covid. In terms of the nitty gritty I think it was still very much an open dialogue but didn’t change the overall conversation much. Open dialogue, though still a closed show for the general public. Which I personally wish would change because I’m a big believer in if you want to make the world a better place for all, there needs to be more inclusiveness when it comes to the Summits.
If they allowed perhaps an hour or two for an open forum where the entire global community could listen to the world leaders and even perhaps ask questions of their leaders, I think it would change the conversation for the better. Not only so people could understand what's going on, but then maybe the otherwise unknown SMB company has an idea that may help solve one of the difficult global issues. The global summits become a bit of a bubble, and who knows what problems could be solved if more people were tuned in.
Hence why we started the publication. To inform, educate and give insight to people around the world and showcase what companies are trying to share their message.
Here’s a classic example: The G20 countries make up about 4.3 billion people, that’s around 85% of the world's GDP. Now B20, which is the business aspect of the G20, you only have a representation of maybe 1000 to 1500 executives. It’s highly disproportionate with the number of CEOs in the world attending B20 compared to the number of people that actually make up the population. It just doesn’t make sense, it’s unrepresentative. So why don't you open it up from a digital standpoint? Yes, you can still have your closed-shop meetings, but why not also have an open forum, a global forum where anybody can log in and and listen to what the global leaders and the top CEOs discuss and try to get some involvement from the average person down the street.
Correct, and I've certainly tried to share this vision to many of the host committees, which generally gets shut down, but they’re getting better. I think if we really want to try and save the planet and solve some of the global issues that we’re facing, the more involvement the better. Inclusiveness is incredibly important.
Well as a whole, communication can be a real problem. From the early 90s you could pick up the phone and speak to anybody. But today, a problem that I think we're having, is we’re all hiding behind the telephone. It’s staggering to see that when you try and find a phone number for a major corporation, there's no phone number on their website. Sure you can email, or fill out that contact sheet and “we'll get back to you”. I think that speaks to society as a whole because we’re losing the art of communication.
Now we're in the communication age, yes, but we're missing out on this kind of communication. Maybe I'm old school, I like to pick up the phone and have a conversation with people. That's how I've done business, and how I think people still want to do business. I’ve talked to many clients who say the same thing, so I think we can certainly do better with communication.
In terms of G7, APEC etc, health is obviously way up there in terms of big problems to solve, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the biggest issue, climate change is, I think. We can have the best health in the world, but if the planet is going to be getting warmer and warmer, then we're not going to be around for long. And yes, climate change is real, it's a proven fact. So if we don't solve global warming then we're in trouble. Luckily there’s a huge push towards SDG (sustainable development goals), so I think companies are actually working towards following the UN Global Compact goals now and are doing a better job than in previous years. Obviously ocean plastic pollution is a huge issue as well.
All of the topics discussed in recent years are very serious. Gender equality, women in business is huge and has really taken off over the last couple years with W20. It hasn’t gotten quite as much press but there’s a women’s W20 that's been going for about six years about women, equal pay and women's rights, and everything in between. Which is obviously, a massive topic, and so it should be. Equality as a whole, gender, sexual, and racial. Racial justice and protests, unresolved tensions and disparity, many many topics of important conversation at the global top of mind.
To be honest, it hasn’t changed too much because I only really travel for the summit's anyway. Making sure that the magazines are distributed there, and maybe meet a few clients if they’re there. I work from home and I’m on the phone talking to people every day. The Covid situation hasn't really affected me, like many people, I just haven't been out much. The only thing is yes, you do feel a little caged up sometimes, but luckily being in Salt Lake City, Utah we’ve got the mountains and you can go for an amazing walk pretty close by.
I suppose the only thing that was really tricky last year was nobody was in the office. Reaching people was near impossible unless they forwarded office phones to their home phones or cell phones. Which not many did or were able to. And then, obviously with the magazines we make our money by selling the advertising. So when a global catastrophe happens, many companies go into panic mode and shut down budgets.
Absolutely, it becomes “we’re not spending any money”. So from that standpoint yeah it's been tricky. SMB businesses have struggled and we struggled last year. Luckily things are picking back up and we’re going to be just fine! It’s going to take time, but I think there's definitely a message that companies can share about what they've gone through and what they’ve changed. Everybody takes stock of their business model and sort of a kumbaya moment, where business leaders can think, “Oh yeah I've done the same with my business”, or can learn from one another.
That was one of the reasons I reached out to Issuu on how to increase visibility from a digital standpoint. Obviously last year we didn’t distribute the same level of print issues that we normally would due to Covid-19. In a normal year we would distribute print copies everywhere but with the unknowns of Covid, we didn't know if people were sick would they get the germs on the magazines and somebody else picks it up, would they get Covid? We really didn’t know at that point early last year.
