Self-professed ‘proud Yorkshire lady’, global head of governance & sustainability, and head of sourcing network at Tag EMEA, Sue Tait got the bug for the print industry during college, where she worked in local print companies during her summer holidays. When she left college, that interest steamrolled taking her into various commercial and client manufacturing roles in the UK, and she hasn’t looked back since. However, she does confess one secret to LBB that she says could get her in trouble - contrary to popular belief, she wasn’t born and bred in Yorkshire. She was, in fact, born in Aldershot Garrison. With a father in the military, she then spent a childhood in Singapore and various other postings before moving back to Yorkshire at age 10. But don’t be fooled, it’s still unquestionably ‘the best county in the country’ and that is where she is now permanently based.
She first came across Tag in 2013, and was drawn into the business following a growing admiration for their diverse proposition and client portfolio. Today, she runs a team of over 200 people, driving sustainable practices in marketing and solving some of the most complex sourcing and procurement challenges for brands Europe-wide.
While the advertising industry typically enamoured with the creative story, sourcing and procurement is not often labelled a ‘sexy’ conversation. But chatting to Sue, it's clear to us that this part of the industry has never been so important and relevant.
In this interview, Sue tells LBB how the pandemic is driving intriguing trends in new marketing initiatives and products, why she’s longing for the return of live music, and tackles the big one - Brexit...
LBB> There aren’t many independent production agencies out there who also have a sourcing or marketing procurement offering. Why do you think brands can really benefit from working with a company like Tag who can offer both?
Sue> The circular approach of going from creative ideation, to production, distribution and product end of life management is more important than ever. If you put yourselves in a marketers shoes, their job doesn’t end at production, it goes right through to putting products in customers hands.
With us, every idea begins with the understanding of how it can be produced in every format whilst reducing waste and meeting sustainability requirements. And when we say every format it goes right down to the cardboard products are packaged in, the displays in store or online. It is 360 degrees.
LBB> How does the work you do make you uniquely positioned to advise on trends in marketing materials and services?
We are constantly scanning the market for new trends, whether it be in materials, technology innovations, or sustainability. Although we offer laser focus insights on a brand’s retail sector, the real strength lies in the fact we are monitoring trends across all business sectors, all of the time.
If a brand does their own sourcing in-house, they often have a small team who have a focus only on their particular brand sector. Working with a partner like Tag who deals with multiple industries means they benefit from a wide robust team that can offer them something new that potentially no-one in their sector is using. We can show them how innovations in other markets and the manufacturing industry as a whole could work in their specific sector. We can innovate across industries.
LBB> So, what kind of trends are currently driving the market?
Sue> The pandemic has driven some really interesting trends. For example, 18 months ago we were seeing a big demand for digital touch screens as a marketing material. But obviously people are now reticent to use these as they can spread germs and don’t often work with gloves on.
It has also given some marketing forms a new lease of life. Now everyone is at home more, there’s a renewed captive audience for direct mail! Much to people’s surprise, there has been evidence to show direct mail can actually increase online engagement. And we have seen brands using it in smart ways to drive website traffic and social engagement.
One of the really interesting new pieces of tech we have seen has come from Asia. There is a company which has come up with a coating for printed materials that carries an antiviral property. Existing antiviral coatings on the market tend to only last a few hours but this one can last months.
LBB> Sustainability is a huge driving force behind your sourcing offering. How do you define sustainable practices and how do you ensure partners / vendors adhere to these rules?
Sue> We procure in a way that helps clients achieve their own environmental strategy of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but that is also sustainable for the supply chain. For us, sustainability needs to go beyond environmental impact - it is also ensuring companies operate ethically. The ethical part of the supply chain is really important to us and to a lot of our brand clients. So, we have a very stringent audit process. Where possible, we physically audit vendors (more recently this has been done virtually until it is safe to return).
On top of that all of our suppliers are asked to be members of Ecovadis and have accreditation from the ISO or equivalent quality processes. We are Ecovadis Gold Members ourselves which also means we are also independently audited to ensure we are up to standard.
LBB> So what does this mean for the end-client working with Tag
Sue> Essentially, clients of Tag can be reassured that everything we are sourcing for them meets their criteria for sustainability. It can transform their supply chain. Not just Environmental (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) but diversity and inclusion, and economical sustainability via standardisation and logistics.
Even five years ago, sustainability really wasn’t a high priority for many businesses but it's something consumers and trade bodies are demanding. Restructuring an internal procurement department and ensuring all your vendors are providing sustainable services is a HUGE undertaking - particularly if that internal department isn't a big one. Our scale and the investment we have made in ensuring every vendor that joins us meets these standards means we can accelerate clients timescales to reach their supply chain goals.
