Our Heritage

Tony (TA’s Founder and Creative Director) looks back over 30 years and over 1,500 catalogues

How time flies when you're having fun! When I heard about the recent 20th anniversary of Catalogue & e-business, it got me thinking. When I looked through my old Job Book, I discovered that I had completed well over 1,000 catalogues in my 30-year career (man and boy). Which in turn got me reminiscing about the old days, about how much has changed in that time - and just how much has stayed the same!

Plus ca change

Despite turning up for my interview exactly 24 hours late, my first job was working for Freemans Mail Order. It was September 1980 - and Macs were something you wore on rainy days.

Fresh from four years at college, my generation of artists could actually visualise (draw), but the world of commercial art was very much a series of well-defined, specialist skills. Now a creative is expected to be able to do every aspect of design and artwork, as well as a detailed understanding of the market.

Groundbreaking specialogues

Here's one from the archives, the very first British lifestyle specialogue, adapting the American concept epitomised by Lands End, J.Crew and LL Bean. It featured longer copy, callouts, features and end-user benefits - sound familiar? For example, we shot rainwear in action - in the Highlands in blizzard conditions. Complete Essentials pre-empted Racing Green by three years.

Typesetting (text) amends could take up to 48 hours, trannies (scans) were hand-retouched by specialists with airbrushes, taking up to a week.

We'd trace the transparencies into position (does anyone remember Grant projectors?) and paste a photocopy of the final text in a long column down one side of the page. (surprising how many designers feel this is still the only way)

Repro - a lost art

These traces and transparencies would then go off to the magic world of repro. Repro is essentially a lost industry. They used to scan transparencies, lay tints, make artwork and supply black and white proofs after a week or so (The first time the client would actually see a facsimile of the finished page).
Then after amends - which could easily take a week or more - the cromalin proofs would appear. On approval repro would make films and send them to the printers.

Small but perfectly formed

It was so long ago that Lulu was still a young gal when I worked with her on Freemans advertising. Frankly, when I started in the catalogue business, specialogues - which are now over 90% of the market - hadn't even been thought of in the UK - Indeed I can claim to have held the forceps at their birth, and it was 1984 when we teamed up with Jeff Banks to create BYMAIL, closely followed by Wallis Horne and Together.

A new beginning

In 1992 I felt confident enough to branch out on my own, initially from the proverbial spare bedroom. I'm glad to say that the catalogue world has always been pretty friendly, compared to other areas of marketing. So word soon got around from client to client, and via the network of people you've got to know over the years.

The great thing about being an agency is the huge variety of work. You never know what type of catalogue will be next - high fashion, power drills, imaginative gifts, school supplies, birdseed, workwear, high end watches or geraniums. It really is a great career, and one that fires my enthusiasm every working day.

Helping clients takes its toll

So if I can draw any conclusions at all from my brief canter through time - apart from the fact that Lulu has aged so much better than I have - it's that the Mac revolution has meant massive efficiency gains. We can, and often do, turn around catalogues and retouch complex scans in days, flashing hi-res pdfs around the world at the touch of a button.

But although technology changes and the timings shorten, quality still counts. No machine or software, however sophisticated, can ever replace human ideas and enthusiasm. And with catalogues, unlike most design, pretty concepts are not enough. Response rates speak volumes, and quickly.

Recognition of Service

If anyone is contemplating organising a long service award for me - a gold watch may seem a bit 'old school' but hey, so am I.

Well, that's it from me, I'm off to start catalogue 1,235 (why am I thinking dog scissors?)

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