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In conversation with Paula Neary - Episode 12 - Inspiring the Next CMO series

Join Lou in a conversation with Paula Neary, an industry CEO in publishing automation with a background in providing strategic solutions for the publishing industry. Paula talks with us about:

  • her favourite word 'myriad' and how it inspires positivity for her

  • how she has discovered podcasts and the breadth of knowledge they can cover

  • the small joys in life – running and cake!

  • Inspirational leaders who focus on helping junior staff find their voice

  • how her early career in psychology shaped her experiences and skills

  • taking skills she had developed in internal roles and applying them to the challenge of becoming a CEO

  • the challenges and opportunities of being a female leader in the technology industry

Links from the session:


Lou: Welcome, everybody, to our Behind the Fluff: Inspiring the Next CMO podcast series. Now you can find lots of great resources on our website, Now today, I would like to welcome Paula Neary. Now, Paula is an industry CEO in publishing automation. It's a fascinating subject area, and one I know that's very much of interest to everyone at the moment. And Paula has an extensive career in providing strategic solutions within the publishing industry. Now, I recently met Paula at a session that I was helping to chair about marketing automation, and I learned that Paula and I certainly have some areas that are very close to our hearts, which is about a passion for driving positive progression in the industry and in teams. So hello, Paula.

Paula: Hello, Lou. Thank you so much for asking me today.

Lou: Absolute pleasure. I'm very excited about this one as I mentioned to you just before. So what we're going to do is we're going to first begin with our usual question, which is where we say, we'd like to ask you what your favourite word is, because we have a campaign that we do where we celebrate a hashtag, #IntBunchWordOfTheDay, every week. So, we'd love to know what is your favourite word, and why?

Paula: Well, my favourite word is myriad. I don't know if that's been one of your chosen words. Well, it means a great number of people or things. And it's been in use in the English language since about the 16th century. So I think it used to mean precisely 10,000, and then gradually it morphed into a more sort of generic, just countless or large number of things. And I love the sound of it, and I think it makes me feel very positive. It sounds like brightness and abundance. And I use this word quite a lot, actually.

Lou: Fantastic.

Paula: And I find myself sometimes using it actually with publishers to talk about their myriad of legacy systems, which is quite funny. Because I sometimes use it around positive sets of lots of things, and then around some negative sets of lots of things. Because it kind of takes away a bit of a tinge of criticism there. So, you know, it's not great that you've got a myriad of legacy systems, but it's not so bad.

Lou: A myriad of legacy systems and a myriad of places that your content or your data is stored in your contacts.

Paula: Absolutely.

Lou: I think everyone at some point in their career can absolutely... that probably resonates with them. It's such a good word, though. We are definitely going to feature that.

Paula: Oh, good, thank you.

Lou: Okay, so first things first. Now we want to know a little more about you before we get into the more professional stuff. So what is the best thing that you have discovered in this last year that we've had such an odd time of a pandemic for those that may be watching this content some years in the future, whatever you like, or the last year or even 18 months?

Paula: Yeah, it's been incredibly odd hasn't it in the last year. And if I'm allowed, there's a couple of things. Okay, thank you. So one of them is podcasts, and I know a lot of people have found podcasts in the last year. And I really now love them. And I've got a favourite one, apart from this one, Lou, obviously. And it's called "Today in Focus", I don't know if you've come across it. So, it's a daily podcast, and it's got a couple of my favourite journalists hosting it. One of them is Anushka Asthana. And they cover topical subjects. So, one day, well, recently it was on Matt Hancock's downfall and resignation, another day it's on climate change. It could be on, I think it was a couple of weeks ago, Grenfell Tower and how the whole cladding crisis is unsolved. So yeah, it's very interesting. Yeah, it is.

Lou: Actually, it's probably a great way of keeping up to date with what's going on, but also having that snippet of in-depth conversation as well. So that's definitely going to go on my list.

Paula: Oh, good. Yeah, take a look at it. And I listen to it in the evening with an eye compress on because I don't know about you. But we're sitting in front of a screen literally all day, aren't we? And we're having meetings now on a screen, where normally, we'd be, I don't know, sitting in an office together without a screen, and my eyes just feel so tired. So, I'll put a kind of hot eye compress on and listen to a podcast. I would recommend.

Lou: There are also, I know that, as you mentioned, a lot of people have really found podcasts in the last year. And especially I think, because I think so many people have been looking for content that's really digestible. And the really nice thing about that kind of content is that you can go for a walk and you can listen to it in headphones. And I go running and I listen to podcasts in one headphone. I mean, there are some out there. I kind of sometimes like to have humorous ones because when you're doing so much work all day, you just want a bit of a step out of reality, don't you? Every now and again.

Paula: Yeah, you do. And it's funny you mentioned running though, Lou, because that's my other one that I've discovered. Not so much discovered running because I've been doing it for years, but I've discovered I love it. So are you a serious runner? I think you probably are.

Lou: No.

Paula: Oh, well that's a relief because I'm not.

Lou: No, I'm on this, I'm part of this... There's a Facebook group called Badass Mother Runners. And actually, Bev who runs it, she is local to me here in Wales. And she was a brand manager, and she, I think she was made redundant. So she's doing it full time now. And this group has exploded. And it's for anyone of any type of ability and you don't have to be a mother. But it's an incredibly supportive group. And I think probably it is that you have to be a woman. That's probably the only criteria of it, but everyone's so supportive. It's not about the time it takes you to do something, it's the fact that you've actually gone and done it. So, yeah. I think running's a great way to sort of just have time to yourself, isn't it? That rare time that you get.

Paula: Yeah, no, I love it. It used to be, if I'm honest, a chore. So, I've been doing it for years, as I say. But then I learned to really embrace it. I guess it was something we were encouraged to do over lockdown and just getting out of the house, being in that moment. And then my partner and I tend to go running together. We engineered it so we'd end up at our favourite cafe, or our newly discovered favourite cafe. So, we'd have the run and then we'd have a cup of tea and a cake. And this was astonishing because you, one, took that for granted, but then suddenly, cafes were open for a takeaway and then they were open to sit down at. And there was this joy around this whole event. It was the highlight of my week, the run and the tea and the cake at the cafe. So newfound small joys, I would say.

