Gift of the Gabberer: Matt Eastwood
Interview by Jess Lilley & Siobhan Fitzgerald
Matt Eastwood is one of Australia’s most successful advertising creatives. His deft touch saw him elevated to Maurice and Charles Saatchi’s inner leadership circle in his twenties and stay there for nearly a decade — heading up M&C Melbourne, London and New York. His subsequent career helped amass unprecedented numbers of awards in stints at DDB New York and as Global CCO with JWT. He is easily one of the industry’s most respected creatives.
Of course, the view up there means Matt has seen every kind of agency behaviour. While on a recent visit to Australia to help revive the MADC’s Rising Star awards, Matt joined Gabberish at a café in Melbourne. We chatted about how he got to where he is, the best way to counter professional jealousy and how young creatives today can harness agency pressure for positive effect.
J: First things first, how did you get into the business?
M: I’m originally from Perth, my degree was in graphic design and when I left Uni I was planning to be an art director. I was looking around for months for a job, and there was nothing happening. So I eventually saw this job advertised for a senior copywriter.
And I was like, okay I’m not a copywriter and I’m not senior, I’ve never had a job, but I’ll apply.
I think the creative director was just so blown away that I went in there and went for it, so I got the job. I stayed in Perth for probably three years. Eventually I was working for Ogilvy when they went bankrupt in Perth, which was kind of scandalous at the time because I think somebody had been fixing the books. So the whole agency shut down – we were agency of the year, so it was crazy. I moved to Sydney and went to Foster Nunn Loveder and then onto DDB and from there to Saatchi’s. My first job as Creative Director was opening M&C Saatchi in Melbourne.
J: That’s a big first CD job.
M: Well it was funny. When I started there were like eight people there. We had this big client (ANZ) and we were just building it. I was 29 and if you look at photos of me, I was such a baby!
That was the key to the rest of my leadership. We were agency of the year four years in a row. It was amazing. As a result of that, Maurice and Charles Saatchi asked me to come and run the London office. Which was unbelievable.
J: You were bitten by the bug early. What was it that drove you so much?
M: It’s kind of embarrassing but I was kind of driven by Darrin Stevens on Bewitched.
I used to watch him doing that job and it just looked so fun creating all the concepts and everything. It just looked like a cool job. It’s quite freeing to know from 13 years old what direction you want to head in.
S: It’s especially freeing if it’s a career that earns you money!
M: The weird thing is that my father was an accountant and the CEO of a law firm, and he said to me at the time, ‘well, you know there’s no money in advertising but if that’s what you want to do I’ll support you… If you want to do that arty career.’
I’d always known that I wanted to run an agency, that was kind of my goal. So, even at 26 when I was working at Saatchi’s and I was a senior copywriter, I decided I want to be a creative director and I sort of made myself into it.
I started dressing up and, without permission, I just started looking after all the juniors and monitoring their work and helping them. So suddenly everyone thought I was in charge.
S: You started in a leadership position very young. Did you feel other older or more senior creatives jealous or resentful of you being in that position early on?
M: I guess it worked out quite well in that, as my first job as a leader, the agency was enormously successful. We won a lot of awards, so everyone was like, ‘well good on you, that’s great.’ The hardest thing was when I moved to London to run the London office and a lot of my advertising heroes were then in my creative department. I took over from Simon Dicketts and James Lawther who were both incredible. Simon’s got like 150 pages in D&AD.
J: Did you get any pushback in London?
They were kind of shitty because the Saatchi name in London was iconic and there was even an article saying, ‘why do we need an Australian to run M&C Saatchi?’ I kind of just got on with it and in the end I did an interview with Campaign Magazine who called me a ‘unicorn’ in the industry because I was young and able to run a creative department at the same time as doing great creative.
J: Did you always see your career beyond Australia?
M: It was kind of accidental in a way. I grew up in Perth and I loved Perth. And I think the only reason I made the decision to move is because I got fired. And so it sort of was like, ok I’ll move to Sydney, that feels like a natural progression, and I found that, once you’ve moved, it’s really easy to move again. Once you’re away from your base and your family, it doesn’t matter where you are.
So when they were like, ‘come and move to London’, I was, ‘yeah okay, I’ll do that.’
I was about to leave in two weeks, and Maurice rang me and said, ‘the creative director of our New York office has resigned. How would you feel about hanging out there for three months while we recruit for a replacement?’ And I’m like, ‘yeah I’ll do that!’
I went to New York and I absolutely fell in love with it.
Then I moved to London about a year later because, after September 11, the whole New York thing just collapsed – our biggest clients were British Airways and Mandarin Oriental Hotels…. It was weird, I didn’t really want to leave New York because it felt like I was just running out on them after that tragedy. That experience really bonded me to the city and I wanted to go back. So I did go back about three or four years later.
S: Were the same clients still there?
M: Yeah and that was an amazing opportunity and challenge with a client like that, just to convince people to fly, not even to fly British Airways, just fly. Because people wouldn’t go anywhere.
J: Did you notice major differences culturally between the Australian industry and other markets?
M: I definitely worked in creative departments in New York where there can be a sense of entitlement. I remember when I first started someone complaining, ‘we only have half a million? How are we going to do this?’ And I was like, that’s a campaign of ten ads!
