With over 30 years of experience under her belt, Sally Tarbit has seen all sides of the creative industries from every conceivable angle. In her current role as Director at The Team, she leads on brand activation, with a focus on campaigns and content. But she earned her stripes in client-side marketing.
Her journey began at the insurance agency that went on to become More Than before she moved onto the RAC. It was from there that she made the leap to agency land and has worked with everyone from Rapp and TMW to Ogilvy since the turn of the century.
Today we are Getting to Know Sally Tarbit, Director at The Team, to learn more about her inspiring story and what it means to develop acquisition, retention, brand launches and cross-sell strategies for some of the biggest brands in the game.
Tell us a bit about your role! Is there a “typical” day?
No – thank goodness! I’d hate waking up in the morning knowing what my day, week or month would be like. Where’s the excitement in that? My role can cover anything from talking to new client prospects, pitching, working on existing client campaigns, dealing with operational Team stuff, or helping a Teamster who needs a bit of advice. I like the variety; it keeps you on your toes which I need. I’m lucky enough to have total autonomy in my role too, so it’s down to me to judge how and where I spend my time. That works for me because it demonstrates trust – and because I have never been any good with being told what to do.
What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?
Hard to name just one. I’ve really enjoyed and got a lot out of everywhere I’ve worked - for different reasons, but consistently because of the people. So it’s very easy to stay put even if you know in your heart it won’t give you the opportunity or progress you want and need. So knowing when to stay or go and not being afraid of taking yourself from comfort to uncomfortable to attain growth has been one of my biggest challenges.
What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?
My parents gave me a huge amount of autonomy growing up – they didn’t purport to know what was best for me or to define my path for me. They were just there for me if I needed them. And I couldn’t have asked for more. I realise I’m lucky, not everyone has that. I also learnt a lot from my dad. We lost him 4 years ago at the age of 94. He was a D-Day veteran, and I do my very best to channel his bravery and his humility every day, which I think are vital to me being able to do my job well and keep me in touch with what matters.
What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?
One of the most memorable wins was the work to re-set BP’s values and behaviours post the Gulf of Mexico disaster. It needed a brave approach at a very tough time for the organisation. And I think one of my favourite wins has to be NS&I. The change and transformation that we’ve lived through with our clients is huge. Many of them have become good friends as well as respected clients. And we still work with them today, 9 years later. Losses are numerous – you feel each one deeply, but you have to learn and move on quickly, so I don’t dwell or re-live them.
Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
My heroine has to be my old boss from Ogilvy – Annette King – who is now the CEO of Publicis. She managed to strike the best balance between firm, fair and fearless. She would always make time for you if you needed it too. If I’m in a tricky work situation, I often think ‘what would Annette do’.
In terms of agencies, there isn’t one that I would go to above all others for inspiration. It’s such an open playing field now, with small shops opening and doing some refreshing and differentiated work right through to some of the bigger groups breaking new ground. There are amazing minds in most successful agencies, big and small.
If you could go back to your teenage years, would you have done things differently? Do you have any regrets?
No, none. Regrets are pointless. Sure, there are things I would have done differently, but that’s the me now thinking that. At the time I was having a ball and wouldn’t have changed anything.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
I’d be a psychologist. I love understanding what drives people, and their beliefs or behaviours. I’m lucky enough to be able to do some of that in my role now as we apply this understanding and insight to our campaign work. Failing that, I’d be a fine artist.
What are your top tips for aspiring creative professionals?
Feed your soul. Our roles are consistently challenging, and you are often expected to pull a rabbit out of a hat! But you can’t do your best work unless you are inspired, curious and motivated. So always make sure you take time to invest in you and not just your work.
What are your top tips for other creative leaders?
Have empathy. Always remember how good the highs feel and how the rejections sting. Or how much small acts of kindness can make all the difference in a day when things aren’t going your way. When you’ve been around the block a few times, you can easily become de-sensitised to the impact of these things. So remember to take time to open the fizz and give thanks when it’s going well. Or make time for a cup of tea and chat when it’s not.
When you think about your team, what is the thing that matters to you the most?
I’m always humbled by their genuine care and commitment for everyone around them, our clients and their work. We’re called The Team and I can – hand on heart – honestly say that we really live up to the name.
Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
My go-to sites for behavioural science inspiration and insights:
In terms of books:
The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton is a great toe in the water into behavioural science. Reading it won’t make you a behavioural scientist. But it’s a really enjoyable and interesting read.
I also like the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain. I’m an extrovert surrounded by introverts. They are the deep thinkers, and often the most inciteful - but have to be given the space and time to contribute. This book taught me a lot.