Lou: Absolutely. And one thing Bev has done really well is merchandise. So it's amazing how you start buying into, you know, wanting to have a top that says badass on it. It is great, but yeah. I mean it's, I think you're right. Just getting out there and just breathing the air and just having that time to yourself, or like you said, running with your partner, having that time together. Are they a bit faster than you, slower than you, same?

Paula: We're about the same. So, it's, yeah. It's pretty good, yeah. We don't chat when we're running, because I don't think we'd be capable of that, but the company. Yeah, the company is lovely.

Lou: Oh, excellent, I love it. So, Paula, who inspires you?

Paula: Yeah, this is a really interesting question. And again, I'm being a bit greedy, because there are some work people that inspire me and then there are historical figures, movements, current figures who are taking a stand to inspire me. But I was thinking about it from a work perspective. And do you know Jill Jones? Have you come across Jill? So, she, I suppose most latterly, was CEO of McGraw-Hill, UK and EMEA. And prior to that, Cengage. But we met years ago at what was Longman, and Longman eventually morphed into Pearson Education. And oh, I just think Jill is fantastic. We worked on lots of projects together, including the first ebook list for the company. So, this is a long time ago here. I think it was about 2000. And that ebook list was the revision study guides, "York Notes". And Jill is, well, she's really intelligent, really focused on getting a job done. She's not risk averse. So I think she realizes, if you want to make a significant leap forward, you can't be risk averse, and I admire that. But the thing I most admire is her character really, and how she treats people, everybody, very respectfully. And I really noticed in meetings, she would look out for junior staff, and at that time I was junior staff. Making sure you felt comfortable, that you were able to voice your opinion. You didn't feel out of your depth, just a really, really lovely woman, but incredibly bright and incredibly driven. And so, she sprang to mind immediately. And another one is Annette Thomas. Have you come across Annette? So she was CEO of Macmillan Science and Education, and very similar reasons. So bright, it's incredible, so driven. And as she increased revenue at Nature tenfold before she became CEO of MSC. So, a wonderful woman, wonderful career. But again, I'd go and present to her at a board meeting. She'd be in the meeting all day. She'd have hundreds of people presenting. But at eight o'clock at night, by the time she got home, she would still email to thank me. I'm sure she was doing it to everyone for the effort that I put in and the team had put in. And I just really love that, that they're really both very rounded characters.

Lou: They sound absolutely fascinating people. And I love what you said in terms of that care and attention of recognizing different people in the room, regardless of their experience, their expertise, their level, but also, because you're ultimately going to get the best out of those people during that meeting. So that's incredibly special, and not something that you hear of often. Now because I do live in Wales, and you would expect this, a tractor just has to go by, right?

Paula: Of course, well, you know, that's another thing we've got in common, don't you? I was born and brought up in Wales, did I tell you that?

Lou: No, but I did read that somewhere, actually. And I think, how have we not had this conversation?

Paula: So, I am empathetic to the tractor.

Lou: I'm actually a farmer's daughter, so I'm very used to it. But our farm is in Cambridge, in England. So, I'm a long way away from our farm tractors. Be a bit odd if I saw one here. Probably take about 10 hours to drive down here. So when you were young what did you want to be?

Paula: Well, when I was a really young child, I can't remember that there was a particular thing. But when I was a teenager and in my early 20s, I wanted to be a psychologist, specifically, a clinical psychologist. So, I've become interested in psychology through reading novels, English was my favourite subject at school. I did a sort of strange mix of A-level sciences and then English because I loved it so much. And I just became really interested in, I guess, the motivations, the behaviours of the characters in novels, and that kind of led me into psychology. And I did an undergraduate degree in experimental psychology. So, I was very much on a path to becoming a clinical psychologist. At the end of the undergraduate degree, you can do a two-year professional qualification in clinical psychology. But I think they realize, and I realized it myself, you actually need some life experience at 21. You don't often start that course in clinical psychology. You really do need to go off and get some world experience. And I'd done a lot of voluntary work at that stage. I'd worked in a hostel for homeless women who had addictions and I worked in a day centre for homeless people. And then when I graduated, I got a job in a psychiatric hospital to get some experience. And it was, well it was a fantastic hospital trust. I don't know if they're called... Well, I'm sure they weren't called hospital trusts then, but it was the Maudsley and Bethlem Royal Special Health Authority. And I worked for a year on a mother and baby unit. So, with women who had postpartum psychosis or depression, clinical depression. And it was actually a really, that was a really positive experience. They could stay in the hospital up to six months. But you really did see them improving, and they were generally discharged and went home within that six-month period. Now they may, through another life event, end up having an episode again, but it was great to sort of see that recovery. And I was afforded all sorts of rights. I sat in on therapy sessions, I ran a projective art group, it was fantastic. But after that, I worked, I did a short stint with people who had been in long-term mental institutions who are now being moved into the community. And that was actually a much more difficult undertaking actually. And at the end of that, I'm still in my early 20s here. I thought, I'm not sure this is for me, or I'm not sure this is for me now. And yeah, so I then took a different path. And I know we might talk a little bit about that later. But yeah, I mean, for many years, that was really what I wanted to be.

Lou: Wow, that's incredible, Paula. And I think that kind of situation and those experiences will hopefully mean that you're a lot more empathetic and forgiving and understanding of different people's situations. Because like you said, when you sometimes just come out of uni, you have experiences up to the point of when you're in uni and whatever they may have been before. But to continue your learning like that and to meet such a wide variety of people and learn from them, that really is quite something. And that I'm sure is probably something that has really allowed you to continue to allowed you to move forward in your life with a very different perspective than other people. Especially because that, the mother baby unit time, it's really only something that's in the past, I think even 10 years. The depression that some women can have after they have a baby is really starting to be recognized. I remember plenty of TV series, soaps, up on TV soaps, as they say here in the UK. Long-running TV shows that have tried to address this to raise awareness of it in the last 10 years. So that's gosh, wow.

