The publication of Pharmanews which started 40 years ago can be traced to a seed money received for advertisement from Merck in 1979, Pharm. (Sir) Ifeanyi Atueyi, founder and managing director, Pharmanews Limited has said.
Speaking with Pharmanews in an exclusive interview on how the journal started, Sir Atueyi recalled that the seed money he received from Merck, a company he had no prior contact or relationship with, helped in surmounting the big challenge of publishing the first edition of Pharmanews in May 1979.
He disclosed that even though he got support from colleagues in the pharmaceutical industry, none was ready to make financial commitment until the first edition was published, except an unknown German who was then the managing director at Merck and whom he has never met or related with until he went to his office to market Pharmanews.
He also spoke on circumstances that led him to resign his paid employment to start Pharmanews, the challenges he had to surmount to publish the first edition as well as the support he received from colleagues.
Below is the full interview:
What prompted your decision to go into publishing?
Thanks for this question. If I look back, I have a reason to say that there was divine guidance upon my life, regarding what God wanted me to do and He determined the timing. Starting Pharmanews came on its own because I never thought about it as such.
However, to prepare me for this assignment, God gave me the opportunity to serve as the editor-in-chief of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) from 1974 to 1978 and I served to the best of my ability. I increased the frequency of the PSN journal. Before I came in as editor-in-chief, it was published quarterly but I was able to increase the frequency to once in two months. I also changed the title to put Nigeria in the name. Before I came in as editor-in-chief, it was called Journal of Pharmacy but I changed it to Nigerian Journal of Pharmacy.
I equally did a lot to get adverts because the journal was a major source of income for the PSN at that time. Now we have exhibitions, adverts and other promotions during our conferences for which companies pay heavily. The PSN income then was restricted to dues from members and income from the journal. The journal getting more income from adverts was therefore a great help. When I felt I had done enough I gave up the position in 1978.
When I submitted my letter of resignation, the then PSN president, Chief Ayo Fasanmi and his deputy, Pharm. Lawrence Anyafulu, pleaded passionately that I should continue but I refused. However, the point is that, even when I stopped, it looked like something was missing in my life. Working on the journal had become part of me as I was actually enjoying the challenge.
Coincidentally, towards the middle of that year, I had a problem with my employers. I had a programme I wanted to attend in the United States (US). It was a six-week international marketing course. I applied and received grants for my tuition and boarding from the International Marketing Institute (IMI) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The purpose of the training was to improve my marketing knowledge to help the company. Unfortunately the company was not ready to support me financially. So I bought my air ticket, thereby funding the whole course 100 percent but the company still insisted that I would not be allowed to go. I applied for my annual leave intending to use the period to travel but my boss then refused to grant the leave.
It was when my boss saw my desperation that he reluctantly allowed me to go. Anyway, I travelled for the programme and when I returned, my boss wasn’t happy with me and you know when your boss isn’t happy with you, your chances of progress are limited. It was then that I knew that my future in the company was bleak.
I asked myself, where do I go? Which company should I go to now? I was racking my brain thinking for weeks but had no idea. However, I received a vision from God to start a pharmaceutical newspaper. On 21st December 1978, I got a notebook and wrote the ideas that came to me about Pharmanews. The notebook is still available today.
I wrote the business plans for Pharmanews and I told myself that this is what I will do to make a great contribution to the profession of pharmacy in Nigeria. I saw the idea as something that will make me known and help me give my best to the pharmacy profession.
That was how the decision came to me and I think that was perhaps why God sent me to the U.S to sharpen my marketing knowledge. I was thinking of how to improve the business of my employer and now I had to use the whole idea for my own business and it was a wonderful experience. I was equipped with marketing knowledge and also had experience from the pharmacy journal.
By January 1979, I submitted my letter of resignation and made up my mind to start Pharmanews. I was ready to face the consequences.
What eventually happened between January, 1979 when you resigned and May when the first edition was published?
At that time, the employment agreement I had with my employer was that there should be three months’ notice to resign. So, my plan was that I would put in my resignation in January, then work for January, February and March to be free to tackle my business. My plan was to work on Pharmanews in April, May and June and I believed that by July I should be able to produce the first edition.
However, my relationship with my boss had broken down completely. I was going to work but not very much was achieved. So, one day, my boss told me that I could stop coming to work and not wait for the notice to expire. I was happy and stopped immediately.
