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Saint Lewis: “We Need to Applaud Those Who Innovate”


Tag’s global client managing director, Saint Lewis, tells LBB about working at the intersection of culture, data, and technology, and which trends will drive the industry for the next five years

Saint Lewis: “We Need to Applaud Those Who Innovate”

Saint Lewis, Tag’s global client managing director, says that he “got really into the thing” back in 1998. He worked with student unions to provide students with email and the internet. Within that, Saint launched a platform ‘Nownet’, and his old university buddy, Johnny Vegas, was the face of it. “Within months of the launch, we had brands approaching us wanting to target students and they had no idea what to do in terms of digital,” says Saint. Naturally, he started a digital agency ‘Key Interactive’ on the side as part of the company. The agency grew, giving Saint real insight into digital marketing and its impact alongside all the traditional channels.

Digital remained an area of interest and professional passion. He worked at a number of agencies as a strategist, helping clients understand and navigate the digital landscape and everything in between. This, he says, gave him an understanding of three key areas. “The first was the power of data and how it can be used to amplify creativity. The second was the immediacy of the impact that data can have on consumers. And the third was how can you make stuff - better, quicker, more relevant,” explains Saint. That drive and curiosity has stayed with him over a 23-year-long career. 

Today, he cites young people's energy and entrepreneurial spirit as additional inspirations, commending them for using social media to make their voices heard and to make a difference, in their personal lives and the world around them. To clear his mind, Saint golfs, illustrates, and calls himself an “avid VR user, getting ready for the metaverse”.

Saint speaks to LBB about the main challenges facing brands today, why data is the cornerstone of this industry, and the positives and drawbacks of social media. 

LBB> How did you end up working in the advertising industry - was this always your plan?

Saint> When I was little, maybe five or six years old, I used to walk by a graphic design agency (Graham Poulter Associates), in Leeds which is my hometown. I always loved everything they were doing there and it showed me what I wanted to do. I went on to study as a creative, with an extension in marketing, and taught at university a little bit. I was really excited by how creativity could get people to do stuff - that’s never ended. It’s still the same today. I taught for a while, after my university - Middlesex - approached me after I graduated to help out with the tech and graphics side. 

LBB> You’ve held a number of impressive roles over your 23-year career. What brought you Tag?

Saint> For me as a marketer, it’s really important to stay relevant. Likewise, digital has always been in my blood. I have a lot of friends and colleagues who still don’t get digital. I really like to understand what people around me do enough to talk their language and understand how things get done. So I've always been attracted to anything marketing production; in my early years, knowing how to make stuff was essential. Tag was always known to me as this massive business dealing with both global and local brands while looking at new models and technology. I really wanted an opportunity to learn and to continue transforming my own abilities. When I joined Tag, my eyes were opened to strategic sourcing. Three years later, I got to learn a lot about marketing services I didn’t have familiarity with. 

Today, we’re very clear in our vision and our strategy to transform. We’re very clear on what we’re doing, whether that’s offshoring, technology, evolving people’s skills, making sure we have great diversity, inclusivity, and sustainability initiatives are in place. I’ve been very fortunate to be involved in all those areas over the past three years. 

LBB> What in your opinion makes Tag a unique place?

Saint> We are a truly global operator. Between our marketing production advisory capabilities, we can really give a client an end-to-end view of where they want to go. We understand all the touch points. We can touch multiple competing brands because it’s not about competition. We understand our clients’ pain points. We have a real depth of experience, thanks to the people who have been doing this for a long time. All those elements together with our vision and drive really make a difference. 

LBB> How have you seen Tag evolve in the three years you’ve been at the company?

Saint> There’s been a lot of great stuff, like the path to be an independent, global, production business that has its own strategy, culture, significant investment in its people, training, diversity and inclusion, ESG, and world-class technology underpinning everything that we do. These are all huge transformations that we’ve undertaken all at the same time, with huge success. We’ve attracted a lot of brands that may not have thought to work with us before, like CCS (Crown Court Service) and Novo Nordisk for example. We’ve really re-established ourselves as significant players and partners to clients. The success can also be seen through the awards we win and the people we attract. 

LBB> I read that your focus is on helping brands succeed at the intersection of culture, data, and technology. Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between those three elements and what they mean for the industry? 

Saint> They’re the cornerstone for me, a kind of mantra, going all the way back to when I first started out and evolving ever since. We like to label people ‘millennials’ and ‘gen Z’. Who knows what the next lot will be? What we need is to understand not only the impact of that culture on us as an organisation, the people that we recruit, the people that work here, the people that lead with us, but on our clients and audiences as well. As a strategist by trade, and a great people watcher, I like to understand what's going on and what's motivating people, what's their voice, what will they react to, what are they not, and it allows me to best advise clients. 

If you want to target people, you need to understand what makes them tick. The way we do that is through data, data, and more data. It’ll be interesting to see what we do soon without third party data; it’ll all have to be first party. The cultural transformation, the technological transformation, the data transformation is never finished. You need to keep up with it. We’re all looking for smarter ways to engage with and to measure that data. What we’re realising is that we can know a lot about people from the data we collect but not necessarily how they’re going to act. We need to accept that people are not machines, and the more aware they are that you know them, the more they’ll push back. We need to be asking the right questions and acting on the answers to get the right degrees of relevance. 

