Service with a smile

So, what is it like working at CPL? Director of finance, Laura Saunders, reflects on her time 'in agency', in terms of culture, comms and clients.

I still refer to myself as ‘relatively new’ to CPL, even though – after nearly two and a half years here – that is clearly not the case.

I think it’s because life at CPL has been a constant learning experience and, therefore, very, very different from anywhere I’ve worked before.

I’m a qualified accountant and have always worked in industry, because working in an accountancy practice never really appealed.

Before CPL, I had worked almost exclusively in manufacturing firms, most of which make products most people wouldn’t consider exciting: office furniture, scientific instruments and industrial LED lights, for example.

The working environments in which I previously felt most comfortable were dusty, noisy and with lots of boxes. Annual stock takes were a highlight, and I could talk endlessly to you about the importance of PODs, GRNIs, WIP levels and ERP systems.

A brief change of direction led me to working for Magners Cider. It was still manufacturing, of sorts, but much more interesting to many of my friends, who were always keen to know just how many cases of cider it was acceptable for me to take (for free) from the office cupboard for weekend barbecues. A long commute and a young daughter led me to move to a job closer to home, but I still always look in the fridge of any pub to see what (if any) varieties of Magners they stock.

I enjoyed working in manufacturing because, typically for an accountant, I quite liked the order and clarity of it all. It was always obvious when things would be invoiced; there was a paper trail; and the things you were selling were very visible.

So why leave all that to work in an agency, with (potentially) lots of fluffy, creative types? Put simply, I like a challenge. I knew that working in a service business would be very different from my comfort zone, and so it would expand my knowledge.

And what have I learned during my time at CPL?

Well, for a start, invoicing for the work we do is much more complicated. In pretty much every case, we need to decide– and agree with a customer– when things will be invoiced. In manufacturing, it’s more simple. You see a box being shipped, then you send an invoice.

Despite the new systems we have introduced in recent years, it’s also more complicated to finalise invoices, because the details often vary according to a number of factors. CPL prides itself on being an agile, flexible agency, offering a range of services, but this doesn’t always help the finance team. With our magazine contracts, for example, the invoices vary according to such things as pagination, the number of commissioned articles, and whether or not there is a ‘belly band’ (not that I knew what one of those was until I joined CPL!).

In manufacturing, you count how many boxes there are of each product, multiply by the price list agreed with the customer, and send the invoice.

In a service business, we talk about clients as much as customers. We focus on fostering relationships with them, and on chasing payments in an assertive, but not aggressive, way.

It’s also particularly interesting working in a business such as CPL, where content is king. I am still rather paranoid when I send an internal company email, as I am well aware that my writing will be instantly proofed and critiqued by our team of journalists.

I also really enjoy the culture of working ‘in an agency’ – although I think it’s more than that. There is a very friendly, supportive culture, and my colleagues are positive and endlessly patient when I bang on about trend analysis and the importance of logging timesheets.

But the best bit is the emphasis on communication. CPL prides itself on effective communication, so we try really hard to keep channels open internally, with regular company catch-ups, 1-2-1s and a real push to involve people in decisions wherever possible.

I’ve never before worked in an organisation where so much effort goes into communicating what’s going on – and I love it. Perhaps we don’t always get things right, but we certainly do try.

PS: I have massively simplified the processes for working in a manufacturing business. Hopefully, you’ll forgive my use of poetic licence.

Laura Saunders
is director – finance
at CPL

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