Paula: Yeah, and the hospital is Maudsley in Bethlem Royal. They were very much ahead of the time. And I know, it is more widely known about now. And you still hear that it's really difficult for women to get a place on a unit like that. So, it was extraordinary. We're talking, god, 25 years. More. I can't even quite... But we're talking a very long time ago, and it's pretty dreadful that people are still finding it difficult to get those places. Because the whole point is the women can ensure they're keeping that connection with their baby, developing that bond, they may not be able to look after the baby at that point. And there were nursery nurses there taking that role on if they had to. But the baby was still there, still with them. They had that opportunity. It wasn't broken. So no, it was incredible. But yeah, I mean I was doing suicide watches. It was, yeah. You kind of get on with it. It's like anything when you're in that situation day-to-day, you're working in a role like that. You just keep going, you get on with it. And yeah, I learned so much. I have to say I do smile wryly on the few job interviews I've had when people say, "Do you think you'll be able to cope with the difficult characters in publishing?" Probably. Probably won't be too bad, yeah.

Lou: I think I've had some good grounding for that. Yeah, I think we'll be alright.

Paula: Yeah.

Lou: So, if you were to have dinner tonight with anybody in the world, regardless of whether they are dead, alive, whoever they are or whoever they would be, and you can have as many people as you want, we don't limit you on how many with any of these questions, really. So, who would it be?

Paula: Well, my immediate instinctive answer to this was Nigella. Nigella Lawson, because undoubtedly.

Lou: Oh, with her “mic-ro-war-vey”.

Paula: Exactly, I love her. She would undoubtedly be happy to do the cooking. And I love her, I love her books, I love her shows. And the books are, they're about the cooking, but they're not about the cooking. They're literary, they are so beautifully written. And yeah, the "microwave" was transcendence.

Lou: So that's like an in-house family joke that they just then said, and then everyone's like, oh, Nigella says, it's like, this is great.

Paula: Exactly, I absolutely love it. So, I thought, well, she could do the cooking, and then I did hope you were letting me have a couple more people. So, I'm feeling now aligned with Nigella. So, then I thought we, me and "Nige", could invite Mary Wollstonecraft. So, I don't know if you've come across her, but she, yeah, a great feminist, a writer, a philosopher, late 18th century, such an advocate for girls education. And she had a very interesting kind of personal life, a bit ahead of her time in that respect as well, lots of affairs. She was a woman ahead of her time, and I'd love her to be there. And then I would also love to have contemporary author Bernardine Evaristo. Have you read any of her novels? So, she won the Booker Prize a couple of years ago for "Girl, Woman, Other", which is a brilliant book. So, it follows the lives of 12 characters, 12 women whose lives interweave. And when I read a book by an author I really love, then I say, I must go and read all that backlist. So, I have been going through all her backlist. But it's just, they're just brilliant. And I can't believe I haven't read them before. So, there's "Mr Loverman", which is a guy from the West Indies, Barrington. He's been married for years, but he's got a male lover, but he can't acknowledge that he's gay. He just can't be true to himself. It's a very serious novel, but it's hilarious. It's laugh out loud as well, that's brilliant. And then "Blonde Roots", which is about the whole world turned upside down. And it's looking at the slave trade where white people were enslaved by black people, which makes you think and see things from such a different perspective. And I'm just starting to read another one of her books, "Soul Tourists". So, I thought me and Nigella, Bernardine and Mary, that's my list.

Lou: There are some conversations to be had at that table.

Paula: Yeah, that's what I thought.

Lou: Love it, that is brilliant. So, with your professional side on now, tell me about your career and how you got to where you are today.

Paula: Right, well, I guess going back to that earlier conversation, where I worked in the psychiatric hospital, I'd worked in the community. And then I thought this isn't for me, clinical psychology is not for me. Well, what am I now going to do? I have no idea. So I thought about other elements of my previous studying. And when I did my psychology degree, I'd taken a module in artificial intelligence. I mean, it was very embryonic at the time, but I'd really enjoyed it. And so, I thought, all right, let me do a postgraduate degree. It was really a conversion course. So essentially, it's a one-year computer science conversion course where you pack in a three-year computer science degree. It's a bit like doing a law conversion. I don't know if they still do them, but yeah, that's what I did. And it was really very intense. And I think there was a bit of me after my previous experiences, that wanted to hide behind a computer screen. I thought after those difficult situations, maybe I don't want to speak to people. I don't want to deal with people. And I mean, it's not been like that at all. Of course, it didn't work out at all like that. Which I'm very pleased about really, but yeah, I think there was a bit of me. I mean, yeah, I was really interested in AI, but there was a little bit of that going on. Let's move on to something completely different. And then when I finished that postgraduate degree, I applied for jobs as a programmer. And I was offered a couple of jobs. And this was a fork in the road because one of the jobs was with the NHS. And that in a way, would have been my comfort zone. Oh, I've worked in a hospital, I've worked in the community via the National Health Service. But the other job was Longman. And it was as a Vista programmer, which many publishing people will have heard of Vista.

Lou: I remember that, yeah.

Paula: Yeah, and I thought, no, I'm not going for the comfort zone, I'm going for Longman. I don't know anything about publishing, but I'm going to opt for that. And I have to say, I'm so delighted, I did, because I feel like I've found my niche and I've kind of never looked back. And that work at Longman, it's a fantastic company. And as you know, it became Pearson. I'm sure it's still a fantastic company. But I was afforded all sorts of opportunities. I only did computer programming for one year. And I was chatting to a friend of mine. He started on the same day as me at Longman, Alan Cohen. And he reminded me the other day that I developed a gross profit for journal system, in that year. And I cannot believe it because I'd completely forgotten about it and there's no way I could do it now, that's for sure. So I was rather impressed. So after a year of that, I was then asked to join a big project, a customer services project as a systems analyst. And I did that for a year. And then I was asked to become a project manager and it was amazing. It was this sort of, I guess, the main upwards trajectory of my career. So I am really grateful to Pearson for this. And I ran two publishing systems projects, one for the higher ed division, which is where I first met Jill Jones actually. And one for the English language teaching division. And it was all about selecting and implementing applications that cover the entire publishing life cycle. So again, I did that for about a year. And then there was an opening for the role of development manager. And I got the job, I inherited a team. So that was my first experience of managing people, which I really, really did love. And I did that for a few years. And then my last role at Pearson was new media manager, which is such a funny title though, Lou, isn't it now?

