British mental health magazine One in Four celebrates its fifth year of publication this year. Five years is an impressive stretch, given the short shelf life of many publications. Despite the challenges, editor Mark Brown suggests that there’s life in the old dog yet.
“Magazine years are like dog years. Mental health is a really interesting area any way. It’s an area where there isn’t really that many social enterprises, at least many successful social enterprises.”
The magazine, which seeks to help people understand mental health difficulty from the perspective of those who experience it, has survived despite sustained cuts to public sector spending. “We started selling in bulk to major organisations, such as the NHS, and that was going OK until 2010. It was amazing the effect of the change in government. It was like a portcullis coming down. And quite quickly people began cancelling their subscriptions.”
Added to this, the magazine has bucked another trend by being a successful publication on mental health – only earlier this year one of the UK’s largest mental health charities Mind, cancelled its magazine ‘Open Mind’ after 15 years in circulation.
So how have they done it? “We’ve kept it going because we really want to keep it going. We’ve done that by grafting and hustling and getting by. I think that’s the reality of small business,” argues Brown.
It’s a reality Brown believes is all too often lost in the hype around social enterprise. He is a strong advocate of the old adage that ‘small is beautiful’, suggesting that the magazine’s success is due in part to the company’s flexibility and agility. “We’ve been more successful the more we’ve slimmed down, bizarrely. Making it to the end of the month requires the agility of not having a large staff team. There’s no great big contracts, huge endowments, or massive reserves. That’s how we’ve survived, by being small and dirty.”
The magazine gives those with experience of mental health difficulties a chance to help and educate others by writing for the magazine, receiving modest remuneration in return too. Brown feels this is what gives the magazine its distinctive edge over others that have tried and failed to break this area, having also experienced these issues himself.
“No one actually believed that you could do a good magazine written by people with mental health difficulties. And funders and investors had sort of had their fingers burnt in the past, by putting up the money for a magazine or publication, which maybe was not so great, and it disappearing once the funding ended.”
Several of his writers have since gone on to write for other publications, which Brown suggests shows how mental health can be part of a normal life, and that the two things need not be exclusive of each other. “[We’ve shown] that useful mundane advice is better than inspiring stories of people riding up Everest on a unicycle.”
Brown now looks forward to the next five years and beyond, intent on continuing to improve the content of the magazine and expanding its market.
What tricks can an old dog teach the rest of the sector? Brown had the following advice for other potential and nascent social entrepreneurs about what it takes to sustain a social enterprise. “A lot of good social enterprise ideas won’t get off the ground unless they go through the dirty, grimey period. It’s not all going to be exciting award ceremonies, with flash cars and flash suits. It’s going to be unpleasant sleepless nights and hard graft. That’s how we’ve kept it going. We’ve kept it going against financial sense but through a strong moral sense.”
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