Under the Radar with Justin Masters

Louisa Cavell

This week I spoke with Justin Masters about the sheer joy of creating for print media, deciding between chocolate and the gym (easy, chocolate every time) and a jaw-dropping surprising fact about himself...

 Justin Masters

What made you want to work in the magazine industry?

My dad worked for the Daily Mail, he was on the presses, and he worked in print, so I think that I had this childhood awareness of my dad being in print. I got a job at National Magazines, which is Hearst now, in the post room but with the intention of learning print.

I made a nuisance of myself and got an in with the Production Director and I said, "Look, I want to learn everything about print," and I loved it from then on. So, I got into publishing because I had a real interest in print.

Can you chart your journey from when you started out to your current position?

I started in the post room at National Magazines, just to make a nuisance of myself, to get a foot in the door.

I pestered the Production Director and I sat with the IT director at lunchtimes and I'd learned everything I could. Then, very quickly, (within nine months) I was in Advertisement Production, copy chasing. They called it "traffic" at the time, "traffic control".

While in this role, I was copy chasing the L'Oreal and the big Estee Lauder adverts for publications like Cosmopolitan and Company and Zest, all these women's news stand monthlies.

I was at the National Magazines for five years, I worked my way up the ranks to Ad Production Controller, and then I got into advertorials as a Production Controller.

I was there for five years, but then I got head-hunted and brought over to a new start-up, Sally O'Sullivan's new start-up, Cabal. I went over there as Production Manager, which was a huge, massively exciting role for me.

I stayed there for probably three or four years before I went to work at Eaglemoss, which is a partworks publisher. I went there as Project Manager, so same sort of thing, production control.

I think my first assignment; my first licensed deal was Barbie. I'd gone from printing news stand magazines and was catapulted into this new world of print and all of these different objects that I'd print. Like a Barbie dress.

I would have to arrange all the hand finishing. They would get a dress every fortnight and you would stick the dress onto the magazine, there were all manner of different print projects and print requirements.

I had loads of different titles at that place. I was working on Marvel and New Line for Lord of the Rings and things like that. Some fantastic products and brands and I ended up working on about ten different titles. I was there six years as a Project Manager, Production Controller.

Then 12 years ago, I joined Think, when it was a much smaller business. It probably about 25% of the turnover that it is now. It was based in a few units in Ladbroke Grove. It was a fairly young company and had been trading maybe 10 years.

I'd always worked for big companies and I wanted to start with a young company and be part of something that was just taking off and be part of that growth. And I got exactly what I wanted 12 years later. I think the company was £4 million turnover when I joined, it's now over £16 million.

You felt like you were really part of something. To be honest, it's never stopped growing. Four years ago, we moved over to our new Edgware Road offices. That was like a pivotal moment for Think, because that was like peeling off the old skin and re-emerging as a bigger beast.

What would people be surprised to know about your job?

Probably the volume of print that we still manage. There's a conception that print is dead, and everyone is moving to digital. Think bucks that trend. We print a huge amount of work; we print probably 12 million regular publications a year and we post about half of those.

We're posting over six million packs a year. We've got over 40 clients. We're processing 17,000 pages. The volume is like volumes you would have heard of maybe 20 years ago in the publishing house. We're very, very print heavy. And it proves a fantastic format for our membership base.

What’s the most unusual situation you’ve found yourself in because of your job?

Probably, my crush on Kate Humble, which is well-known within the company. We did some work for  Zoological Society of London (ZSL) (of which Humble is an ambassador) and I'm quite well known in the offices for having quite a crush on Kate Humble, so when she'd come in I'd wither.

We arranged fluffy toys for ZSL, we arranged those and put those in boxes to go in stores at ZSL. I've had some quite quirky experiences with ZSL - what with Kate Humble and stuffing cuddly toys in presentation boxes.

Do you have a go-to work outfit?

Probably smart casual. I'm very much smart jeans and a shirt, or trousers and a polo top. That's me. I don't like to go anywhere outside of that. It's not a place for fashion.

I think we've become more relaxed, decade by decade. I think it would be nice to go back a few decades and try to smarten up a bit. I think we're maybe going a bit too far, the wrong way but I try and dress smart. Slightly professional, I like to say.

What do you turn to when you’re on deadline – tea/coffee/snacks?

We're constantly on deadline, because we have so many things going out. We probably have two or three things signing off per week. I've replaced coffee with green tea and that helps calm me. I don't think caffeine and deadlines mix well.

I might let off a few expletives and then relax. That'll be my outburst. Then it will be okay, because I know I've got to do it again in a day's time.

I rely on a fantastic relationship with all my supply chain. It's invaluable to us that they know how we work, we know how they work, and we complement each other in the best way possible.

Walk me through your typical day.

I suppose, thinking about production, I do have a typical day.

On a Monday I'll have a production update with my team. I've got a Production Manager and a Production Controller. Then we've got Advertising Production which is managed by an external supplier.