Lou: Is now, it was probably absolutely spot on then.

Paula: It was, it was absolutely spot on. And that was the role where I worked with Jill very closely on the ebook list, on the digital rights management on a virtual teacher prototype. It was fantastic, so it was spot on. But it does make me smile a little bit now to think that that was called new media. And then I was offered a role at Random House. And I jumped at it because I thought, great, this is now an opportunity to learn about trade publishing. And I'd spent a number of years in academic publishing. So this was a really good opportunity. And it was as director of publishing systems. So I was responsible for all solutions for publishing editorial, sales marketing, publicity rights, actually in royalties. And again, actually soon after joining there, we published the first Random House ebooks list. So a bit of a theme going on. And then we were looking for a publishing system for the organization. Which recently merged with Transworld. And I realized, sometimes projects are more than just what they appear to be. So yes, this was for a publishing system, but it was also about bringing the two companies together, unifying them, consolidating processes and systems. So it really mattered, and I was directing that project. We had a project team from Random House and a project team from Transworld working together. Really doing our best, but we both, both sets had allegiances. And then one day I came across a small company called Virtusales. I don't know if you've come across them. They developed a publishing solution called Biblio. And at that time, it was a very embryonic system. It was just title management, but I invited them to come and talk to us as a group. And it was a moment of unification where we felt completely inspired. This is the team, these are the people who are going to make this project a success. And they're going to bring the companies together in terms of how they work, processes, and so on. And it was a big risk because the company had five people in it at that time. And we did everything we could to mitigate that risk, but we did opt to work with them. And it went extremely well. It went live, it must have been about 2004, 2005. And that was, I guess, one of my, I suppose, big successes at Random House. I mean, there were lots of other systems that we rolled out, and I had a fantastic time there. And then I moved from Random House to Macmillan Science and Education as a director of business systems globally. And the Random House group role had been very UK-focused. So the Macmillan role was appealing because it was global. And I was asked to take on board all development for Macmillan globally. And it was a role I could shape. I had to go in, there had not really been a predecessor. So I had to design the organizational structure, build the team that covered editorial and production, customer engagement, supply chain, finance, reporting. And it was transformative. There were about six people in my team when I joined. And I think there was about a hundred at the end, because we'd centralized technology, we'd recruited, come up with our technology strategy and our roadmap that Annette and Steve Devlin, who was the CTO. I should also say he's a very inspirational character. I work very closely with Steve and Annette. And they ratified that roadmap. And then the team just duly got on and delivered. And it was so exciting. It was a great joy actually, to work for Macmillan and to work with Steve and Annette, I have to say. And I learnt loads about running a global team and implementing global solutions. And when you can centralize, and when you need something different, when you need localizations, when you can't all work on the same system or application. So that was great. And then we merged with Springer to become Springer Nature. And that's, well, that was very interesting. I carried on for another couple of years actually. Doing a similar role. I inherited some lovely people into the team from Springer. Have you been through a merger, Lou, because they're very, it can be very difficult.

Lou: Acquisitions, yes. I have, yes.

Paula: And I mean-

Lou: They're very tricky.

Paula: Yeah, they are. But it was so fascinating to negotiate one's time through that and manoeuvre through it. So, I learnt an awful lot. Yeah, there was a massive cultural shift and a massive system merger consolidation program. So for me, it was a great learning experience. And yeah, after a couple of years doing that, I got a very interesting and appealing, but slightly daunting opportunity, which was, I was asked by Marc Defosse, the founder of Ribbonfish, whom I think you've met, Lou, as well.

Lou: Yeah.

Paula: And he asked me if I would become CEO of Ribbonfish. So this was quite sort of left field, really, I have to say. And I'd known Marc, I'd known some of the Ribbonfish team for years, actually at that point. They'd done a lot of work for Macmillan. They developed title management solutions for Palgrave, the academic division for the language learning division. They supported lots of Macmillan systems. We'd chosen Salesforce as our global CRM. And they had rolled that out to our New York and North America offices to 800 users. So, I knew them very well. There were a number of elements to this offer that were within my comfort zone. So, running a technology team, focused on publishing, a number of people in the team I knew. The company had a lot of integrity, went the extra mile and that all fitted with my ethos. But I knew this was going to be very different, being on the vendor side, and you're smiling there. You know exactly what I mean.

Lou: I love client sides. But yes, you do have more opportunities to get involved in more and exciting projects that you wouldn't be able to do being client side.

Paula: Yeah, yeah, and-

Lou: There's swings and roundabouts, isn't there?

Paula: There are, and I, this might be quite interesting to you. I particularly wondered about the marketing and the sales bit that I would now be responsible for. Because of course, running a division or a department on the customer side, I thought well, I haven't really done that. How am I going to do it? And then I realized I actually had loads of experience in those disciplines, because I would go to board meetings and pitch internally, and I would present what projects we should be doing, the benefits, the timelines, the costs. And I was basically pitching to get the budget to take back to my team for us to then run with those projects. And in a way, it's exactly the same now. That was selling, I think. And yeah, so I was selling to my own CEO or my own marketing director or my own sales director.

Lou: Absolutely.

Paula: Yeah, and now I'm doing it. Okay, they're not my team, but it's the same milieu. They're the same types of people. So I, yeah.

Lou: Doesn't have to be an internal team, yeah, absolutely.

Paula: Yeah, so I kind of then rationalized it and realized, yeah, okay, this is going to be fine. And so, I went for it, I jumped ship and went for it. And I've been there four years, well, here now, four years. I can't believe, I think I thought I'll do this for a year. I'll see how it goes.

Lou: Four years later we'll be speaking in another five years and you're like, here I am, 9 years later.

