Target Chronicles part three: 20 years ago

Investment expands Cheltenham’s creative scene.


In this, the third of my articles looking back at the history of Target, we arrive at 1997, when direct marketing was gaining in popularity and the postman was weighed down with sacks of direct mailshots.

Back in the 1990s, direct marketing (DM) became a very important mode of communication, especially in the financial services sector. Target recognised this shift in the marketplace and initiated a number of campaigns, notably with Cheltenham & Gloucester and an award-winning campaign with Ecclesiastical Insurance. Growing demand triggered the emergence of specialist DM agencies and, seeing this as an opportunity, Target took a share in the set-up of Target Direct Marketing in 1993, then sold it back to them in 1995. We then took a majority share in The Direct Agency in 1996, later to be known as TDA. TDA grew rapidly and Target very quickly gained substantial returns from its investment, before exiting the business following a management buyout by TDA directors in 2002.

In 1996, The Target Consultancy (later to be known as Target Public Relations) was set up under Sheena Brand’s leadership and very quickly picked up a number of PR clients including Do It All, Pentel and Fuji Film, as well as integrated campaigns with the original agency such as Ecclesiastical, Business Link and Robert Hitchins.

The agency had continued to pick up new clients during the late 1980s and 1990s but was dealt a blow in 1996 when three directors left to set up Factor 3, eventually winning the C&G account from Target. At the time, it had very little effect on the business with the investment return from TDA, and growth from both the public relations and creative sides of the business. I had joined Target in September 1994 and for me it was a really busy, exciting time as a Finance Director looking after two growing companies with combined billings of over £10 million and 80 staff. Ensuring that revenue grows at a faster rate than overheads, and only recruiting when revenues are secured, was one of the major challenges. Different challenges were to appear in the years ahead!

1997 saw two events that would have a major impact on the UK over the forthcoming years. In May, New Labour under Tony Blair won with a landslide at the general election. Love him or hate him, Tony Blair was different to anything that had been in British politics before, although I am sure his reputation now is not the same as it was 20 years ago.

In August the tragic death in a car crash in Paris of Diana, Princess of Wales, saw a complete change in attitude from the Royal Family towards the public, which was depicted in the 2006 film ‘The Queen’ starring Helen Mirren.

Other notable events in 1997 were the launch of BBC online news service, abolition of free eye tests, British & Irish Lions winning in South Africa, the UK winning the Eurovision Song Contest and who could ever forget the first airing of Teletubbies!

So, at the end of 1997 Target had evolved into an integrated group and things were going really well, although, as you will see in my next article, things can change very quickly…


Colin Spencer


Photo caption: The Target Board in 1997, Sheena Brand, Colin Spencer, Clive Rose, Patrick Wood and Sue Maloney.