Neysha Soodeen recalls her favourite publishing moments over the last two decades.

Neysha Soodeen is CEO of the Caribbean’s top magazine publishing house, Toute Bagai Publishing, and publisher of MACO. She has been the driving force behind the launch of more than 20 magazines and has worked with tourist boards across the Caribbean on marketing initiatives and events such as the Saint Lucia Food & Rum Festival. On Toute Bagai’s 20th anniversary, she sits down with MPB’s Desirée Phillip to chat about her journey in the business, and what she does at the most wonderful time of the year.

It’s December and Christmas, so we have to ask: What do you love most about Christmas and what’s your favourite Christmas memory?

I LOVE Christmas. Until Christmas comes, then I loathe it. I am never ready for it. I am a last-minute shopper and I’m always trying to wrap presents in my office whilst trying to put a late magazine to bed. The traffic is horrendous and my office starts filtering out early to nurse hangovers from the night before and to attend the next cocktail party.

Tell us five things we don’t know about you:

  1. I hate cocktail parties.
  2. I hate speaking on the phone.
  3. I love to cook.
  4. I wake up at 5.30 a.m.
  5. I am a total workaholic. I can’t switch off.

If we were to ask your closest friends, what would they say about you?

That I need to learn how to say “no” and that I am a nutcase.

Name four people whom you admire most and why.

  1. Prime Minister Mia Mottley, for her amazing strength and determination like no other.
  2. US President Donald Trump, for showing us that even the stupidest of people can make it big. #fakeittillyoumakeit
  3. Sandy Soodeen, my mother, for the ability to always show class even during the crappiest of times.
  4. Iain Thomson, my husband, for proving to the world that no matter what the universe throws at you, you can turn those limes into lemonade, or a drink for a pair of running shoes.

Given another shot at life, what career would you choose? Why?

I would choose to be a full-time mother, because I think I would be awesome at it.

Name your five favourite publications.

Other than mine, The Times, The Economist, The Week, Vanity Fair and DWELL.

It’s been 20 years for Toute Bagai Publishing! What a ride it must have been. Tell us how you’ve managed to keep this company flying high with printed editions in a totally digital age.

I can’t say it’s been easy. Magazines earn their revenue from advertising and in this wild and crazy digital age, print advertising cannot compete with digital ads. However, I have been able to switch on the lights in our office for one more month due to two factors: one, we have been consistent in the quality of our product and offering to our readers and advertisers new and exciting mediums and campaigns to market their brands; two, there are still quite a few advertisers who are committed to print, as market research shows that print advertising is more effective than digital and has a great return on investment.

You started with a dream in mind, a goal. Have you reached it?

I reached my initial goal after my first-year anniversary. Then I launched another magazine and moved the goal post. Then I hired more people, launched another magazine and a Food & Rum Festival and moved the goal post again.

How has the world of publishing changed since you started two decades ago?

When I think of the changes in publishing over the past 20 years ago, a surreal feeling comes over me. I remember sitting on the floor with Marie France Aqui, the graphic designer who designed the very first MACO, with massive sheets of paper, drawing out how each feature would look. I remember having proofs of my magazine printed on four different colours sheets (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). We had to save files on a CD and courier to the printers. We chose our photography from sheets of transparencies we received from photographers and some of our editorial actually came to us in hard copy. Everything has been made so much easier. Weird that the digital age has both been a blessing and a curse to me at the same time.

Have you kept up with the changes?

Absolutely! Our advertisers now have options to market their brands to our readers either through our print publications, or through our digital platform which reaches a much wider audience. We have also kept our readers happy by always giving them what they have always wanted from us—cool, sexy content—on their phones, tablets, social media, video or print.

How has it been running this company in a world where the industry is predominately male?

It’s pretty awesome. Thank God I am female. The publishing world is predominately male, but magazines and digital platforms earn revenue through ad sales and most of those decision makers are men as well. I think my female colleagues at MACO and I have a vantage point over my male colleagues as we need to sell to them!

What does MACO have that other magazines that dare to walk in its path miss?

Class and consistency.

What are the ultimate prerequisites for a successful publication like MACO?

Strong design, trustworthy content, strong distribution.

Where are MACO and Toute Bagai going next?

We have started working with bigger brands on different ways to market to the region. It’s fun, it’s new, and it’s keeping me on my toes.

So, you studied criminology and ended up in the publishing world. How and why did that ‘turn of events’ come about?

Well, it didn’t quite happen that way. I studied criminology (more out of defiance to my father who thought I was wasting his money studying such crap). But then really ended up enjoying how the criminal mind works. It also helped me deal with all of the people I needed to deal with in the business. I understood their mannerisms, their thought processes. As a young girl starting out in business in the Caribbean, I truly believe I studied the most PERFECT discipline.

What made you confident that you could run a publishing house?

I was not confident that I could NOT run a publishing house. I am an entrepreneur to the bone. Once you understand the basics of business, you can start any company. Do it right from the beginning and you should be able to succeed.

How did you start it – how many staff members, how many publications, how many clients? Do you remember your first day 20 years ago?

I do remember my first day 20 years ago. I bought a black office desk, a new comfy chair and a fax machine (it was 20 years ago, so don’t laugh). I placed it at the back of my Mom’s warehouse in Laventille, Trinidad, made a cup of coffee and started jotting down my editorial outline for MACO. I had no staff; it was just me and my creativity and determination to make this the very best magazine the Caribbean would ever see.

You moved the headquarters to Barbados from Trinidad at the start of this year. What pluses have this decision brought?

The biggest plus is that I get to spend more time at home with my husband and son—not necessarily in that order!  I also get to once again head up my team face-to-face which, in a ‘remote’ world, is still important. I love a team. I love being part of my team.

What’s in store for us from Toute Bagai in 2019?

Lots of video! Hold on to your shorts! It’s gonna be a hell of a ride.

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