Paula: I know, I think I will, but I do love it. And as you know, you can pivot to new things really quickly, as you were implying, you can be dynamic. It can be really great fun. You can make decisions quite swiftly. There isn't so much red tape, as there's a lot, there really is a lot going for it. And Marc and I have got really complimentary skills. So, I think it works very well between us. So we are quite different people. We have different ways of working, but I think we agree fundamentally that what we want to do is provide a great experience for our customers. We want to go above and beyond, and that's what we're all about. So, I think we've really got the same kind of ethos. So yeah, so here I am four years in and very much growing the team, and we're working with some fantastic customers. So we've got long-term customers like Macmillan Learning in New York Sagar Bhujbal the CTO and Andrew Crenshaw, Customer Engagement Solutions Director. You know, they've got such vision. So, we learn from them, they learn from us. Great marketing and sales directors, inspirational people like Katie Hope at Princeton University Press and Jo Greig at Bristol University Press. And then, well, great business services directors, Jenny Hills, I don't know if you know Jenny at British Medical Journal. She just wants to get things done. They're all very different. But I do... I think they learn from me, and I'm very empathetic to them because I've been there in their positions. But yeah, we learn from them too. So, and we're working at the moment with wonderful people at Emerald, and really helping them drive their strategic roadmap. So yeah, I think I will be here in five years’ time.

Lou: Emerald are always doing something impressive.

Paula: Yes.

Lou: Yeah, and you're certainly right. There is a lot to be said for when you work service side like ourselves, and you are a smaller, more niche organization, you have that ability to be agile, and you can also respond to things more rapidly, and you can shift resources around and change things as you need to. And not everybody is cut out to work in a smaller organization, because some people are very: this is my job, this is my description, and this is what I expect to be doing, but actually in a smaller organization, because you have to be agile, because you can be. And that's one of the most attractive features for clients is that you'll probably do some stuff that you had done years and years ago, but you're doing it now, it's just the way it is. And the red tape, that's the great thing is that the buck normally stops with me. So if there's any red tape, it's me, that's made some. But that's highly unlikely. So yeah, absolutely. So, in terms of your career then, what are you most proud of?

Paula: Yeah.

Lou: I think you got a lot to be proud of.

Paula: I think the thing I'm most proud of, and it's a fairly recent thing, and it's the fact that we are a product company. So, we've built a rights licensing solution for publishers. It's called Right Zone, and we've done that. So, I've been heavily involved, Marc, of course, and Alex Kapp from Ribbonfish. And we've worked with two wonderful people, Ruth Tallis and Claire Hodder, they're rights consultants. And we've come together, and we have developed this amazing project called Right Zone. Marc is very, very creative and he decided early on, we really should build this system on the Salesforce platform, which is fabulous. It's absolutely fabulous. I mean, it's so easy to use. It streamlines the process. I mean, it's a great product. And we now have about 15 publishers using it, and we are marching forward at a pace. And yeah, I was quite, because we had a meeting the other day and I thought ooh, 15. I hadn't quite, yeah, I hadn't quite realized that. And that's really exciting because I do think technology is actually really creative. I think some people don't realize that. And I think it isn't always creative, but it absolutely can be. And I feel really proud to be part of that group and that team. And that we have created something that I think is making the lives of the rights teams within publishers so much better. It really is facilitating that, and it's helping them grow their rights sales. So yeah, it's topical. So, I'm feeling very positive about it.

Lou: That's fantastic though because that's also impact of what has been produced that is measured. And so, to be able to say, wow, we've got 15 organizations that have adopted this now, you know you're onto the right thing. It's not just someone's adopted it then piloting it, it's actually people are buying into the idea. And probably to be fair, I think technology is incredibly creative, but it's also very, very fast-paced. And for me, one of the most important things when you think about technology is interoperability, is a fact of integrating with systems that are already there that some people are very brand loyal to, or it's inherently difficult for them to move away from it anytime soon. But to provide a solution that's integrated with something that is such a stable in many organizations, technology tools, that's very, very important because you don't want to have to have another system that then you have to get it to talk to something, it's just, we all know it's a nightmare.

Paula: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, you've put it really well there. Salesforce is architected so incredibly well. I mean, it's so performant globally. There's no issue around global teams using it. The performance is fantastic, the UI is fantastic. So, there's a lot going for it. And you can then build more quickly. You can do the creative bits. Then on top of that you don't have to start thinking about the architectural foundations and you can really ensure it's customized to meet the needs of the people who are going to be using it. And hence that sense that we were working with the rights professionals, Claire and Ruth, I don't think it's for us as technologists. I mean, it can be, obviously it depends on the project, but you know, you really want to work with the business and that's always been sort of my mantra.

Lou: And you need those specialist skill sets, and you bring them in as, and when you need them, but to have that depth of experience and people to ask you questions that you suddenly go, "You're right, I didn't think about that." So what have you found then that's been, apart from, and this may actually, I may even telling you your answer here, but apart from what you went, that you experienced, when you changed your career from where you were working on the psychology side to working with helping to rehabilitate people back into the community who had been in facilities long term, which must've been just very challenging, rewarding in some respect and in others, certainly not. What have you found most challenging in your career?

Paula: You're right about what you've just talked around there in terms of the psychology career. I think in terms of my subsequent career, I have occasionally found myself in chauvinistic environments. And so, I have found that challenging. And as I'm sure you're aware - women in technology there's not so many of us. There are certainly more now than there used to be. And so I have occasionally, but I mean, very occasionally, found myself in those kinds of chauvinistic setups. I think that my career has been a bit of a dream on the whole, but sometimes you'll find yourself working with somebody who doesn't play by the rules. Well, the rules, as I know them. And you've got to think laterally about how to deal with that. And luckily, a number of years ago, I had a fantastic work coach who did help me through that his name is Jerry Gray. And as I say, he was my work coach, but he also coaches, he's a great man, he's inspiring too. He coaches prisoners, goes into prisoners and provides that service. And he also coaches people who've recently left prison who are on probation, but yeah, he is a work coach too. And I found it immensely rewarding working with him. I think learning that you have to think differently if you keep repeating the same pattern it's not going to work. And if somebody else or other people aren't playing by the rules and you are because I'm that kind of person, how do you break that? How would you move forward? And you can't necessarily change them. You've got to kind of work it through yourself and how you're going to react to it really. So, I think, yeah, I think that's been a little bit challenging, but a number of years ago, and generally, it has not been like that, but I think perhaps we all find ourselves occasionally in those sorts of setups.

