Startup “1985 style” – East Midlands Picture Services

EMPICS Business Card c.1986 In 1985, I was a 22-year-old press photographer in a well-paid and rewarding job at the Leicester Mercury. I had excellent colleagues – and a very comfortable life. However, it was not enough for me – and I wanted to work for National Newspapers and create my own business.

So I set out to create a photo agency in the East Midlands to provide pictures for National Newspapers. The business was called East Midlands Picture Services – and was based in Nottingham. In the next 20 years, the name would be shortened to EMPICS – and it would become the largest independently-owned sports photography agency in the world.

The business was to be a partnership with my best friend. Unfortunately, as we explored getting support from banks for our new venture the response was not particularly positive. My pal decided it was not for him, so we didn’t become business partners.

Eventually, I managed to get a £2,000 overdraft from Williams & Glyn Bank (now part of RBS). The business started in June 1985 – and 20 years later I left the business after a trade sale to the Press Association.

Looking back through some old papers, I found a copy of the original business plan. It’s linked to here as a PDF. Readers might find it amusing on many levels – the language, the fact it was individually typed (well before the time of wordprocessing) and that the cashflows are handwritten on graph paper (no Excel spreadsheets in those days!).

EMPICS was not a hi-tech startup – it ended up just being me on my own in an office in Nottingham. It was not a raiser of venture capital or seed funding (although as the business grew we did have 3i as a VC investor and a business angel). However, it was a leap into the unknown – and a roller coaster ride. To be recommended – to the brave…

More Projects
Startup “1985 style” – East Midlands Picture Services
Charity begins at Home R...

The sale of EMPICS and our departure from the business coincided with a move to a new village. Knipton is at the centre of the Belvoir Estate – an area of 16,000 acres owned but the Duke of Rutland. The rural idyll is nice – but with so much private land, there are limited public […]

Startup “1985 style” – East Midlands Picture Services
Leaving School – teac...

I lived in a council house on the ring road in Liverpool (Queens Drive) – and had very supportive parents (although I might not have thought so at the time). I went to a Catholic Boys’ Grammar School, St Francis Xavier’s – I and was very religious (up until the moment I was 18 – […]

Startup “1985 style” – East Midlands Picture Services
ShootLive – the winne...

In the late 90s, there was a lot of pressure on photography agencies. It seemed likely that sports rights holders would lock out photographers – and create/sell their own photography. We pursued a strategy to work closer with these rights holders – and provide them with solutions that might benefit their business. Hutchison 3G had […]

Startup “1985 style” – East Midlands Picture Services
Digging for Gold – ac...

In the late 1990s, there was pressure within the sports photo industry from sports rights holders (the likes of the FA Premier League, the IOC and individual football clubs). These rights holders could not see the value of photography agencies and individual photographers being given free and unrestricted access to sports events. Rights holders got […]

Startup “1985 style” – East Midlands Picture Services
Baptism of Fire – fir...

In 1981, I started my first job after school as a Trainee Press Photographer at Mercury Press Agency in Liverpool. I’d not bargained for my first week in employment to involve the coverage of some of the worst rioting on mainland Britain. I’ll always remember the phone ringing late at night after the family had […]