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My Publishing Life – Darren Coxon

Darren Coxon, managing director of Pensord Press, answers our questions about his life in publishing.

By Darren Coxon

My Publishing Life – Darren Coxon

Q: How did you get where you are today?

A: I sort of stumbled into print. I left school halfway through my A-levels, disillusioned with the education system and just decided I’m going to get a job.

I recall I couldn’t drive at the time and I had a taxi to an interview at Travis & Arnold’s HQ in Northamptonshire and the driver said to me as I was getting out. “Good luck, you’ll be fine, but take my advice: don’t stick around waiting for promotion. Move from job to job, you’ll climb the ladder quicker!”

I got the job. Followed by another job, my first in print, and seven years and seven jobs later I found myself as production manager at a B1 magazine printer in Northamptonshire looking after pre-press and the press hall.

Part of that role meant that I oversaw one of the first installations of a B1 platesetter in the UK in the mid-90s. Suddenly I was ahead of the curve on the digital transformation and before I knew it, two head hunting experiences and four years later, I was living in Wales (via North London) and was general manager of reprographics before becoming general manager at one of the biggest print companies in the UK.

After a successful four years, the lure of becoming my own boss took me down and across a Welsh valley to become commercial director at Pensord Press, which at the time was a perennial loss making £6million turnover business.

The big crash of 2008 prevented a management buy-out attempt being completed but eventually we got a deal across the line in July 2010 and I became majority shareholder and managing director.

Looking back, I guess I was never content and always looking to do more, something bigger and better than the job I had at the time. Taking chances. Never overlooking an opportunity. Taking a few risks. Hard work, long hours and probably the most important bit, a splash of luck!

Q: What is your typical media day?

A: I really enjoy the variety that my role brings. I love talking to clients and key business partners and also being the one steering our ship – I get more time to think than anyone else in our business and so I’m always cajoling and prompting our next move, which is how it should be. I like to think that the value of that has been felt more this year than any other. We’ve been nimble, decisive and clear in our decision-making and that has stood us in good stead.

I’ve always tended to gather my information in bite size chunks and so digital newsfeeds keep me up to date on my topics of interest. But, and this is hot of the press (!), I’ve recently made a dramatic change – and I’ve ditched the screen for print. Despite reading every night with my daughter at bedtime, I haven’t read a grown up book in years until recently, so, yes, softback and hard back books are in vogue in the Coxon household!

Q: What is the secret to a happy working life?

A: For me, it’s about surrounding yourself with like-minded capable people and trusting them. If you get that right, they start to second guess what is needed and life becomes so much simpler because things get done.

Q: How do you see the sector evolving?

A: I’m going to keep this specific to B2B publishing because that’s our core activity at Pensord and the area I’ve been immersed in for many years. ‘Community’ has been a big word in this challenging year and B2B publishing is all about creating, building and serving a community. There will always be a need for well-written editorial and advertising and the mix will, I believe for many years to come, continue to include print alongside digital delivery as they deliver different experiences and invoke different responses. Also, I sense an increasing desire and need to get back to face-to-face events. Networking at conferences, exhibitions and awards are such an important part of the mix for publishers and their communities and I feel that (post vaccine) they will be more popular than ever.

Ironically, one of the biggest challenges facing print is not the effectiveness of print, not the cost of print and not even the environmental aspects of print; it’s the cost of distribution and I don’t have the answer to that currently.

Q: Who has particularly influenced you?

A: Anybody that knows me well will know I often quote Attila the Hun who said, “Everyone has value even if only to serve as a bad example”. So, I have learnt from many people along the way but not always as good examples!

Q: What advice would you give to someone starting out?

A: Wow. What a question. But having retraced my steps in ‘how did you get where you are today’, I’d say, always work harder than the next person and never overlook an opportunity – start with ‘yes’ not ‘what’s in it for me?’

Q: How do you relax outside of work?

A: My immediate family is important to me. My wife Claire and six year old daughter Florence are a welcome distraction from work Monday to Friday. In normal times, I spend my winter Saturdays with my son Harry (26) and daughter Wallace (24) as season ticket holders at QPR and in summer, you’ll find me trying to maintain my single figure handicap on the golf course!

Q: In an alternative life, what would you have done?

A: Nothing different at all – everyone should want to be the MD of a printing company! Or perhaps I could have been persuaded to pick up a set of golf clubs at an earlier age and travelled the world challenging Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy… yes, that would do very nicely.