Our Story: Simon Leslie Ink Joint CEO & Co-Founder

Simon has always loved doing deals, negotiating a sale and walking away with the satisfaction of helping businesses grow. Selling has been second nature to him from his early teenage years when he sold his school friends anything and everything, to more recently securing the jewel in his inflight media crown, the much coveted Virgin Atlantic contract.

Simon left school at 17 and officially began his career in sales knocking door-to-door with Irish Life insurance. Quickly making a name for himself as a natural salesman, he was headhunted to CitiBank where he sold life insurance policies. It didn’t take him long to realise that he needed to control his destiny. A born entrepreneur, Simon was determined to make it on his own, and after a few steep learning curves, he found his USP and Ink was born.

Simon has always loved and risen to a challenge – starting his estate agency in the heart of the recession in the late 1980s. It was a hard time to make a financial success of selling homes and was a hard lesson for his first business venture.

Undeterred, he then went on to set up his first publishing business; selling adverts on leaflets promoting businesses in London. The simply produced leaflets later grew into magazines aimed at wealthy London residents. At that time he also worked on various ad hoc projects including a campaign for 80s fashion brand Susan Woolf and his team designed the cover of Ivana Trump’s book Free to Love.

In 1994, after his original business partner emigrated to Australia, Simon and new partner, Michael Keating, created Ink.

Impressions magazine then became Ink’s first title. It was the inflight magazine on British Mediterranean Airways, which flew between London and Beirut. Beirut had just come through a bitter civil war, and the market was fresh and untouched by advertisers. Simon seized the opportunity to succeed in this challenging market and changed advertisers’ perceptions of this war-torn city. It was this foray into publishing that allowed Michael and Simon to change the model of inflight publishing. Until then it was a cost to the airline with the hope of return from advertising. Simon’s confidence from the success in Lebanon allowed him to start writing cheques to airlines. Many other airlines jumped on board.

Always looking for ways to improve, in 2006 Simon enrolled in some business programs, including Harvard’s celebrated Business School and at these events he realised that he had to invest in people to achieve the success he wanted. His focus changed from concentrating on revenue to finding out how he could bring out the best in his staff – he was determined to build a team of really driven individuals. He looked for those who demonstrated passion and a will to succeed and since then it has seen him employ from a diverse range of backgrounds: from Olympic sports stars to bomb disposal experts, to airline pilots.

In his pursuit to find the best talent Simon has qualified in reading handwriting, non-verbal communication and NLP (neuro linguistic programming). He published his first book – Success Is Driven by Belief – in 2007, giving his staff an insight into how the business was started and challenges they had overcome (copies are available). Today he employs full-time trainers and coaches, and this year introduced a sports psychologist into each office. Simon is also a regular speaker at conferences talking about the success of travel media.

An accomplished goalkeeper, Simon is accustomed to providing a safe pair of hands to his staff across the globe; managing 300 staff speaking dozens of languages, operating in six offices around the world, working with 10,000 advertisers and brands across 20 of the world’s biggest airlines, on 27 different magazines, reaching a global audience of 802 million passengers a year.

Charged with Sales and Commercial Operations, Simon serves as the Joint CEO and has been spearheading the business’ growth both in terms of its geographical reach and in the products and services that Ink offers to the airlines.

With its travel provider relationships, Ink has created opportunities to target passengers at every touch-point of their traveller journey. The company has produced hundreds of hours of unique travel video content for airlines (for inflight, online and in lounges) and offers advertisers the opportunity of delivering targeted advertising messages on websites, boarding passes, and digital platforms.

Ink is constantly looking for new ancillary revenue opportunities within the airline industry. In 2018 Ink will offer lounge activation and sampling opportunities never seen in the industry before.

It is Simon’s expert leadership – guiding Ink through the storms of recession, terrorism and other industry challenges such as SARS, ash clouds, and hurricanes – that has created one of the largest independent travel media and magazine publishing business in the world.

On the impact Ink has on destinations and clients, he said:

“When a plane touches down in a destination it brings with it millions of pounds/dollars/euros in potential spending money. Revenue opportunities are flooding in every day in our clients’ destinations around the world.

“Ink helps passengers decide not only where to spend their money when they get off the plane, but also, where they want to travel to next – by inspiring them with other travel destinations. It is the reason why our advertisers include big brand names like Hilton or Tissot Watches as well as the smaller hotels, bars, and restaurants at our numerous destinations around the world. Ink’s advertisers encourage spending in our destinations contributing towards the GDP of the countries that our clients fly to.”

On why Ink offers an unrivalled media opportunity, Simon added:

“Airline passengers are the last captive audiences. Yes, the cabin is changing, but passengers still spend an average of 20 minutes reading the inflight magazine. The Ink sales force is charged with communicating this to brands and their agencies and highlighting the considerable possibilities that this offers them and their clients. Real people, with real money, in an authentic world.”

On the biggest challenges facing Ink, Simon said:

“Our biggest challenge to our continuing growth is in securing the right talent to support our expansion. We are taking advantage of our experience in the growing markets like the Philippines and China.

“We are expanding our offering to our client base too; where we might only look after their digital advertising or just publish their magazine, now we can offer them a wider array of services, which in turn offers them increased ancillary revenue opportunities.

“Brexit could impact us, like most international businesses. We have 50-60% international staff in our office in London, and we are keen to give them reassurances about their position here in the UK. We are also conscious that Brexit might affect the wider travel industry. However, our global nature means that when there is a dent on one side of the business our breadth and depth means that the ripple effect might often benefit us in the longer term.”

On the opportunities that Ink can benefit from, he said:

“Our audience numbers will continue to grow as more people travel and I believe that the airline partnerships will continue to strengthen in the future. Groups such as Lufthansa and Norwegian are very ambitious, and as our partners grow, this provides Ink with even more opportunities to work within a wider group.

“We are currently compiling our financial records for 2017, but I can reveal that it’s been a solid year. We are continuing to steadily grow our revenue and we anticipate filing a significant, almost 100%, increase in profit this year – something I am personally immensely proud of and which is a testament to all our hardworking staff around the world. Ink is soaring through into 2018, but we will always be looking out for the next opportunity and are ready to face any challenge head-on and continue to succeed.”

Simon is happy to talk about international business, publishing, recruitment, staff motivation, media, and more specifically about the inflight media channel.



To reach Simon, please contact:

Kelly Paterson or Bradley McAdam at Frank PR on:

0141 465 1000 or ink@frankpr.it

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