LBB> You describe Tag’s Sourcing model as ‘vendor-agnostic’. How does this work and what does it mean for your partners?
Sue> Simply, we don't single source anything. We have hundreds of pre-approved vendors across Europe. This means we can be very agile. We can flex work or move work at any point. Many businesses tie themselves into large volume contracts with single manufacturers. Whilst volume means you can negotiate a cheaper price in the short term, you can face big challenges if any of those manufacturers have problems or component supply issues.
With Brexit and COVID coming to a head at the end of 2020, it put a huge spotlight on the issues single sourcing can have. For example, if you have one supplier and they have a COVID outbreak at their factory, they have to shut for two weeks. If that's your main supplier, as a brand, you're in real trouble. You have to scrabble around finding an alternative whereas we could navigate outbreaks in different countries with ease because we can shift between the complimentary suppliers on our roster.
Additionally, the reliance on cloud platforms has meant data security and threat protection has become increasingly important in choosing vendor partners. We help manage this with clients through our Info Sec team. By spreading the risk across multiple partners it helps protect clients (and Tag!) in the event of cyber threats.
LBB> Brexit has caused multiple complications for businesses, particularly when it comes to procurement / sourcing. How did this impact Tag Sourcing and your clients (if at all?)
Sue> It’s not been without its challenges but fortunately our model, as we just discussed, means we’re not reliant on one supplier. We can assess our network and move supply to a more accessible location. Also, our ability to assess trends meant we could forewarn clients of potential shortages. For example, in the run up to Christmas 2020, we predicted a shortage in corrugated cardboard Europe-wide. With retailers forced to move to online purchase and home delivery alongside a huge boom in activity from Amazon, we were able to advise our clients to reserve enough stock in time, and place orders early.
LBB> What would your advice be for businesses who are struggling with marketing procurement as a result of new rules and legislation due to Brexit?
Sue> If it's an extremely short turnaround project, I think you've got to stay local to the delivery point. Again that sort of tracks with the sustainability point as well because sending goods along long transit routes is not always the most environmentally friendly solution. If it's a very short lead time, then make sure you've got a local supply chain in your roster - which we have in all of the mainland European countries - And if for whatever reason the overall requirement is still to export, then add a bit of time into your planning and have some inventory stockholding for any potential bumps in the road on the supply.
LBB> It seems your skills in sourcing are also put to good use in your local community. Outside of work, you have been chair of your parish council and are secretary of Nafferton recreation centre. How and why did you get involved with this and what have you helped to create in your local community?
Sue> One of the things I have always been concerned about and wanted to help change is the rate of childhood obesity. It's well-documented and scientifically proven that if you're not active as a child, you're not active as an adult. It was 2014 or so when I started getting quite concerned about it locally. The fact that the UK has one of the most overweight populations in Europe is one of the reasons why we had so much serious illness and death from coronavirus. It’s all linked.
There was an old run down site that had been bequeathed to my local village in the sixties and on that site was also an old bowls club which the trustees were struggling to manage. Without an injection of funds it was all falling to ruins and, as the charitable covenant meant it could not be sold for profit or housing, it was slowly being given back to the wilderness. I heard the parish council were potentially going to take over its management and I thought wouldn’t it be wonderful to make it into a sports and recreational facility, so I joined the parish council and worked in conjunction with some other Charitable Trusts locally who had need of someone to help with development and use of community funds.
Within 12 months I was Chair of the PC and Treasurer for the new building project. We did lots of fundraisers and applied for many grant applications as well as banging on the doors of local businesses. In the end, we raised £1.2 million to create a FA approved sports centre and recreational facility for the village. It was a huge undertaking and I had to navigate the intricacies of local government planning , highways departments, new build contractors and local residents' concerns and viewpoints. It was a three-year project and opened in Dec 2017 but I was so proud to be a part of it. I even had my 25th wedding anniversary party there in 2019!
LBB> As a result of the pandemic many people have found a new work / life balance. What is your working day like and what do you do to unwind?
Sue> Well, like everyone, I've been out walking a lot! More than I ever have done in the past. But I'm really lucky, I live in the countryside and close to the coast, so I have fantastic scenery right outside my door. I'm really missing live music though. That was a huge part of my social life before all this. My husband is a drummer in a band and we always used to go to live gigs but hopefully if the roadmap goes to plan we’ll see that return soon. I guess the one benefit is there has definitely been more time to relax. I’ve spent more time doing up our garden than ever but it's fairly ironic not being able to bring anybody around to see it until now!