Lou: Yeah, absolutely. And it's funny you mentioned that because when I sometimes speak to professionals who are wanting to move up the ladder and they're gunning for a more senior position and maybe an executive position, and sometimes the thing that's holding them back is how they're dealing with situations with difficult people, or politics or red tape, and how to navigate a way around that. And I think sometimes that comes from experience and for me, the biggest change in my life was a few years ago when I realized that by continually putting my own expectations on other people was pointless because sometimes those people were never going to change. Were always going to remain the same. And actually, if I didn't put my expectations, specific expectations on them, I found that actually they didn't disappoint me. And if they did something that was really good, I was even more pleasantly surprised, and it completely changed my outlook on the way that I thought about things. And like you, I'm a problem solver. So I want to work out, okay, this is blocking me right now. This is stopping me for moving forward. What do I need to do to get around it, to go through it, to help them to address whatever their issue is so that we can all just move forward together because often it is that understanding, what it is that's preventing them. And sometimes it's something as simple as actually just creating a relationship with that person, finding some common ground and then having a better relationship where you talk about things and then they're a lot more approachable and they don't become a blocker anymore, but an enabler. So, it's a fascinating, fascinating situation.

Paula: Yeah, I think you put that really eloquently and it's exactly that. You cannot, I mean they may change, but you cannot have the expectation that they will change. And it is very easy to get into that pattern. And as you say, you've really got to break that pattern and it's about how you react to things.

Lou: Yeah, and I completely agree with you. I have a business coach as well, and he's a record-breaking athlete and he's an executive business coach and he asks me difficult questions. He makes me think about things that no one else asked me or I have time to think about. And I think when you have someone there, that just takes you either out of your comfort zone, it's like, Zoe Loveland had said, "Nothing grows in your comfort zone." So even if you take a little bit of a step out, you're still growing. And so, I think, and he focuses my attention because you know what it's like, we're incredibly busy. Everyone's so busy, that to just take you out and say, I want you to spend the next hour focusing on this. Then you come out of it just like with a very different perspective.

Paula: Yeah, you're forced to set aside that time. Absolutely.

Lou: Which is very important. So, well, I mean, this could be it, but unless you want to become a founder yourself, what is your ultimate career goal?

Paula: Yeah, and I think, yeah, you're right. I want to continue to grow Ribbonfish. So that's the plan, I want to continue to deliver for our publishers and our customers. But your question did make me think though, do I want to come full circle back to psychology? I don't know the answer to that actually. And I'd say for now, I'm happy doing what I am doing, but your questions have really brought things up for me and they'd be-

Lou: Sorry, Marc.

Paula: Not imminent, absolutely not imminent.

Lou: And the thing is, is though because of the type of work that you're doing, because you're providing publishing automation solutions. Part of that when you look at it from a marketing automation perspective is like personas. So, it is thinking about that psychology of why people do what they do, thinking about the customer journey, thinking about user behaviour. So, there is definitely a way that you can use that experience to grow and develop other parts of Ribbonfish.

Paula: Yeah, I absolutely love that element. The whole motivations, the behaviours.

Lou: Thought you would.

Paula: Yeah.

Lou: Fantastic and you've got scope to do it with your current organization. So what better?

Paula: Yep.

Lou: So there you go, Marc, just in case. So, if you weren't doing the role that you're doing now, and money was absolutely no object at all. You just won the EuroMillions, and you've just hundreds of millions of pounds, sterling, what would you be?

Paula: Well, I think if I weren't working or I were working less, I would be more active on social issues. So it wouldn't be so much what would I be? But I would get much more involved again in voluntary work and engaging more in politics around sort of anti-racist issues and equality for women. I would, yeah, I would spend a lot of time devoted, I think, to those causes.

Lou: Yeah, very important. And the more people that get involved and the more people that take notice of what's important for them, that's where we get this progressive positive change that happens that we can help to drive forward. Yeah, it's a very... sometimes it's boring that we have to do work to get paid, but that is life. But to actually be able to concentrate and take time to do that, it would be something quite special. That's certainly an excellent use of your time. So now I often ask this question and then people say to me, "Well, I don't read professional books. I listen to podcasts. I read blog posts instead, because you know, I prefer more digestible content." So we normally ask which inspiring three professional books would you recommend, but it may not be books. It could be any content of your choosing.

Paula: And yeah, it's funny. You're right, that in recent times I haven't read a plethora or a myriad of professional books.

Lou: Myriad, yes, myriad.

Paula: I do read blogs, I read research articles. And when I saw this question, I thought I'd mention one that I read a few months ago in nature. I really liked it, I really related to it. And it showed that when people want to improve something, whatever that is, whatever the context, whether it's a situation, a process, a system, or whatever, people look to add something, they look to add another element. In systems terms, they want more data. That's a very usual thing, whether it helps or not. So rather than removing something. So these were observational studies and they were focused on engineering, but the writers acknowledged this is something that seems to happen on all sorts of spheres. So, in cooking, you think, oh, let's add another spice, oh next time I cook this, I'm going to remove something. And I think in technology, this happens so often if you're looking to improve a specification, a system, a workflow, we're really additive by nature, "Oh let's make it even more complicated." Let's add something, rather than, let's stand back and really think about how we can perhaps streamline this. Can we remove something? So, I thought it was fascinating and it's that old adage of less is more sometimes. And I noted that one of the researchers has got a book coming out. I think it probably is out now. So, it's a professional book, I guess, that I will be reading. And I did note it down, it's called, I think it's something like Subtract the Untapped Science of Less. So, I will let you know Lou, because I certainly want to read that. I think it's a really interesting perspective that we assume adding things will improve things. So, I liked to think of that in a different way going forward.

