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The Prepress Projects Journey

It all began with one woman and a small dachshund 30 years ago. Prepress Projects was established in Edinburgh as a freelance business in a publishing environment quite different from that which prevails today.


Helen MacDonald started the company, offering editing and proofreading services to science and medical publishers. The early 1990s were the final days of red ink copy-editing, and cut and paste meant scissors and glue. On-screen work was becoming more popular and email contact with authors was a novelty.


It became obvious to Helen that demand for her services outstripped supply, and that using technology enabled a higher-quality service to be provided more quickly. Her husband, David, joined her two years later, and together they worked on developing a small company, offering combined editing, typesetting and some project management services. This worked well during the 1990s.


The company relocated to Perth in 1993 and has added approximately one person every year since then; the headcount is now 26.


The early years focused on providing services to commercial companies: typically academic book and journal publishers. That sort of work began to diminish in the early 2000s, with many large publishers outsourcing production to India and the Far East. New clients and markets had to be found.


Public sector publishing provided the solution, and since then the company has extended the services it offers. Editing, typesetting and proofreading have been complemented by full publishing project management and specialist technology services, such as delivery of XML for open access publishing web sites and custom apps to support production.


Some services, such as top-notch English language writing, editing and proofreading, require native-level language skills and remain core to the company’s business and values.


The business expanded such that Helen and David could no longer manage it themselves: they needed a third director. One of the managers, Lucy Harrier, was appointed and is presently the company’s operations director, guiding three production teams and the company’s technical staff.


Most of the company’s revenue comes from the UK, and that has always been the case. Now, however, the company has clients in a dozen countries, and undertaking projects for the UN in New York or the World Health Organization in India is as commonplace as producing web-based journals for the National Health Service in the UK.


There are really only three key factors to success in publishing services: good people, good technology and good processes. The company has always valued progressive employment practices: it was re-awarded the Investors in Young People Good Practice Award at Gold level in January 2021. Without good people, the best technology and processes will fail.


Recognising opportunities and threats is crucial for a services company (in fact, crucial for any company). And often these are the same thing. For example, lockdown required the company to change from being a mostly office-based employer in March 2020 (90% of staff were office based) to being an exclusively home-based employer. Lockdown was a clear threat. Becoming a home-based company almost overnight was not achieved without considerable investment in technology, but it also wouldn’t have succeeded without a well-trained, intelligent and flexible workforce and robust working processes. The pandemic became a substantial threat to many businesses: at Prepress Projects it became an opportunity.


A recent staff survey indicates that about one-third of staff want to return to working full time in the office when the pandemic is over, some 40% to 45% want some form of hybrid working (part home, part office) – perhaps three days in the office and two at home – and about 25% want to work exclusively at home.


The company’s management team is working on how to meet these wishes, or at least as much as possible, such that quality and turnaround delivered to clients aren’t reduced, and perhaps even enhanced.


The company has a well-proven internship programme and believes that interns should earn at least the real living wage. It plans to recruit one or two interns in summer/autumn 2021. This is dependent on business circumstances, including Scottish government guidelines permitting return to office-based work. Although Prepress Projects can’t guarantee the interns a long-term position, it can guarantee that the experience gained will be relevant, useful and representative of what happens in a professional publishing company. Intern applications close on 22 March, although this date may be extended depending on how government guidelines change.


For those who want to work in literary publishing, Prepress Projects is a poor choice of employer: you won’t find staff chatting online with a future Booker prize-winning author (much as they would like to). For those who want to work with language, and value producing English that is clear, correct and consistent, the company is an excellent choice. Follow us on Twitter at @prepressperth, and you can visit our website at https://www.prepress-projects.co.uk.

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