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
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
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
He was married to Janet Street-Porter for three years in the early
He also struggled with a drinking habit, and eventually gave up alcohol
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
First issue of Time Out published
First paid-for brand extension, the Time Out Eating and Drinking Guide,
Launched city guides to London, Paris and New York
Launched Time Out New York
Time Out celebrates 30th birthday