Media mentor - Sean King

Keen snowboarder Sean King, the owner and director of Square One Publishing, set up the contract publishing company in 1994. It now produces 80 magazines under 25 different client brands each year

Media mentor - Sean King
Media mentor - Sean King

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Intuitive, honest, fun.

What was your first job in media?

When I left Warwick University in 1986, armed with a degree in psychology (2:2 of course), I headed off to London with all my friends in search of work.

Without any idea of what I might do, I was immediately attracted to media sales – probably true of most people who start off in media sales – and began as a sales exec on Retail Jeweller magazine, then owned by International Thomson.

Most of my friends thought I was mad, but I loved it. Working with a young team, most of whom were recently out of college, was a blast and in those days magazines were booming so the job was easy.

And, while I moved across into editorial not long after, the sales experience, especially cold-calling, has helped me enormously in terms of building a client portfolio for Square One Publishing.

Having worked on both sides of the publishing business (sales and creative) means that I come to look at each project in a balanced way, which in the contract space is incredibly useful. I love magazines as a medium and have a sixth sense as to what's good and what's working and, just as importantly, what's not.

What does it take to make it big in media?

Understanding what clients want and being able to translate that into whatever area of the media you're involved in.

In our case as a publishing agency, it means being able to understand our clients' businesses intimately and develop a magazine concept and ROI model that meets their objectives.

Working for 20 clients, ranging from AXA/PPP to Waterstones, it's really important for us to have a broad knowledge of the world going on around us and the commercial environments our clients operate in.

What is the best piece of advice ever given to you?

People first, second and third.

In the customer magazine publishing business – like every other media sector – it's all about the people working for and in the business, whether they're involved in creative, strategic planning or production.

We need the best talent around to make sure that our magazines hit the mark for the readers and our clients alike. But when managing people, especially in a creative company, you're always learning how to do it better.

Who is the person you most admire in the media industry?

John Brown. Not only did he build the number one publishing agency in the market, but he also managed to sell it to the management for a mouth-watering price.

What has been the most embarrassing moment in your career so far?

Probably pitching a new magazine concept to a client over lunch in Soho House, getting a little over-excited with my arms, and managing to knock an entire glass of wine over said client's lunch and her rather splendid dress.

We still won the business though.

What has been your biggest regret?

That I didn't take up snowboarding until five years ago.

It's without doubt the most fun you can have standing up and I love nothing more than being on my board in deep fresh powder.

What is the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning?

After picking up my latte on the way to the office, I log on to get my first e-mail fix of the day.

Then I sit down with key members of the team to discuss the issues of the day as well as forthcoming plans. Annually we produce more than 80 different magazines under 25 different client brands, so there's never a dull moment.

What is the most exciting aspect of your job?

I love a challenge and, believe me, running a successful publishing agency definitely does it for me.

Customer publishing is highly competitive, fast-paced and constantly changing so you can never stand still. Couple that with managing and building a diverse client portfolio means you really have to be on your toes.

And what do you least enjoy doing?

Not being busy. As any of my team will testify I'm never happier than when in the thick of it: working on pitches, dealing with our clients and managing staff.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years' time?

Snowboarding as much as my knees will let me.


Career path - Sean King

1994 Owner/director Square One Publishing

1990 Editor Video Home Entertainment Weekly Video Business Publications

1988 Journalist Broadcast Magazine Emap

1987 Reporter Menswear Magazine International Thomson

1986 Sales executive Retail Jeweller magazine International Thomson

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