The new publisher of Bay Media sits down with Rachel Ainsley to discuss the value of community news, the power of advertising and his plans for the future
Philip Jay has the gift of the gab. He can talk nonstop for 57 minutes, barely pausing to take a breath. I know this because I just timed him. That’s fine by me – he’s answered my questions without my having to ask them – he clearly knows what he’s about. And he comes across as driven, funny, open and surprisingly self-deprecating; I like his energy. This is also fine by me because Philip’s my new boss – he took over as the publisher of Bay Media in February.
Trusting my first impressions and having had a good look at Philip’s resume, it seems to me that Bay Media, and by extension the communities it serves,are in good hands.Philip has 35+ years publishing experience across community and trade magazines. And that’s all in Hong Kong. Here are some highlights: Publisher and founder, Jewish Times Asia (2006 to present); managing director, Localiiz.com (2018 to 2015); senior business development director, SingTao/ Standard Newspaper Group (HK) (2003 to 2005); founder and managing director, Technology News Asia (2000 to 2003); general manager, Thomson Financial Publishing (1997 to 2000).
“What I’m good at is seeing a connection. I see advertisers around an editorial idea and then, if I’m convinced it will work, I get the right people to write it and the right people to sell it,” Philip says. “You need a good pitch and a good line of patter in this business, then you hire people to cover your own inadequacies. It also helps if you have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.”
It’s clear that Philip took over Bay Media at an… interesting time (more on that later), so what drew him to the business and to Around DB specifically?
Plans for Bay Media
“I’m struck by the strength, the positivity and the inclusiveness of the DB community, and I think Around DB reflects that,” Philip says. “Given its location and energised spirit, we are in a fantastic position to continue to progress and move forward. It’s a great magazine and I am immensely proud to be picking up the baton.
“Around DB is editorially driven and it serves the community well; I always get great feedback on the content, so while I’d like to refine it a bit, and make it bigger and better, there’s not much I want to change. Fundamentally, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Jewish Times Asia, which Philip founded in 2006, was Asia’s first community tabloid, and though it’s on hold temporarily, there’s a definite parallel with Around DB. “I understand the value of community news,” Philip says.
“People really enjoy it, and they take it in more than general news. It’s good to see people you know and can relate to in a magazine.”
Philip describes himself as “an old-fashioned publisher; a traditional print man,” but he’s also the man who transformed Localiiz.com from an A to Z of small businesses (a glorified telephone directory), into one of Hong Kong’s most popular
social-media sites. Needless to say, he has big plans for Bay Media’s online presence.
“We have 40,000+ visitors to our website every month, and we have a very active Facebook presence with 18,000+ followers, so there’s a lot of potential there,” he says. “I plan to expand our digital reach. The more online communication the better, not just for followers and influencers but also for advertisers. We need to provide more tailor- made marketing campaigns that reach our unique readership, with split print/ digital opportunities for clients.”
As for Life on Lantau, Philip’s again looking to go bigger. “I’m aiming to build up Life on Lantau over the next two to three years, and transfer some of Around DB’s strengths to it,” he says. “It needs its own website and I’d like to boost the content to focus on all the different Lantau districts. In fact, there might be room for two separate magazines – one for Mui Wo and one for Tung Chung.
“Bay Media already brings out Best of Lantau twice a year and I plan to build on that by introducing more guides,” Philip adds. “A guide for tourists focused on nature and hiking; a property publication; a F&B guide; a directory of Lantau businesses… I want more out of the landscape. Maybe a magazine for Cheung Chau, and for the other outlying islands.”
Last but not least, Philip plans to increase the Bay Media Design Studio vision. “From logos, leaflets and company brochures, to book publishing and website creation, we’re in a position to help all businesses,” he says. “BayMedia Design Studio provides an important service. It’s another aspect of the business that I want to see develop and grow.”
Before we get into the in and outs of the February takeover, I ask Philip about his family. “My wife’s name? It’s Marilyn. As in Marilyn Monroe,” he says, without missing a beat. “We met in Hong Kong in the early ‘90s when we were in our early 30s. It was love at first sight. On my side anyway. Marilyn played hard to get. She didn’t give me her phone number and I had to wait well over a month to see her again. In life you have to be patient, especially when you are picking your life partner. We are celebrating 20 years of marriage this year.”
Philip’s kids Joshua Jay, 16 and Jessica Jay, 14, share the nickname JJ. “Names that are short and sharp appeal to people, which is one of the reasons I called my first Hong Kong venture Philip Jay Publishing,” he says. “That and the fact that people need to know you first if you’re going to sell to them. But back to the kids: I wanted them to have names that roll off the tongue and are easy to remember. Everyone wants a JJ on their team; JJs don’t get teased in the playground.”
The family lives in Clear Water Bay and it takes four trains and a bus to get Philip to DB every day. “I’m the person with Hong Kong’s longest commute, I wouldn’t do that if I wasn’t passionate about Bay Media,” he quips. And moving to DB is not on the cards at present.
“My wife works for a shipping company in Kowloon Bay and the kids are nearing the end of their IB [at Elsa High School in Shau Kei Wan], so it would be difficult to relocate in the short term,” he says. “We live in a small house in a quiet village, there are dogs and birds and it’s very scenic. I need that to think.
“What’s important is that I already feel connected to DB, I work here. I’m here every day,” Philip adds.
“Having an office in DB is a breath of fresh air after having worked in Central for so long. There’s no smog, very little pollution; everyone’s very welcoming and there’s a strong community spirit.”
Philip has been commuting to DB since October last year, when he was hired as general manager, by then publisher Corinne Jedwood Rechter, to oversee the day-to-day workings of Bay Media.
“Corinne had been commuting back and forth from California for a couple of years, and from Israel before that, and she was beginning to feel the strain,” he explains. “Within a month or two of my coming onboard everything was running more efficiently, and she was visiting less and less. In February, she told me she wanted to move away from the business; she wanted to make a clean, quick break and she asked if I wanted to step in.
“Corinne’s so happy to have someone to keep Bay Media going,” Philip adds. “She doesn’t have to worry about her staff, her clients, or the community.”
That’s all well and good but who in their right minds (sorry Philip) would decide to take over a business four months ago, right when the COVID-19 outbreak was really starting to kick in? “I’ve never experienced anything like this – SARS was a short sharp shock by comparison – this one could be a year,” Philip admits.
“But you have to be proactive even in the worst financial times. We need longevity and patience – we need to be strong, tough and resilient. Hopefully then we’ll all survive. To keep Bay Media afloat, we’re 100% relying on people, on the community. If people still like reading the magazines and seeing themselves in them, and if advertisers stay with us, the long-term prospects are fantastic.
“I’m staying positive,” Philip concludes with a grin. “I look forward to going to work every day, to seeing the new issues come out and to getting advertising for people.”