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Dynamic ad sales manager who helped build EMAP

Former Motor Cycle News London advertisement director Keith McGee died on 3 April following a year-long fight with cancer. He was 82.

A colossus among advertising sales managers, McGee was one of the reasons MCN publisher East Midlands Allied Press (or EMAP as it later was) became a Footsie 100 company with a market capitalisation of around £2 billion at its peak.

He joined EMAP in 1956 as an ad rep after national service in the Far East in the Royal Corp of Signals. At that time MCN was only a few months old; an upstart new tabloid launched against two long-established magazine-style weeklies in which coverage of motorcycle sport was largely confined to major national and international race events. News and especially road test reports were heavily “influenced” by the still-powerful British bike manufacturers.

MCN changed all that. Initially, by reporting the efforts of the many thousands of week-end club riders competing in road and off-road sport and publishing comprehensive race results from across the country every Wednesday, two days before its two rivals landed at the bookstalls. News and road test reports were more objective, too.

McGee capitalised on MCN’s editorial breadth, its rapidly increasing circulation and two-day bookstall lead time with a vengeance. First, he expanded its classified advertising pages. At their peak, classified and semi-display ads filled at least 30 pages every week and were an essential new and used bike sales tool for dealers, especially those in London and the home counties. Then in the 1970s, classified ad revenue was complemented by even more serious money being spent on display ads by the newly arrived Japanese manufacturers, all competing for sales and market share (yes, even then) in a booming new bike market. EMAP used the revenue for acquisitions that rapidly built it into the powerhouse publishing, radio and exhibitions group it became.

Sadly, empire EMAP was broken up and sold off following an ill-advised and disastrous venture into the North American market in 1998 when a £1 billion purchase of Peterson Publishing was turned into a loss of £734 million after only three years when EMAP disposed of it in 2001.

McGee, who retired eight years earlier in 1990, made little or no comment about the fiasco but must have been considerably vexed that his and a lot of other people’s efforts were so gratuitously wasted.

COLIN MAYO

The June issue of BDN also carries a tribute to Keith McGree by former MCN advertising director Peter Archer.

The funeral will take place at Chelmsford Crematorium, Essex CM1 3BL, at 11am on 12 May.

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