PROFILE: Old Timer - TONY ELLIOTT, OWNER, TIME OUT

He is 51 years old and 30 years ago this week launched the brand which made him, on paper at least, a rich man. Yet Tony Elliott remains as passionate about Time Out now as when he was a student drop-out with pounds 75 in his pocket and a great idea for a magazine.

He is 51 years old and 30 years ago this week launched the brand

which made him, on paper at least, a rich man. Yet Tony Elliott remains

as passionate about Time Out now as when he was a student drop-out with

pounds 75 in his pocket and a great idea for a magazine.



’Every week when the magazines come out here and in New York, I am

surprised and stimulated and tend to think ’Fuck, this is amazing that

this machine that I have created produces these’,’ he says.



It is three years since Elliott took his idea to America, and amidst

some serious scepticism on both sides of the Atlantic, launched Time Out

New York. The title now sells around 85,000 copies a week, almost

matching its UK sister which sells 86,000.



He was motivated to launch the original Time Out, in August 1968, by his

fascination for 60s culture and a desire for information on what was

going on. ’It was born from curiosity, rather than a desire to be

trendy,’ he says. ’I wanted to know what I was missing.’



Thirty years on the motivation is still the same: ’Even now, if I go

anywhere in the world, before I go out to dinner I need to know all the

alternatives,’ he says.



His love of information - evident in the shelves stacked with books,

papers and magazines in his office on Tottenham Court Road - and an

obsession with accuracy is, he believes, the key to the enduring success

of Time Out.



It has built him a company with annual profits of pounds 1m which

includes two weekly titles, a number of brand extensions such as the

Eating and Drinking Guide, a licensing deal for Time Out Roma, and a

series of city guides, published by Penguin.



Yet for a man who has created a brand worth, in his own estimation,

pounds 50m, Elliott is surprisingly ill at ease with marketing

vocabulary. ’In 1990 an agency asked us if they could use an image of

Time Out alongside those of a number of other companies like Virgin and

Coca-Cola, which they saw as being clearly defined brands,’ he says. ’I

thought, oh fuck, that’s amazing. But now all of us on the commercial

side are aware of it being a brand and standing for something, which is

doing information well with an independent attitude and spirit.’



It did, however, take Elliott some time to realise this. Most of the

expansion has taken place since the early 80s. ’Even up until ten years

ago, people were saying he should have done more with it,’ says John

Howkins, Time Out’s first TV editor, and a friend of Elliott’s. ’Now it

is recognised as a success.’



Despite this, there is little room for complacency. Sales of the London

title are considerably down on its high of 110,000 in 1995. The launch

of newspapers’ comprehensive London listings sections, most notably the

Evening Standard’s Hot Tickets, have undoubtedly made life harder for

Time Out.



Furthermore the New York title, although established in its niche, cost

more than predicted and has yet to make money.



Other overseas ventures - most notably in Amsterdam and Paris - did not

survive.



Such hiccups along the way have not put Elliott off. He puts a positive

spin on adversity and is full of enthusiasm for new projects, most

notably those involving electronic publishing. These include a

soon-to-launch web site with the strapline, ’The world’s living guide’,

which will be updated regularly by stringers in 21 cities overseas.



With such enthusiasm for his business, it is perhaps not surprising that

he will admit to no other hobbies. Life outside the office is spent with

his wife and three sons.



It was not always so. A 60s kid, Elliott had his share of wilder

times.



He was married to Janet Street-Porter for three years in the early

70s.



He also struggled with a drinking habit, and eventually gave up alcohol

in 1985.



If there is one subject which clearly irritates him it is comparisons to

Richard Branson. The two went to the same school, made their names in

the 70s and both launched their own businesses early in life. But

Elliott’s enjoyment of detail - and love of his original product - has

held him back from doing a Virgin and extending the Time Out brand into

areas such a record labels or ticket sales: ’Richard is also notoriously

not interested in detail, while I am fantastically so,’ he says.



Elliott is not, by his own admission, a natural delegator. He also

admits to never having read a business manual, but it is clearly his

grip on his brand and overriding interest in it, which has made Time Out

a success.



BIOGRAPHY

1968

First issue of Time Out published

1983

First paid-for brand extension, the Time Out Eating and Drinking Guide,

launched

1990

Launched city guides to London, Paris and New York

1995

Launched Time Out New York

1998

Time Out celebrates 30th birthday



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