Of the many lessons learnt by Jackie Dobbyne in 2011, the most important was don’t put all your eggs in one basket. That year was something of an annus horribilis for the Cambridge Publishing Management boss. At the time, the publishing services company—its main business is project managing books for publishers, from editorial to production—was going great guns. It had a close relationship with Thomas Cook, producing between 160 and 190 titles a year for the travel publisher.
The problem was, that the relationship was too close. In 2010, Thomas Cook was slammed by a triple whammy of the ash cloud, flooding in Thailand and the Arab Spring, which affected its core markets. The next year the company drastically reined back its publishing programme—going from producing 160 titles with CPM to just 24.
“We were quite exposed,” Dobbyne acknowledges. “The relationship was so close we had almost become an in-house department. In retrospect, I can see our missteps—that because we had this great partnership, we didn’t search for other business like we should have.”
Dobbyne quickly realised that CPM could not continue as it was and reluctantly began a restructure with a third of the 19 members of staff made redundant. “I had to make some pretty tough decisions very quickly. As terrible as that was for all of us—particularly for the individuals whose roles were no longer able to be retained—you have to act. If you don’t, you throw more money down the pan.”
There has been some pain in the subsequent two years, yet almost miraculously CPM has emerged as a more robust business. The team has upped its marketing to attract new businesses, picked up contracts from more non-publishers (it recently created a clinical manual for every member of staff of the East of England Ambulance Services, for example), spread into new ventures such as services for self-published authors and ramped up its digital offer.
“We just had our year end,” Dobbyne says. “And we haven’t yet recouped all the thousands of pounds of business we lost. But the breadth of customers is greater than ever before—we are a more balanced company.”
The Waitrose model
Dobbyne’s publishing career began in children’s, working for HarperCollins’ Armada list—editing the likes of the Nancy Drew and Chalet Girls series—and later Grisewood & Dempsey’s Kingfisher imprint. In the early 1990s she took six months off to travel in Australia and New Zealand, and moved to Cambridge when she returned to Britain. She began managing publishing projects for Cambridge typesetting firm Goodfellow & Egan—which was formed into what is now CPM when bought by print management company Thomas Potts in 1999—and led an m.b.o. in 2003.
She describes what CPM does as a “Waitrose model: high-end in quality, mid-range in price”, and emphasises the in-house expertise and attention to detail. She points to some of the ELT work CPM has done for publishers in the Middle East as an example. “It’s not just about creating the content, it is understanding the market, too. We have a lot of expertise in the Middle East and the Gulf and you have to understand the subtleties of what is permitted in Qatar or Saudi or Lebanon. We spend a lot of time Photoshopping—adding sleeves, lengthening skirts, removing sausages from dinner tables.”
The self-publishing businesses, Dobbyne says, has been developed to align with the rest of what CPM does. “It came about because we were thinking, where else can we use our skills? We didn’t want to go down the one-size-fits-all package of some author services companies. I was very keen that we wouldn’t detract from our brand. The sorts of self-published authors we work with want a professional-looking publication.”
Dobbyne’s immediate goal? To get the company back to the level it was a couple of years ago. “It’s been a tough couple of years, but we are in such a better place than we were. We will grow, we will get back up to 20 members of staff—and more.”
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