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My Publishing Life – Roger Duffin

Roger Duffin, the recently retired director of publishing services and subscriptions bureau ESco, answers our questions about his life in publishing.

By Roger Duffin

My Publishing Life – Roger Duffin
52 years in publishing: Roger in 1970 as he started his career in publishing and in 2022, the year he retired.

Q: How did you get where you are today?

A: I’d spent the summer of 1970 bumming around the south of England. ie. sleeping in fields, under hedges, alongside footpaths, farm barns and on one occasion in an empty house, accompanied by Monte, my Scottish Deerhound, Duster, a pony and a couple of friends. Lots of adventures and the New Forest is not a good place to lose a pony.

By autumn, reality hit. I needed money and via the job centre accidentally joined a very dynamic and successful magazine publisher on a six week project. Visiting libraries in central London I copied the addresses from trade directories. This was legal in 1970! Apparently!

Not that I realised it for a few years, Morgan Grampian was very much the company to be with.

I was offered a permanent job in circulation (circa 100 in the department) where I worked for four years, before moving on to the sales side. After this inauspicious start, what my previous school masters would have glowingly referred to as my ‘career path’ started to evolve as I moved through several different publishers including The Law Society Gazette and International Thompson as you do with the insouciance of youth, before being headhunted to join a small company that I could grow with.

Nobody will have heard of B&M Publications but I was there for 21 years. The insouciance was gone, this was hard and focused graft, leading to a very comfortable salary, expense account with all paid prestige company car with the last 15 years as publisher of a couple of B2B titles. This involved most of what you’d expect, sales calls, recruitment, staff training and management, product innovation and development, involvement with exhibitions and heavy involvement with the editorial side, always remembering to pay lip service to their elite intellectual superiority and keeping them on side to develop what you wanted for the market your publication was operating in. Somehow it worked.

In 1998, I joined ESco, an independent subscription management bureau launched and MD’d by Susan Duffin, a lady I know very well.

If you’re going to work in your life partner’s business, you should bring something additional to it. I was very involved in doing the outlying things, whilst the MD focused on pushing the business forwards.

I was an account director with some clients and recall hearing them ask for single customer view and new fully comprehensive databases, proposed as if they were new things, but which had been part of circulation work back at Morgan Grampian thirty years previously.

I project managed purchasing 2½ acres of land and building purpose designed office and warehouses within ESco’s budget.

My commercial background gave me the tools to deal with demanding and unpaying clients, client contracts, and taking a major role in sourcing the print and fulfilment machines and postal contracts for the production department. Good prices are needed but not as much as a good service as we’ve got clients to support 24/7. Running a business during Coronavirus lockdown was an experience.

Q: What is your typical media day?

A: I used to do 30k miles a year so news and current affairs was Radio 4, Daily Telegraph on line, TV evening news, InPublishing, and other specialist titles mostly in print.

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

A: Doing a good job for your employer and clients. Getting recognition for that and being a demanding but balanced, fair and honest person. I didn’t really mind if people thought I had no personality, had no hair, was ugly and boring. They were probably correct – but I was always honest – you can look at yourself in the mirror and in the long run, it does amount to something.

Q: Who has particularly influenced you?

A: A good friend of mine who went on to launch several technology companies, before selling the last two years ago for many millions, said when I was 18, “Dress the part, act the part and you will become that part.” If you take yourself seriously, and always do a really good job, you will be positively noticed and achieve success.

There were many good publishers at Morgan Grampian. Maurice Foster went on to become the MD, and despite his politics and red waistcoats had an excellent brain and was truly inspiring, said “push yourself to your limits, not beyond them. You’ll be surprised how your limits expand.”

Susan Duffin who has conveyed more about how to mentor, train and manage staff than I’d seen in my previous career.

Q: What advice would you give someone starting out?

A: Decide who you are and what you want out of life. You may not want big success in which case be happy to coast along.

If your aspirations are higher, look at what your strengths are, capitalise on those, work on your weak areas, get every bit of training and support, plan your days and short term future thoroughly. If you’re not a natural genius, be prepared to work very hard.

This is a free egalitarian society, even ordinary people can be successful if they want it enough.

Q: How do you relax outside work?

A: Gym, chickens, and multiple dogs. And I’m trying to forget it but the bloody garden.

Outside, you think, what can I do to give something back to society? In my case, I am a cliché, I joined the parish council. In a quiet rural, area the government has already foisted an asylum centre on us and is planning on giving us the largest prison in Europe with no adequate road or rail network. About the same time, the county council launched their “levelling up white paper”. What a load of administrative tosh from institutions that don’t have a clue what they are doing. It’s not relaxing but there is always something to do.

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

A: I was a good club athlete over 800 and 1500m with cross country in the winter, so professional athlete. Alternatively, a beach bum could have been good but the endless hedonism might be repetitive. Work is good for you so maybe a cowboy in an earlier generation of America.