Opinion: Question Time With ... Stephen Tait - The commercial director of Press Holdings is a lucky chap, Jonah Bloom writes

For someone who started his day at 5am at the other end of the country, Stephen Tait looks remarkably happy.

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

director’s post.

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.’


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus