Fast Track CV: Nicola Murphy marketing and sales director of river publishing

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The Independent Culture
After six years working for Procter & Gamble, Nicola, now 34, moved into publishing. In 1994 she helped set up River Publishing, which produces magazines for BMW and Asda and has a turnover of pounds 8.3m

River is the only company in contract publishing run by two women, and as such we are extremely unpopular. I have been described as the rudest person in the industry and that is great because I know we offer a good service. If our competitors get upset it shows they are frightened and that's fine - we are out to get them.

At school I was a massive girlie swot, but I managed to find time to run for Kent in the cross-country. When I went to do English Language and Literature at Reading University I discovered boys. In fact I nearly got chucked out because I followed my boyfriend to Paris in the third year.

I went on the milk round and got a job with Procter & Gamble. The application form and interview were bloody tough - it was really awful. The form asked all these questions about what you would do in different situations. When I went for the interview there was this stuffy old guy who turned out to be really nice. He launched into the questions which were the same as the application form, so I repeated the spiel I had written on the form. When I finished he said: "I don't want to hear all that bollocks, tell me something else," so I did and I got the job.

I was lucky because I got several offers from companies like Procter and Unilever. I took Procter because they paid the most. I spent six years with them, the first two in sales. I worked in the Industrial Division as a rep selling Flash Liquid and Vortex. It made for exciting dinner- party conversation: "What does a nice young lady like you do for a living?" "I sell toilet cleaner."

It was hard to leave Procter & Gamble because they gave you a good pension and it was easy to get complacent. I was bored; there's only so much toilet cleaner you can shove down people's throats. I decided they could buy whatever washing up liquid they liked.

In 1991 I went to work for The Publishing Team. They were a young company working out of a shoe box on the Edgware Road. It was fun and completely different from the rigid, bureaucratic but comfortable Procter & Gamble. I thought publishing was sexy, and I worked there until January 1994. There I had met Jane Wynn, who is now River's editorial director and my business partner. The owners of The Publishing Team made us a paltry five per cent profit offer to run a new loyalty consultancy. We fell out with them and left to set up River; we took two of their magazines with us and got sued, but within six months we were turning over pounds 1m. We were very lucky.

We launched River by hiring an actor to play "the Milk Tray man" and deliver boxes of chocolates to potential clients. You may laugh, but it worked and we got the contract to publish the Asda magazine. Now we produce 24 magazines and employ 50 staff. We are quite maverick and we pitch very aggressively, making us fair game, but as far as I'm concerned we offer a good service.

To young people embarking on their careers I would say don't be frightened to go out and do it. When we started River we had mortgages to pay and we realised what a huge step we were taking - we were scared, but we gave it six months and it was fun.

In September this year I'm starting a PhD in Strategic Marketing with the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I'm going to look at the concept of loyalty, which I don't think exists - I think consumers are more cynical than that. I quite like the idea of being called Dr Murphy.

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