Lou: I think that's an absolutely fascinating perspective. And it's funny because as you were saying that I was thinking that an organization, a small organization I used to work for, when they recruited the head of development, he came with a specific mindset and he was saying when people register for the service, we should just be asking them for only the basic information that they need. Whereas we're inherently so used to asking for as much information as you can. It's like you say, you know, it's comforting to know the data is there, but actually what are you doing with it? And I think that's when the interesting things, when we've had changes in legislation through the last few years and like GDPR, for example, is you aren't only asked for the data that you really need and actually are you asking for data that you're never going to need? But the interesting thing, when you look at a customer journey and you think of the touch points of when a customer's going through that journey, as you require data, you can ask them at various touch points, but you want the flow and the process to be as easy as possible. And when Ryan had said that back then, in my mind was a different mindset. I was so used to registration forms, asking specific things. And I was thinking, oh God, but he was so right, in terms of just saying, just make it simple and easy for people to register so then you're encouraging more registrations and then only ask them for the information that you really need. For example, what's going to validate them, what's going to authenticate them and then ask for other things as you need to. So, yeah, and that's been really fascinating to watch over the last 10 years, because this was about 10 years ago, how it's changed and there must be so much data out there and storage that's been paid for, for stuff that never gets touched. And it's a nice to have, but it's not a must have.

Paula: Yeah, completely agree. Prioritization is key, I mean, you need to look at data as it is a really valuable commercial asset, but you'll never get it completely right. You'll never think you've got enough data. You'll never think it's clean enough. You'll never think it's enriched enough. It's about priorities and yeah, less is more.

Lou: Yeah, well it's quality rather than quantity, isn't it?

Paula: What is really going to make a difference in terms of generating leads or I don't know, whatever it is. Yeah, but really pinpoint that and prioritize that.

Lou: And like I said there can be other points in the journey where you can capture other data when you realize, "Ah, we didn't spec this out, this should have also been included." So, there's always ways that you can change it. It doesn't mean it has to stay like that. So, um... So, what's your most favourite book or podcast or blog and why?

Paula: Yeah, I was able to answer this immediately. So I have a favourite novel, which I read initially when I was a teenager, I've read a bit of a precocious teenager and I think I've read it a few times since and it's called, The Idiot by Dostoevsky because I absolutely love Russian literature and The Idiot, main question, is the central character Prince Myshkin. And he's not an idiot at all. But he's very good hearted, very simple in his needs and in his desires and people make assumptions that he's not intelligent. He's drawn into all sorts of difficult, terrible situations. And I don't know if you read much Russian literature, but they're always massive themes, life and death, innocence and guilt.

Lou: Black and white.

Paula: Capital punishment or not capital punishment atheism or religion. So, it's kind of, it's got everything really. And yeah, I just love it. I mean, it's beautifully written. It's very interesting structurally. I'm very drawn to that idea that people seem to think that kind-hearted people who have those simple needs are not intelligent and it's really shocking.

Lou: Yeah.

Paula: And yeah, so it really kind of brings that to life. So that is my favourite novel.

Lou: Fantastic, and was it written in Russian and translated into English?

Paula: Mmh, yeah.

Lou: I wonder, that must've been very interesting for whoever was translating it to make sure that it comes across because obviously when you write something in some language, like Russian for example translating it into English, it doesn't always, you know, you just don't get quite the same, it just doesn't quite read the same, but it's wonderful to hear it could be written. So, someone obviously developed-

Paula: You're right, you're right. I mean, it was written in oh, late 19th century. So, there've been a number of translations, but you're so right to point out the translation is absolutely key. I mean, in that work, but in so many, and it can make a massive difference. So yeah, I think there have been many translations. Sorry, Lou?

Lou: It's a bit like the translator is the author, rather than, they've had like some context of what the story is about, so you're actually reading the translator's version.

Paula: Yeah, it's a massive contribution, I think the translator.

Lou: So anything that you talk to us about, we provide a link to, so anything like that we'll be providing a link to. So if you could travel back in a time machine, what would you tell your early career self?

Paula: I would tell myself, go with your instincts. And I think I've now got the confidence to do that. And they're not always right, but they very often are right. And I sometimes did not have the confidence to go with my instincts when I was younger. But when I look back, you know, I should have pushed it and I should have gone with them. So that would be my piece of advice to my younger self.

Lou: Perfect, I think part of that's confidence, isn't it? And when I've asked that question, a lot of people have said that confidence side, it's confidence in yourself isn't it? And it's knowing that actually... And like you said, you know, it's fine to make mistakes because that's how we learn at the end of the day. The problem is if you continually make the same mistakes, then you're not really learning. So, what do they say? There's some saying when they say do it once... Do it once, more for you do it twice more for me or something like that.

Paula: Oh, yeah, I know what you mean.

Lou: You know what I mean.

Paula: Oh, completely. And it is all about confidence, absolutely, yeah. And just being happy to step forward and push it. I think I've always been willing to say what I think, and it often is instinctive, but it's been hard to push that sometimes in the past, in the early days. But now, yeah, I absolutely feel confident enough to go for it.

Lou: But I think also earlier on in our careers, Paula, when you talked about that more chauvinist environment, we've been going through the careers at the same sort of time. It is very, that your confidence and things do get knocked and it is something that comes with experience. And I think there's a lot of things that we've experienced and certainly people who have had careers prior to us, years prior to us, that have experienced some things that really have shaped who we are today. I think, I remember in one of these other interviews, we do Mary Sauer-Games talks about when she started her career. She was in Detroit, Michigan. She started in the automotive industry, and you can imagine, that would have been incredibly chauvinistic. So yeah, it's all things that help us and shape us as people.

Paula: Yeah, I agree. I think we've been blessed, really, working in publishing, I have to say. And they're such central figures that women, such strong women that I've talked about, who have inspired me. So yeah, I think we have been blessed, definitely.

Lou: I think we're incredibly lucky with this highly complex industry that we're in, of all the different types of people, that we have the absolute pleasure of meeting and working with and just being involved with, I think it's a fantastic industry, specifically for me the academic publishing side, because that's where I've gone off and focused, but publishing is just so complex. And so many stakeholders and such a massive ecosystem. So, what's the best piece of advice that you have ever been given?

Paula: Well, this was from Steve Devlin. I've mentioned him earlier, CTO at Macmillan Science and Education, and he said, do more of what you enjoy. And he meant that in a work context. I mean, I think it's a pretty good adage, to live your life by. And he certainly didn't mean don't do the things that you don't enjoy. We all have to do things we don't enjoy. So it wasn't that simple, but I just always remember that. And I do try and sort of bring myself back to it because I think you do need to play to your strengths, and you do need to focus on things that you enjoy. If you enjoy them, you're likely to be more productive. And so that's a kind of win-win situation for you on whatever project it is that you're working on. And so, yeah, I think you do need to find some of those things and you do need to embrace them. And yeah, then you actually don't mind doing some of the stuff that you don't like doing so much.