I then accelerated my plans. Instead of waiting till July, I began to target May, and that was what happened. I had enough time to run around to get stories and visit pharmaceutical companies to get materials. I leveraged my contacts with colleagues in the industry to get advert support.
However, let me state that in terms of individual support, the person I first confided in was Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi. After I had written down the Pharmanews business plan, I went to him at his pharmacy on Kodesoh Street, Ikeja. I told him about my plans to start Pharmanews. I had to tell him because he had been a good friend. In fact, it was the same Juli that encouraged me to serve as the editor-in-chief of PSN journal in 1974 during the PSN conference in Kano. He encouraged and urged me to accept the position as editor-in-chief at that time because nobody was ready to take up that position. So, he had been a mentor and very good friend.
Therefore, when I wanted to start Pharmanews he was about the only person I went to. I told him my plans and he was very delighted. He gave me some wonderful ideas, which helped in shaping the identity of Pharmanews as everyone knows it today.
How did you raise the money to start?
Let me state first that when I was making the plan I didn’t even think seriously about the initial capital. In fact, I forgot that money was a major factor. I was carried away by my burning desire and enthusiasm. But God provided the money.
As I said, I contacted some companies and a few of them were willing to support me and they actually gave me adverts to help with the first edition. Companies like Ciba took the front page and a quarter page. Drug Houses, owned by O. T Ososami, took quarter page and Boots, Merck, Glaxo and Wellcome also took spaces. These were the places I had colleagues and I ran to them but none of them paid me in advance. They all said they wanted to wait till after the publication before making payments.
Then, God led my steps to one company. I had seen the signboard of the company but I did not know anybody there. They were then at Town Planning Way in Ilupeju. The name of the company was Merck. I told myself that I needed to go and check who was there. I went there and told the receptionist that I wanted to see the boss. The boss was in and he was a tall German. When I met him, I explained what I was working on, and he was excited. I told him I brought a dummy of Pharmanews and I showed him how the paper would look. I told him that the paper would be published every month and distributed to pharmacists and doctors all over the country. He asked me how I would send the copies. And I said I would cut brown papers for wrapping the papers and then take them to the post office. But he said I should not use brown paper but rather use very good white paper. He promised to advertise his products on that white paper wrapper. That idea came from him. He also took the dummy and booked the page 2 bottom strip space. He said he would advertise on the wrapper and on page 2 bottom strip from the month of May which was the first edition till December and would pay in advance. He also said that the spaces should be reserved for him from January 1980 and that he would always pay at the beginning of each year in advance and continue using the spaces until he said he didn’t want anymore.
We discussed the rate with his discount for payment in advance and he accepted. So he asked me to send him the invoice. Soon after, we sorted out a few other issues and he wrote a cheque to cover from May to December for the adverts in the paper and the wrapper. That seed money I received is what God has blessed up till today, as I have never gone to the bank to borrow money, neither have I gone to anyone to ask for loan. It was the money I received from Merck in 1979 that has been sustaining us till today and it is by the grace of God. And that was how the business started.
With the money now in our account at Afribank, I went across to Maryland Estate where I saw a signboard of King and George Press and it was a company that was into football pools and they had a printing press. I walked in there and I told them I wanted to print Pharmanews and they agreed to do it for me. One of the staff also helped me with the page planning and I was able to print the first edition. It was in black and white but the adverts were in colour because then it was the one-color printing machine that was available. That first edition, published in May 1979, was 12 pages. For that edition, I interviewed Dr Philip Emafo who was the then federal chief pharmacist. That was the first interview published on the front page of Pharmanews. I also got contributions from Pharm. Bruno Nwankwo, Ibikunle Ogundipe and Eugene Okonkwo.
How many staff did you have at that time?
At that time, there was no one as a paid staff for the first few editions but I got someone to come and help me to type, using my Olympia typewriter. I had to go for adverts alone and collect the news for the first few editions.
However, my wife and children and others around me helped me to fold and label the copies of Pharmanews. Once they were labelled, I packed them in a sack and drove to the post office in Lagos. That was how God helped us with the early editions and we have not looked back since then. Since that first edition published 40 years ago, Pharmanews has been published consistently without interruption every month.