LBB> How can that data be most effectively used?

Saint> It still comes down to what you want to know. Why do you need to know it? I don't think we do enough to just understand where they are in order to get engaged further. Technology will definitely help us with that. I don't mean just the technologies we use as marketing businesses to underpin how we work, but the technologies that audiences use to engage in functionalities to determine the simplest point, the most complex point, we can completely configure the way that we will engage in VR. Innovation in AI, the metaverse will get us to think about things differently, in ways we haven’t and haven’t had to think about before. 

LBB> And where do you stand with regards to the metaverse?

Saint> Look, I’m a bit of a tech geek, a Star Wars child. I say embrace it all. I think that being educated and informed about technological implications will allow people to navigate it safely. I use all the social media platforms, but you won’t see me posting everything about myself there. I think that with safety and care, we need to applaud those who innovate. We’re all more aware now of the effects social media has on mental health. We will see greater governance, greater partnerships, and greater involvement of government. The metaverse is happening and will happen, and a lot of it will be centred around escapism and there’ll be a lot more virtual trade. I’m not sure it’s a good thing, but it will happen. 

LBB> You mentioned mental health and people knowing how to approach social media digital spaces. Where does the responsibility lie? Is it with consumers to be more educated? Is it regulation from the government, or should private companies have more robust ethics codes?

Saint> It’s all of those things. Back when rock’n’roll was at the height of its popularity and the Summer of Love, there was a lot of fear around people losing their way. Young audiences today are incredibly bright and educated. It’s what they know, for them it’s like breathing. They know how to navigate it. From the learning we have today, we understand that we have to plan for the worst outcomes. Ultimately, people are attracted to escapism. I don’t think social media is the greatest thing, but what I respect about social media is the opportunity it provides to the younger generation. Like my son, who couldn’t imagine sitting in an office doing a 9-5, instead he’s out there making movies, expressing himself, and making money from it. That wouldn’t be possible without social media, so there are huge positives and what’s needed is a big smattering of common sense and good governance. 

LBB> You’ve worked with numerous global brands and continue to do so today. What do you think are the main challenges facing them today?

Saint> Data, data, and data again. We’re all in a bit of a quandary with the changes to third party data collection. Everybody wants data. I think content will continue to be a challenge funding it, fuelling the channels that need it, managing it. There's a lot of manual data work we all still have to do because of the challenges of automation, technologies and standardisations. The shifting demographic for e-commerce is a huge challenge. It never ceases to amaze me how many businesses have been slow to the e-commerce uptake. Nobody really has the answer. So much is going on, there’s never been more to know. There’s so much to test and learn from, which I’m a huge believer in. More businesses will invest in ‘test and learn'. The barrier is cost. It's still hard for businesses to find a way to invest correctly in those changes and those transformations, because they won't necessarily see the returns as quickly as they would enjoy from other activities.

LBB> How is Tag optimised to help brands meet those challenges?

Saint> We play in all those areas - we’re thinkers, makers, doers. We look at things very differently. We don’t come with an agenda. We have so much insight across global clients and we use those learning in a smart way without ever giving away what we shouldn’t about our client’s business. We can bring the right people from across the globe around client challenges very quickly. It’s not easy but I do believe that we’re in a better place than most to help brands face most marketing production challenges. 

LBB> In terms of recent work, which projects have you found to be particularly exciting?

Saint> I’d like to say that I don’t work on anything boring! In the last 18 months, we’ve seen some clients really invest in e-learning. They're investing in e-learning because they need to bring themselves and their teams up to speed on new ways of working and ESG, the mental health and well-being initiatives they’re implementing and so on. It's been really interesting to see how everybody wants to look at attacking that given so much learning happens remotely now. How do you make it interesting, bring in gamification, make it ‘sticky’? You'd be surprised how much creativity you can achieve helping people learn. It can push you to think and work differently as often budgets are not large. 

LBB> Where do you think the industry is going in the next five years - any trend predictions you can share?

Saint> People will invest in the metaverse for the fear of missing out. Some will jump straight in, like gaming and the sports industry. It will be interesting to see what the financial services sector does with it, as it won’t be a natural fit. Trying to get first party data will be an ongoing challenge for the next five years. There will be more governance and more things will change and more things will be taken away, becoming harder, because the power is with us the consumer - we can agree that we're not going to share things, I think businesses are going to have to incentivise consumers to share more than they do right now. 

Given the growth in mobile gaming, we'll continue to see a high level of investment in all things mobile, and brands being more involved with mobile. Particularly around personalisation and content, not just advertising in the latest hot game. 

We’ll also see a shift from brands being purpose-led to trust-led. Consumers will want brands to deliver on what they promise before they commit their cash and time. There won’t be many places for brands to hide if they’re not delivering and they don’t have that consumer trust in real terms. 

We're going to see a continued explosion in different ways to be entertained. Who could have predicted the popularity of TikTok? as a platform, it's not necessarily doing anything new, but it just jumped on a particular wave of interest. And I think people are constantly looking for different ways to entertain themselves.

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Tag, Wed, 16 Feb 2022 11:50:20 GMT