How did you get into that and why did you choose it?
I left school at 16 and went straight to art college, first Colchester and then Bournemouth. Exploring everything within the discipline of graphic design, I left with dreams of being a film director but as fate would have it, I got my first job as a trainee digital retoucher in London. This was in back '93 when the country was deep in recession - times were hard but I managed to work nights and establish myself as a top-named retoucher in London. After settling for four years at one post-house, my ambition and belief that I could succeed took over and I left to set up Taylor James. That was 11 years ago.
How important was your formal education and training for getting into the field?
The biggest skill I carried forward from education was my work ethic. If you have the base skills, are prepared to put yourself out there and work hard, you can learn the rest. In college I was pushing the boundaries of the opportunities that were given to me. And once in my first job, I sponged it up, learning from the experiences of my elders.
What are the most important traits someone looking to get into this needs?
With any future employee, it's important, after base ability, that they have a willingness to learn and listen. At Taylor James we have strict processes in place and so they must be committed to continually enhancing his/her skills. As a creative studio, it is also crucial that an individual has a creative eye. Retouches tend to be perfectionists by nature and having that extra attention to detail is really important.
Why and how did you start Taylor James?
Since a young age, I also had entrepreneurial traits about me, from selling novelty rubbers at school to setting up a waste oil collection business. I always had a strong belief in my own ability and knew I had the skills to bring the clients in. Setting up, I had been saving for years and had the capital to back up my ambition, and I just went for it. We have come a long way from just being a retouch house, always innovating and staying at the forefront of the creative industries. We now function as a 360° production studio specialising in CGI, post-production, live-action and photography.
What were the greatest challenges in the early days?
I think getting the clients from day one was hard, convincing people that you could do it. I also had to wear many hats: dealing with clients, effectively managing all the IT for the systems and scanners, running the books, marketing!
Do you deal mainly with advertising agencies or directly with brands?
We work predominantly for agencies but have recently been approached by forward-thinking clients who can see the value in what we do as a 360 delivery company and work with us directly.
How do you approach big names - any tips?
Always be upfront and honest. It's important that the people you do business with like and trust you and your abilities.
What are the secrets to pitching for creative work - should you be whacky?
It's easy to sell your services when you have confidence in your team. When I pitch, I'm myself. I know every project I'm selling and have 100% understanding of the issues and benefits involved. Pitching in any profession, you need to be passionate, listen to what the clients want and hope you have the solutions.
What's the industry like, generally?
It is always in transition.
Why did you buy a five-storey building in East London a few years ago?
Purchasing our Curtain Road property was one of the best decisions I've made. It has allowed us to expand without the constraints of space and leases.
Your workforce has doubled to around 40 people in the last two years - what's that been like?
It's been really great to see Taylor James grow - especially as it started with just me. Doubling our workforce has also meant that we've been able to take on bigger productions, like our US TV ad for Bermuda Tourism. It was a full-scale production in Bermuda, with our VFX team gaining valuable experience and gave me a chance to take on the role of director. The business has matured greatly in the last three years, with staff bringing their own skills to the table. We now have eight departments within the company, each taking on individual responsibilities and we're all pushing hard in the same direction, that's the most encouraging to see.
Many businesses struggle with managing such quick growth - what were your main teething problems and how did you overcome them?
To grow we knew we needed the help of someone with experience. Anna Roberts, general manager & director, joined our team two years ago and has been deeply involved with bringing organisational structure to us bunch, who are essentially crazy creatives.
You must have to spend loads buying up new equipment every time someone new joins - how do you know the capital outlay is worthwhile?
We always make sure that our team is working with the best technology available, so that they can work as efficiently as possible and we can stay at the cutting edge of image content creation. We always work with the best; on any job it is always worthwhile.
Tell us about your £200,000 investment in CGI in 2006 - were you worried about it?
I have been in this industry for 17 years and am now experiencing my third recession. I have seen the eradication of the conventional hand retouching industry, along with the complete demise of print as by DTP and digital printing has taken over. I have watched digital photography put process labs out of business overnight. Back in 2006 my retouching business model was dying, as Mac and Photoshop brought the media to the masses. My fellow partner, director Brendan Haley and I spent many months researching and debating this move. After spending the money we had only one choice but to make it work.
What are the benefits of being a 360 production studio housing all of your services under one roof?
Unified campaigns across broadcast, interactive and print media can be powerful things - and we have the ability to do all three. Starting with hi-end print we create an effective solution for our clients by taking this quality across all media options. Every ad is different, that's why we have brought all disciplines of image creation in-house. Being able to tailor the solution to the brief not only adds creative value but optimises the production and technical approach in line with time-frame and budget. The reuse of digital assets across multiple platforms is a valuable and cost-effective way for a brand to realise the full impact of their campaign.
What are you greatest achievements to date?
As an organisation, it has been able to take the company, as one of the leading creative retouch houses in the world and turning it into a full production studio, whilst retaining our reputation. Personally for me, it was moving into broadcast and being able to apply my directing skills on set.
Do you have an exit plan or will you stay in this for life?
Who knows what the future holds for anyone. I do not have an exit plan, but I know there's more to life than just work. I hope to be leading a full and interesting existence!
Finally, what advice would you give someone who wants to do what you've done?
I don't feel like I planned my life to date, I have had to roll with the situations and pressures that I was presented with at the time, dealing with them head on. I'm a worker, a thinker and have true belief in my abilities. Don't be afraid to take every opportunity, apply yourself, and deliver - you only get one life.
Find out more about Taylor James