Bjarne Wærdahl, along with John Labdon and Tony Wilson, was one of the founders of Offshore Support Journal, or OSJ as it is known throughout the industry, back in 1998.
As well as a commercial eye he brought a track record in magazine launches, having set up the Ulstein Group’s publication Vision in 1992, with 125,000 copies published, and Regionavisa, a regional newspaper targeted at Norway’s west coast, with 30,000 copies published.
Twenty years ago, there was a “hole in the industry” as far as coverage of offshore support vessels was concerned said Mr Wærdahl and Offshore Support Journal was set up to plug that gap.
“There were so many thousands of vessels around the world and nobody cared about them, in a way,” he said. The first edition was the August 1998 issue, with Richard White as editor, John Labdon as advertisement director, Tony Wilson as editorial director and Mr Wærdahl as publisher.
“Our vision from day one was to build a complete brand: magazine and supporting conferences that met the needs of underserved owners and operators of OSVs” he recalls.
A key consideration at the start was to get the right balance between coverage of technical and financial issues. The answer – and OSJ’s continued success – lay in being close to the sector and “letting the industry to decide what coverage should be prioritised.” What was clear at the beginning – and remains clear to this day is that innovation or “what the next guy is doing better than the guy before” was important. “Editorially this was a major driving force: reflecting industry innovation and presenting the latest models.”
Noting that his own expertise lies on the financial and economic side of things, Mr Wærdahl praised founding editor Richard White’s “huge capacity when it came to the technical stuff… a genius when it comes to taking things apart [and explaining] the technical issues”.
Editorial highlights over the years for Mr Waehrdahl include OSJ’s reporting of the change in emphasis on the relationship between vessels and platform, with vessels becoming self-supporting. “The vessels themselves started to become producers of energy, they had hospitals. Almost overnight, OSVs switched from being dependent on platforms to platforms being dependent on OSVs.”
Editorial coverage and OSJ’s fortunes evolved in line with the market. The offshore support sector “developed from a small egg to become a huge industry, involving hundreds of thousands of people and our magazines and conferences mirrored this progress.”
Still a regular reader of OSJ, although no longer involved in day-to-day operations, Mr Wærdahl praises the journal’s continued coverage of innovations in vessel design and technology. He also derives satisfaction that the envisaged conferences are now a “landmark” aspect of the OSJ brand.
“If you look at the conferences we have had, the presentations we have done in the magazine, we see some of the biggest people in the industry have been highlighted and we have brought them forward into a format where they are respected and where they should be respected,” he says, adding “there are some people in this industry that really need, and should have, recognition for what they have done.”
Looking to the future, Mr Wærdahl sees a strong future both for the offshore support sector and by extension OSJ. “In Norway we have oil for another 50 years, we are still developing new fields and as part of that we have to develop new ways of organising things that are more cost efficient. OSJ can serve this need by spreading information about how cost efficiencies and innovations are utilised.”
Acknowledging the sector’s challenging trading environment, he maintains it is “tremendously important to spread the good news and that will be a big part of the Offshore Support Journal’s future.”
Warming to the theme he says that the rationalisation and retrenchment that has been seen of late, including “the erosion of power of some of the old big companies and an over-tonnaged market” will not ultimately undermine the industry or Offshore Support Journal. “I think the market is going to balance in a year or two, and reflect daily rates in a healthy manner,” he said, adding that the offshore industry just needs to “become more efficient and produce services at a lower price”.
While the internet is an even bigger factor in the spread of news now than in 1998, the veteran publisher still sees a role for printed magazines, noting that it is still good to have something that can be handheld and annotated by the reader. However, the digital approach is still important, with Mr Wærdahl noting that he consumes 300-400 pages of online content each day.
“The OSJ brand will have an important role in 20 years’ time,” he concludes. “It is not a magazine about movie stars, it is a magazine about offshore support stars.”
Born in Kristiansund, Norway, in 1956, maritime matters and journalism have both played major roles in Mr Wærdahl’s life. He studied journalism in high school and went on to complete courses in mass media and communications at Volda University College. Joining the Royal Norwegian Navy as a junior officer in 1976, he served in several personnel and welfare-related roles, including with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon from 1978-79, during that country’s civil war. During the early 1980s Mr Wærdahl was a radio journalist and programme creator for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation NRK, before returning to the military for two years. He joined Ulstein in 1984 as deputy head of information, rising to become head of information and public relations and head of international corporate marketing. While at Ulstein he was in charge of re-profiling the Ulstein Corporation from 1991-1992. He was a founder and one of the initial owners of Offshore Support Journal in 1998 and a co-founder of OSJ’s publisher, Riviera Maritime Media, in 2002. Mr Wærdahl founded Regionavisa, a local newspaper for the South Sunnmøre region in 1999. As well as advising on corporate marketing and trademark building, Mr Wærdahl has served as chairman and board member in several Norwegian companies and has set up enterprises including a restaurant, an art gallery and several businesses in a range of sectors. Mr Wærdahl is married with three children.