For someone who started his day at 5am at the other end of the
country, Stephen Tait looks remarkably happy.
But his smile is not a smug one. Although he has just been promoted to
commercial director of Press Holdings - which gives him overall command
of the sales operation - he’d rather we weren’t talking about him.
’This piece should be about the team, not me,’ Tait insists.
When I suggest I’m more interested in finding out how he has rocketed up
the sales ranks, he looks slightly embarrassed. ’I guess I’ve had a lot
of luck,’ Tait replies. ’Sometimes I wonder if I’ve sold my soul to the
He has certainly had a break or two. Take his move to the Melbourne Age,
when a chance call to the paper’s ad director during a three-month break
in Australia prompted a job offer. Tait explains: ’He asked me to meet
him in the pub. He was so drunk when we talked that I was sure he
wouldn’t remember anything the next day. I thought I would have to call
him again, but he rang first thing the next morning to ask why I was not
at my desk.’
Tait made the most of his opportunity, working harder than his
colleagues - ’some of them had a very relaxed attitude to their hours’ -
and was rapidly promoted. After three years, the paper offered to
organise full Australian citizenship and give him the deputy ad
But on a trip home to see his parents, in another ’lucky’ twist, a
’gorgeous young woman’ who he’d been eyeing up in the airport departure
lounge walked over and introduced herself. She remembered meeting him
ten years earlier.
They got talking. A week later, she agreed to marry him, and Tait found
himself looking for a job back in his native Scotland.
It’s no surprise to learn that he was working again within days, landing
a post as ad manager in the London office of The Glasgow Herald. Several
years later, Tait was headhunted by News International to be the group’s
Glasgow ad manager. Then last year, Bert Hardy, then chief executive of
Press Holdings, offered him an ad directorship on The Scotsman.
Surely he can’t attribute this kind of demand for his talents to
’I’ve certainly achieved things I’ve been proud of,’ he admits. ’I think
it’s all about managing change. That was what I did at The Herald and
News International, and that’s what I’m doing at Sunday Business and The
At The Scotsman, Tait changed the structure of the sales team to
increase the focus on national advertisers, and moved senior Scotsman
sales people into roles on Sunday Business, so they could sell packages
across both papers. All this has made The Scotsman one of the first
ports of call for national advertisers targeting Scotland, with revenues
climbing 300 per cent in the past 18 months.
Tait also stresses that he has employed a ’market-led’ method of
’It’s about finding an advertiser’s problem and solving it, rather than
haggling over cost per thousand,’ he says.
When I suggest that this is a ’nice-guy’ type of selling, he balks at
the notion, laughing: ’Oh no - I assure you I can be a vicious trader
when I have to be.’
And I thought his success was all down to luck.
Tait on hiring young sales people
’We get an incredible return on every new sales person we put in to
London, so we’ve invested heavily in quality graduates. Some of them
haven’t been hired for what they will do in two to three months, but
what they’ll do in two to three years. We’re focusing on training them
properly, and in two years’ time they will be amazing - if we can hold
on to them.’