Then I have a production update at 10 o'clock every Monday morning and I find out what's going through the department that week and I will stay quite close to my team, but they are very in control of what they're doing. We all sit in close proximity so we're quite vocal, we're always talking about supporting and seconding each other, "have you ordered this paper", "is that going on time".

I will normally take control of pricing, there'll always be something to price up, an iteration of a job a new business quote. A new costing that's required by an existing client. I'll take control of that. I've normally got some stuff like that going on and reporting back to the managers and directors. That'll be a normal week for me, will be a lot of reporting and pricing and costing and managing the team, so there'll always be different jobs at different stages throughout any week. I'll just make sure that all that stuff is running smoothly.

I will speak to the suppliers very regularly; probably weekly I'll have interaction.

In terms of critical path, I would say, there's probably two or three magazines going to print a week, but in terms of deadlines and critical path workload, there's probably I would say maybe 15 or 20 things. 15 or 20 things and that can be from ordering paper, getting data in, verifying data. Issuing a print order, checking on deliveries. There's a lot of process stuff.

How has being a member of the PPA helped you/added value to your brand?

Funnily enough, I've been working with Royal Mail on postage initiatives recently.

Royal Mail are just about to release a letter that's got some quotes from me in it about how helpful they were now the tariffs have changed. They've released new products onto the market.

There are a few hoops to jump through to be able to validate our titles for it, but they've been very, very helpful and helped us achieve these different processes that can help us save money and that's been really useful.

Having that close relationship with other PPA members, that they're more willing to come and see us and go the extra mile to help us achieve what we need to achieve, and we've got a common goal, that's a really relevant and recent initiative that's been definitely strengthened by the fact that it's PPA related.

100% and I think that that letter will go out to PPA members and they'll see the comments that I've made, and I suppose it will validate it from a publisher's perspective to say there are some real benefits to doing this.

That's been a real recent positive benefit to PPA membership, as well as seeing other PPA members we work closely with at events, it’s nice to know  that we're in safe hands and we're with the right people and that we've got the right relationships with the right people.

If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day? 

I miss the gym, I would like to be able to go to the gym. It's something that; I've never stopped having a membership, I've just stopped going.

What is the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview)? Why?

Justin Masters dog

My doggo, Buddy.

What's your guilty pleasure?

Guilty pleasure. Oh my God, that's got to be chocolate. I like to have chocolate.

I'm real rough and ready with my chocolate. None of this sort of, you know, 90% cocoa. It's all Dairy Milk. I suppose I've substituted the exercise for chocolate. I've gone 50% one way and then 50% the other way.

No exercise, chocolate instead. It’s definitely a guilty pleasure.

Whose phone number do you wish you had?

Kate Humble.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I'm a bit of a print geek and I love the advice that anything's possible in print. I love it, because it's so true.

Obviously, it comes at a cost, but anything is possible in print, and I use this today, because the guys will come over with loads of creative ideas for their clients and I will use that mantra, you know, can we do that, yes we can.

We'll just work out how to do it, what the best treatment is. We're competing in a really aggressive market so we have to come up with really eye catching treatments and it's good to know that, I've got no fear about saying I can do that.

That helps us be creative with what we do, helps us not be limited in what we can offer.

What/where is your happy place?

My happy place is with my family, with my wife and kids. Doing something with my wife and kids, being out for the day.

I love seeing the kids grow up and I know it's an old cliché, but they're six and half, and seven and a half now and it just whizzes by. Family for me is really important.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

That I have got loads of tattoos.

I've got about 13 But people don't know that.

Being “slightly professional”, I don't think it goes with the office. I started getting them fairly late really. Around the age of 30.

With tattoos, it's like you break the seal and you never go back. Once you've done it, it's like, “okay I'm someone who gets tattoos now,” because there they are.

It becomes a bit moreish. I think, if I didn't have to sleep, I'd go and get the odd tattoo as well.

What would be in your Room 101?

I would put pedestrians that walk out in front of me. I ride a motorbike, and I'm not worried about cars and bikes particularly, because I know where they are on the road. Pedestrians, they come out from the weirdest places right in your face.

This is maybe controversial, but what's that singer? Jess Glynne? Can you put her in there as well?

Introvert or extrovert?


Optimist or pessimist?


 Film or television? What are you binge-watching at the moment?

Television. I've just started The Handmaid's Tale. It's really good, very depressing.

Sweet or savoury?


Morning person or night owl?

I'm a morning person. You don't get that a lot do you?

I'm up 45 minutes before everyone else in the morning and I have my 45 minutes to an hour on my own, before I then go and get the kids up and take my wife a coffee. Then it all goes mad. If I got up with the madness, I wouldn't be able to cope, so I get up early. I get ahead of the game.

It's the most beautiful part of the day I think, because it's peaceful.

It means a lot to me to get up early and just have that, you know, there's no traffic outside, it's dark, it's quiet, it's peaceful, I love it.

Tea or coffee?


Emojis – cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?

shrugDribble face

In public I'd like to say they're cringy, but actually I find they really serve a purpose. Sometimes you don't even have to write anything. 

The shrug is brilliant, and obviously when I'm talking about chocolate, the dribbly face.

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