Alan Dawson knew about magazine design and production, how to find a printer, where to buy paper and how to negotiate postal contracts.
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He was the perfect foil for Sydney Lenssen, a civil engineer of high journalistic ambition. Both were working for Construction News in 1971 at a time the ICE was pondering the launch of a magazine.
The ICE was seeking to add value to Institution membership with a lively, relevant and accessible publication, plus generate much needed revenue through sale of advertising. Dawson and Lenssen were appointed production head and editor/publisher respectively, charged with creating New Civil Engineer, or NCE as it was known, and fulfilling these ambitions.
This they did, beyond everyone’s greatest expectations.
NCE first appeared in May 1972 as a monthly, soon moving to weekly publication. It was a vibrant success from the start, with outstanding – often controversial – editorial and a market position that made it an enormous generator of money. The magazine became effectively the only place to advertise for civil engineers and the revenues rolled in.
During the late 1980s, up to £180,000 a week was being earned via recruitment advertising alone.
Dawson became managing director of Thomas Telford Ltd (TTL) which was established to be the ICE’s commercial arm. Under his stewardship, and with NCE its primary asset, TTL contributed millions of pounds to Institution coffers, largely funding the vastly expensive restoration of 1 Great George Street and the acquisition of property in Docklands.
Other significant magazines were launched including Offshore Engineer and World Water. Following Lenssen’s departure in 1979, Dawson maintained and expanded the editorial and advertising teams they had built together.
He provided encouragement and a culture which promoted initiative and (within his NCE editorial team at least) a degree of calculated risk taking; the latter on the insistence that advice from libel lawyers was not only sought as required by the company’s insurers but actually acted upon. Whether the journalists liked it or not.
Dawson could be an emotional person but never lost his temper. Close former colleagues describe him as a man of composure and dignity.
He was demanding of colleagues but also protective of them. TTL was not necessarily appreciated by all Members and Fellows active within the Institution nor by all of the ICE’s secretariat, all of the time. There were suspicions (particularly around NCE) that an anti-establishment bias prevailed; also a sense that the TTL commercial tail could on occasion wag the Institutional dog.
Dawson became adept at smoothing ruffled feathers and ensuring senior staff members kept their jobs. Always strengthening his case was deep readership appreciation of TTL magazines’ high editorial standards plus of course the company’s substantial financial contribution to its owner.
The ICE sold New Civil Engineer to publisher Emap in 1995. Dawson subsequently left TTL for Housebuilder Publications, to turn what was a modest enterprise into a fully fledged business media company.
He is survived by his wife Wendy and their son, Will.
- busAlan Dawson died in January aged 84