Regardless, digital is truly where it’s at. Certainly some people still like hard copies to a certain extent, but I think, from a digital standpoint, what you guys do is tremendous because you can really reach the masses and have very cost effective ways of doing it.
Yes, entirely. And Issuu was one of the platforms at the forefront of the digital age helping customers publish their magazines online. I think the first digital we looked into was around 2006 or 2007 as we really needed a platform where we could share the magazines. Eight or nine years before that was just hard print. With digital publishing, you not only reduce your print costs…
Definitely not an insignificant sum. So you’re not only reducing print costs but you’re also saving trees! Which is a major topic at G7 and G20, because it’s working towards sustainability. How can we be more sustainable? And that's when we have to look at our business model and think about sustainability. Obviously I try to find companies that use Forest Stewardship Council recycling stamps, and find the most sustainable resources and options available. It’s also why I reached out to Joe Hyrkin a few weeks ago to learn what Issuu is doing to share your message of carbon footprint, sustainability and saving trees because you guys have got a tremendous story. Like how many trees Issuu has saved by being a digital platform. Everybody is having an impact, and that’s just part of the story we wish to share. Online you are not only reaching global audiences at the click of a button but you’re also saving the trees that would otherwise be cut down to print publications on.
Well, the other thing that I feel that companies are somewhat missing the boat on is you can search on company websites and they have a small little tab at the bottom and it talks about their sustainability. But major corporations rarely seem to run ads or commercial messages about their sustainability. There's a quote I saw the other day,
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell.” - Seth Godin
If you look at companies like Bertazzoni and Miele, two appliance companies, they’ve got tremendous sustainability messages on their website, but yet they don't put it in their commercials. All they're saying is take a look at our wonderful microwaves, etc. If they explored more avenues like “we use X, Y Z recycled material, and zero plastic...etc etc.” I think they’d get more people to buy the products.
I think there needs to be a bit of a paradigm shift in terms of how people market their product. And I know I personally would love to see a banner on Issuu of something like “Welcome to Saving Trees” with a number of how many trees you’ve saved by being a digital publishing company. I would love more organizations to jump on board with these kinds of things, that it’s not just about selling your product, it's the mission and the story behind it.
There’s a company called Flor, they make carpets. In fact, they’re one of the largest manufacturers of carpet tiles in the world. And a lot of those carpet tiles are made from recycled fishing nets that have washed up from the ocean. A company out of Italy, called Aquafil, that works with organizations and they take fishing nets, chop them up, do their process and the fibers end up being in carpets or clothing, or anything they’re able to recycle into.
These sustainability efforts and visibility are a big reason why we started the G7, G20 etc publications. To be able to help companies that are doing these tremendous things, really be able to share that message around the agendas that governments are putting out, which then in turn helps with their branding, reach and revenue.
Yes, absolutely. Sustainability wasn’t quite on the agenda back then, but the overall goal was to help educate. To have that opportunity where we could go out and educate people, they can understand what the topics are, learn about those topics, and if something comes of that... Brilliant! So it was just all about education, helping people understand what G7 was all about, and then obviously that continued to grow into the G20, B20 and all of the global summits out there.
In the beginning, I think the relationship with Issuu from my standpoint as a small company, was to really increase readership. Because you increase eyes on pages, you increase advertising, and those come together to increase revenue. Now you have the G7 and G20 governments who are trying to save paper, and be sustainable. Issuu is helping customers save paper, so putting everyone together just seems like a win-win situation. Why not send out these documents or white papers with a sustainable digital publication platform like Issuu? They’re saving countless sheets of paper, you’re spreading your message of digital publications and saving trees, and in turn that increases readership for me.
But it can’t be just about me. So yes, do I want to get more readership out of it? Absolutely. But I can only do that by helping you guys share your message as well.
Certainly some organizations and countries have different rules and regulations, but in general they seem to be heading in the right direction, and others will eventually follow suit. I’m not saying that print publications are inherently bad, but it’s wonderful to see countries and organizations moving towards more sustainable options.
We started these magazines with a mission of education, and we will continue to provide that education. Celebrating 25 years as the longest serving publisher for the G7 is obviously a tremendous honor. We certainly couldn’t have done it without all the support from our sponsors and advertisers, and we feel we’re providing a wonderful vehicle for people to understand what these summits are all about, what the topics are, and how we can grow those to have a more globally inclusive dialogue.
We just hope we bring value. That's the key. It's all about bringing value, and companies see that we've got a mission to help. We hope to continue to help by sharing our messaging and all of the noteworthy causes that companies and countries are pursuing every day. Educating, sharing, and creating a globally inclusive dialogue. That’s the goal.
Thank you for having me!