Two weeks ago, in this very organ, I was accused of being a
disgrace to the magazine industry (Campaign, 31 March). Having known no
other form of gainful employment for more than 20 years, it came as
something of a shock.
My sin? To have allowed the cameras in to film the first year of Cabal
Communications, the company I founded in 1998. The programmes that
emerged (Trouble Between the Covers, BBC2) showed a fairly accurate
picture of the ups and downs of a publishing company in its infancy (not
entirely true, it showed more of the downs than the ups, but that’s
popular TV). To some (senior advertising executives among them) it was a
mistake, to one (a fellow chief executive) it was a disgrace. To
hundreds of others, who either rang, e-mailed, faxed or stopped us in
the street, it was a huge success, but that’s beside the point.
Behind the torrents of criticism that have flowed from a few media
motormouths lies something more than whether or not it is possible to
survive fly-on-the-wall scrutiny. It’s about deep annoyance. For here is
a company that has broken the rules and, more irritating still,
survived. Even thrived.
We didn’t intend to break the rules, indeed I hadn’t realised there were
any. Now I know better. They go like this:
Thou shalt not leave a perfectly good, well-paid job to risk going it
alone. (It makes all those who have contemplated but avoided that risk
Thou shalt not publish nine titles in one year. (It makes companies who
launch more slowly feel they have to justify their speed - or lack of
Thou shalt not thrive with a flat management structure (otherwise it
makes all those layers of management in most companies seem
Thou shalt not be honest about
challenges/disappointments/mistakes/fears/realities. (It exposes
everyone else’s lies.)
Thou shalt not give staff chocolate on Wednesdays or maximum rather than
minimum holiday allowance or any of the other much-publicised Cabal
perks. (It’s childish, silly and bloody annoying for those chocoholics
who get none.)
Thou shalt not hang on to top talent with chocolate alone. (No. They
like working at Cabal. It’s fun, dammit.)
Thou shalt not survive a fly-on-the-wall docusoap (see above).
Thou shalt not be seen on television dancing in the street and cleaning
the carpet. (It’s a disgrace and ruins the glamorous image of the
Thou shalt not get agencies to take one seriously if, on television, one
promises sexual favours in return for ad bookings. (No. One accepts
block bookings only.)
Thou shalt not be female and run a magazine company. (It attracts unfair
quantities of publicity when there are plenty of more-competent males
around just itching to hit the headlines. ’But then again, not all
publicity ... ha ha ha - remember those TV programmes ... is good
publicity. They’ve got their comeuppance.’)
I’ve got news for you, boys. They have not.
Have your say at www.campaignlive.com on channel 4.