Lou: Yeah, absolutely. Because it gives you that passion and it makes you want to get out of bed and do your job. And like you said, we all have stuff, but like, I hate doing admin, but we all have admin that we have to do or things that we have to do that we don't like, and you just get on and do it because you know ultimately then that you can go and do the fun stuff that you do.

Paula: Yeah.

Lou: So obviously through your career, you have worked with marketeers, and you obviously have marketeers in your team, and then as well as your clients, you're generally working with sales and marketing professionals as well. So, what is your number one tip, especially I think interesting coming from the publishing automation background, what is your number one tip for anyone working in marketing right now?

Paula: Well, I think we did just touch on this. I mean, I would actually give them the generic advice I've just talked about, trust your instincts and do more of what you enjoy and be proud of what you do. And then I would just bring it back to prioritizing. And it's very much of course, about nurturing leads and generating leads, and really think about what you need in terms of data to actually enable that, to actually move the company that you're working for forward commercially. And that whole less is more adage. Do not think you can boil the ocean. You know, you have to start somewhere, don't end up at an impasse or paralysis analysis, just actually go for it, start somewhere and come up with a list of priorities and just go from there. And I'm not saying don't think strategically, you can work in tandem. You can think strategically, but you can come up with your priorities and you can start and you can get going and you can make a difference.

Lou: Yeah, I think that's an incredibly valuable lesson for people, is that sometimes people focus so much on the strategic side they get lost in that without then starting to just get things done. So, you have to have a balance. And I do meet a lot of marketeers, more junior marketeers who are so incredibly tactical and don't yet have the knowledge or skillset to think more strategically. But when you do get that skillset, it completely changes you as an individual. And when you can find that balance and you just get stuff done. Absolutely.

Paula: Yeah, multi-pronged attack, definitely.

Lou: Yeah, as otherwise, you just get stuck in some cycle that you're just not ever getting anything done and you're not motivated. So, what is the thing that you miss since we had a COVID-19 pandemic? One day this question won't be relevant anymore, but a year and a half later it still is!

Paula: Oh gosh. Well, I have started socializing again. I think most people have now and I felt very energized by it. I spent lockdown with my partner and my daughter, and I am quite self-contained. I am quite content, and I thought I was okay. And then it's only when I started to socialize again, that I realized I'd been sort of living a half-life I think, and you know, I really now do appreciate every kind of social interaction that I have. So I didn't realize I was missing it, but I definitely, definitely was and I've embraced it or I am embracing it wholeheartedly. I mean, I think very specifics. I mean, I've missed going to galleries and I've missed going to the theatre, but you know, I'm sure I'm going to start doing those things too.

Lou: But sometimes that's absolutely right, is that you don't know how much you miss something until you don't have it anymore. And I think, I hope that many of us come out of this situation really valuing a lot more things that we just used to take advantage of, like going to the cinema or going to a library, going to physical spaces. But like you said, that... just chatting to a friend face to face, it's something that you really savour now, and it means a lot, it's really valuable. But yeah, absolutely, completely agree with that. So, is there anything that you want to ask me?

Paula: Yes, which is turning that earlier question around to you, I guess, what advice would you give technologists from your perspective, from a general business perspective or a specific marketing perspective, what do you think we should be doing?

Lou: I think, so, fortunately, you sent me this question over the weekend. Sometimes people-

Paula: I'm very nice.

Lou: I know. Sometimes I ask right at the beginning before we press record just while we're going through this time I can suddenly think, oh my God, what is it, but no, you're absolutely right. So, I had time to think about this. And I think for me, my main feedback is that you have different departments working in an organization that have specific insights and capabilities and from some of the best work and projects that I have been involved with have been involved with IT and with development, from a marketing capacity, because there is a huge amount of value that marketeers can bring to specific projects, especially when it relates to technology, because marketeers generally own the customer journey, they have specific insights. They also may have already done personas. They may have discovered what annoys the end users, the stakeholders, but also not just marketing, it's the sales departments as well, because they're generally the ones that are actually speaking to these people. And so, they have really great insights. So, for me, it's just ensuring that there's that really close collaboration that you're gaining those insights that you want to, that someone's just... you're having these conversations. And I used to go to sprint meetings when platforms were being developed and I'd been brought into this big society. And I had a very specific skill set, I'd just come from ProQuest. And I had a very specific skillset that none of the other marketeers had. And so, for me, when I went into those meetings, I understood the language. No one had to explain anything to me, but I was also, as a marketeer, really eager and keen to learn so that I could have technological conversations with colleagues. And I think that they also really appreciated that I did want to learn, and I was bothered about what all the different terminologies and things mean because ultimately, you're going to produce something that's going to be a much better user experience for the end users. And you're going to produce something that you're all going to be incredibly proud of. That's probably my best advice I can give in that respect.

Paula: Yeah, no, that's brilliant. I think that working together, that has to be key, doesn't it? It can't be technology led. It can't be completely business led, it isn't coming together.

Lou: And sometimes some of these organizations that you and I work with, they are sales led. They are editorial led, that you don't often hear of an organization being marketing led, and sometimes they are technology led, but yeah, absolutely, just, you know, work together and just ensure that you're getting those key insights early on. And you'll surprised about how much hassle that saves later on, especially when something's launched and then it's showcased to various departments and then they go, "Why didn't you...?" It costs an awful lot more to rectify it further down the line. You want your colleagues when they launch something, everyone to go, "Wow, amazing." Of course, there's going to be niggles, right?" And nothing is going to be perfect. But yes, so that's what I would say.

Paula: Thank you so much.

Lou: So, Paula, I want to say, thank you so, so much for taking the time to talk to us today. It has been absolutely brilliant and fascinating to hear about your career, all the things you've learned, your top tips and also the resources that you told us about and the things that we should be paying attention to and looking at.

Paula: It's been my absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for inviting me.

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