Product catalogues & the importance of great imagery

Marisa talks product catalogues and expert tips with Sandra Gayle

For this post I spoke to Creative Brand Marketing expert Sandra Gayle. She’s done it all! She’s put together 500 page product catalogues for top selling national chains as well as designed and staged beautiful promotional images showcasing various products ranging from plush toys to housewares. She was even one of the interior designers on W network’s Decorating Challenge.

Sandra has officially been in the photography and catalogue industry for over 25 years. 10 of those years being in the manufacturing/marketing side of things. But she’s really been doing this type of thing her whole life; from the time she saw her first TV commercial she was hooked! She remembers as a 10 year old, building signs for her lemonade stand and now she’s gone and created her own line of pillows and comforters called Pillow Talk.

She’s has worked as a Producer, Art Director, Account Manager and Creative Manager. Her past experience has involved a lot creating the perfect images. So when she stopped by the studio, I was eager to ask her for some insider tips as well as the product catalogue process and we got to chatting.

Product catalogues, photography, Donna Santos Studio

Talking product catalogues and imagery with Sandra Gayle at the studio


I spoke to Sandra about the impact that the right image makes in regards to selling a product. She told me about a time when her Sales Manager came to her with a problem. They had an overstock of mugs and no one seemed interested in buying them.

Sandra took a look at the promotional images and understood why. They were poor quality photographs simply not showcasing the mugs in a way that was appealing. Sandra got to thinking, what if they re-shot the mugs using a better photographer and showed the mugs being used in a different way? The result? A stunning image displaying them being used as alternative vases. Visually it showed that they could be used in ways other than just holding your morning coffee. And the result on sales? People started buying up the quirky “vases” and the over stock problem was solved.

Another sales problem Sandra told me about were decorative candles that weren’t selling. Again she decided that they needed to be presented in a new and creative way.

Since it was February (which Sandra taught me) is wedding planning season, she created a new use for the candles. She placed them on top of cake tray creating a wedding cake out of candles. The result was beautiful. However since the cake was less than two feet tall, the candles might have gotten lost in the large showroom. That’s when Sandra decided to hire a professional photographer to photograph the candles. Using the new photograph she created a large poster size image featuring a beautiful photograph of the candles with some text. The “candle cake” was placed in the showroom with the stunning promotional poster placed behind it. No way was anyone missing the display now. And yes, as you probably already figured out they sold out of those candles!

example of a photograph in a product catalogue

Creating the right imagery in your promotional/product catalogues is key


I still remember it like it was yesterday. A few months into my first real job at a Healthcare company, I was assigned the task of re-vamping their antiquated 300 page product catalogue. I remember feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to start. Since Sandra is the expert, I asked her some questions that I felt would have come in handy for me all those years ago, when I was creating my first product catalogue. Our Q&A is below.

Q – What would be your best piece of advice for someone who is about to put together a product catalogue for the first time?

A – Understand the product you’re selling before you start creative and brand positioning. Once you define the depth and breath of the product/catalogue it’s only then that you can begin creating the look while still keeping your end user in mind. Remember you only have one shot at a strong catalogue/product launch. It takes a lot of money and time to re-launch and re-build customer loyalty at all levels.

Q – What are some expert tips you’d like to share?

A – Whether you are an internal or external creative source, know your customer and product. Your customers are your sales force, product development, marketing, graphic designers and your company’s objective. As a successful Creative Director, Designer, Marketer and Writer, one must embrace all these very important contributors in order to develop an impactful, result oriented, bottom line revenue producing tool. When you are passionate about your direction and get negative feed back, always remember, whether you listen or not, your decision should always be based on…. “WILL IT IMPACT SALES?”. I learned that from one of my wonderful mentors…And that’s how you move forward. Be observant, to anything and everything within your product line. Attend trade shows whether or not your company encourages you. Always bring humour and enthusiasm to support your team. Even when things are falling apart and the team is working till midnight because in the end it’s all worth it. I’ve had exceptional teams and have been challenged by teams, but with a strong creative vision and a relentless commitment to the project, leading any team has always had great results in the end.

Q – What important skills does someone need in order to manage the creation of a product catalogue?

A – Design and graphics in Adobe Indesign & Illustrator, asset management, production, internet development, social media, managing internal/external teams, print, packaging and customer service. WOW is that what I do… Yup you have to be able to do it all. Or if the budget allows you can hire talent in areas that you don’t have expertise in and build yourself a strong team.

Q – Can you give me some examples of typical a Sales Manager’s expectations for New Product Catalogues?

A – Sales managers are the front line of their industry so they are key in giving pertinent feedback regarding competitors, pricing, product placement, packaging, product grouping, merchandising and sales projections. All key to producing a successful collection. They are present right from the conception of the line and sometimes the creating of a collection to develop opportunities in the industry that competitors have not yet optimized. They see the whole picture. If they make a suggestion and you don’t execute it and the product fails they will question the creative. Always try to get them on board throughout the product lifecycle of a project, because at the end of the day, they are the ones face to face with the end customer. Building strong tools that they can understand and successfully sell from is key.


The time a project can take varies depending on the type of catalogue you are putting together. For example it takes about a year to get from product development to print delivery. Where as line list ( the line list is a detailed break down of every item outlining SKU number, description, size, price, and manufacture’s photo) to print can take 3 to 6 months. If there are no new products and it’s all old inventories, it can be done in less than a month. Of course there are always those urgent 911 requests; Sandra has help produce a 48 page book in one week!


I asked Sandra how she usually communicates what type of images are needed. She told me that all creative communication is done through producing layout designs, magazine swipes, design colours or background test sample and creative briefs.

She either can attend the photoshoot in person or by remote from the office. If the latter, the photographer would be required to email each and every capture then wait for changes or approvals from the client. It’s more productive and cost affective to have the client attend the shoot if the creative vision is not clear or if there is a lack of confidence with either party.

I asked Sandra for tips on how to coordinate between the photographer and graphic designer. She suggests making sure the layout designs and swipes have accurate and detailed information, going as far as to attach actual printed samples and colour swatches. The ideal hand off is having a face-to-face creative meeting where you can establish expectations, product availability and logistics, cost, props, style, backgrounds, file size, crop/bleed allowance, format for it’s and any other special required for it’s end use.

There you have it. I hope you found this blog helpful. If you are thinking of producing a product catalogue for your company; we can help. Check out some of our past commercial photography work here. If you’d like to get in touch with us to discuss working together click here and we’ll be in touch. If you want to learn more about Sandra and her work click here.