You know, Rupert, I wanted to thank you for the lessons in business that you have provided to me this century. Without them, I wouldn’t be running a successful business today.
I had the privilege of working as a journalist at News Limited, now News Corporation Australia, in Sydney for 12 years finishing up in July 2012. I took my nice shiny redundancy cheque and bought 40 per cent of a copywriting agency. In the past three years, we’ve doubled the turnover and added 7 FTE staff (about 12 peeps, all up) to work with my business partner Dominique Antarakis and me. In July, we opened our New Zealand office with our first Kiwi employee. It’s been terrifically exciting.
So, Rupert, this is what you taught me:
It’s about trust
People say to me that to get a job at The Copy Collective you have to be a blood relative or a long-time friend of the owners, their family or their children. It’s funny; and it’s almost true.
At Holt St, we had up to 3 generations of a family working in the building at any one time – and it wasn’t just the Murdochs. There were lots of families – fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, nieces, nephews and in-laws. You had to be careful what you said to someone about a co-worker because the odds were they were either married to them, had been married to them or were related by blood.
Employing family and long-term friends means you have a level of trust that you don’t have with a complete stranger. And the more family members you employ, the more hostages you have (that’s a joke, really).
As you know, Rupert, it hasn’t always been plain sailing at News Corporation. We won’t talk about News’ forays into the early days of online journalism or the digital studio at Holt St that opened, closed and opened again. These things happen, you make the best decision at the time and go, whoops: Let’s stop now!
I haven’t always made the best decisions during the past three years. The day in September 2013, I had to tell three people they wouldn’t be employed by us any longer, stands out as one of my worst in business. With the help of trusted advisers, we were able to see where we went wrong, why it went wrong and how to avoid such mistakes in future.
Take the pain
You’ve never been afraid to take the pain. Closing News of the World, following the phone hacking allegations, was a monumental example of that. While, we’ve never had anything of that nature at The Copy Collective (and mindful our turnover runs into 7 figures while News’ runs into the billions) we’ve had to deal with pain following bad decisions.
Our advisers said that Dominique and I should “take the pain” following that difficult September. We did, it was bloody hard, and it took six months to recover but recover we did. We are now much more strategic in what we do and how we do it. We analyse and see our weak spots before jumping in.
Do more with less
This is a lesson the entire newspaper industry had to learn this century and nowhere was it more embedded than at News Corporation. When I started we had two daily editions of The Daily Telegraph and 380 staff. When I left we had The Tele, the iPad edition, the online edition and mX and far fewer staff than 380.
We’ve been transforming the back end of what we do at The Copy Collective, so we can do more with less. It’s paying off with costs at reasonable levels, profitability improving and capacity increasing.
Celebrate your wins
News Corporation always knew how to host a good party. Whether it was one of the terribly impressive events with a bunch of A-listers at some swanky do or the impromptu bashes that the “sub humans” (the subs’ desk) held at the Evil (Evening Star) or the Aurora – a good time was generally had by all.
Our parties are becoming legendary. Like the times when we get our Sydney-based contributors together for Melbourne Cup (we were having so much fun, we forgot to watch the race). We’ve had some awesome Christmas parties where amazingly personal information has been disclosed. And just recently, our Paris-based freelancers met to picnic by the Seine. I can’t take all the credit, but we’ve learned to celebrate in style – thanks, Rupert!