I think the thing about Australia is that, you have to get out and hustle.
If you’ve got a great idea you’ll end up calling your mate and saying, ‘we need a model made from this, can you do it?’ …That was definitely what bought me success in New York. I bought that scrappiness to them and just said, let’s get stuff made.
When I started at DDB New York, for me it was this amazing agency on Madison Avenue, but they hadn’t won a Lion for 17 years. They just hadn’t been doing amazing work. And I just thought, how could that be? You’re DDB New York! So a lot of it was me trying to convince them that there’s no rule that we can’t be this hot agency. Let’s just go for it. And we did. Once we started winning everybody was like, oh okay we can do this!
S: Jealousy can be a really great motivator but it can also turn people sour. Do you ever use it as a tool, pitting teams against one another, or do you see it as a driving force within agencies?
M: I definitely pit teams against one another but try not to have too many. I’ll generally put no more than two teams on a brief. So that someone’s going to succeed… I think if you get to the point that there’s five teams on it then everyone just feels, what’s the point? The chances of getting an idea up are so slim.
One of the things I’ve tried to do is make everyone believe that it wasn’t about focussing on one team. Just because that team has won two lions or something, it doesn’t mean that other people can’t.
I always made people have a project that was their kind of passion project on the side, something that they could pursue.
When I’d said to everyone at DDB, you need to try and do award winning work, the healthcare people came to me and said, ‘we work on healthcare, there’s not much award winning work in healthcare.’ And I was like, ‘well don’t do an ad for Pfizer, look for a cause you believe in and come up with a campaign for that and we’ll find the client.’ And they did. They did this fantastic campaign.
We found the statistic that the highest growing rate of STD’s in America was in over 55’s in Florida.
So we did this campaign called Safe Sex for Seniors. It worked out so well and it ended up being on Chelsea Lately. So that was a moment when those guys just created an opportunity.
S: The title of your MADC talk is Passion Trumps Talent and it makes me feel better about myself, because it means that if you give a shit enough and try hard enough you can do anything.
M: I really believe that. I almost think that sometimes the most talented people really struggle because they’re not used to adversity. They’re used to getting their own way and getting rewarded and awarded, and so when something happens and a client goes ‘no’, and they do that seven times, they give up. Whereas I think that if you’re not the naturally most talented, you’re used to pushing yourself. And I think that skill is something that differentiates people.
J: I think in our industry if you ever start buying into the bullshit that it’s all your talent that’s got you somewhere, you’re in trouble. It takes a village to get up a single poster, let alone an award winning piece of work. It’s never down to one person.
M: JWT is a good example. I didn’t hire hundreds of people. The success we had was predominantly with the people who were already there, they just didn’t have the kind of belief in themselves. It was helping them understand that.
S: That’s interesting. So you didn’t go in and make a creative department redundant to get good results, you went in and said, ‘I believe you can do it.’
M: Yeah. What I realised is that they needed support and encouragement and opportunity. Then in the second year we won more Lions at Cannes than the agency had won in 150 years. And I think people were a little shocked like, ‘oh my god is this us?!’ Yeah, it was.
J: Have you seen jealousy really unhinge someone and what do you do to get them back on track?
M: Yeah I’ve definitely seen it and I think creative departments can be very ghettoised by the cool kids and the not cool kids, and I’ve really tried to break that down. Yes, there’s going to be some that are more awarded and that’s just the way it is. But it’s important to not make the people who aren’t doing that feel excluded. That’s a very deliberate choice on my part to do that.
S: Favouritism is a big issue in some departments, the same teams being given all the opportunities — how do you break that up when you see it?
M: I think it’s about giving everyone a seat at the table… I watch a lot of CCO’s walk in and go, who’s doing the cool work? And they just focus on that and kind of ignore everyone else.
What I’ve found is that you have to enfranchise the whole agency. It’s not enough just to have six cool teams doing great work. You have to change the feel of the whole place.
S: Australia is renowned for tall poppy syndrome, and if you look on some blogs it can feel like a really bitchy industry. How do we create a more supportive environment?
M: It was a big shock to me when I came from New York in 2006 to run DDB Sydney, how bitchy people were. And people were really having a go at me. And I’m like, ‘you don’t even know me? Who are you?’
It was a bit shocking. And definitely what I’ve found overseas is, nobody cares. People are so focussed on just doing their job. Definitely the agencies are so much bigger. I mean, there is a forum for it, there’s a site called Agency Spy which is a bit similar and can be quite scathing... I don’t mind people saying negative stuff about my work, but I want it to be a well reasoned argument.
S: I think a lot of it stems from jealousy. It’s really hard to get great work up so if you see someone who’s got this really great thing, you want to cut them down.
M: They get angry with you and it definitely upsets people because it makes them feel like, I’m not in the cool club. And they kind of get shitty about it.
S: What would you say to creatives who are struggling to be motivated or feeling like they are a bit shit?
M: I’m huge on passion. I put this program in place where I asked everyone to have a passion project. I think you can be a junior and you often get the shittier jobs and don’t really get access to the big, glamorous briefs. But I think if you do your job and always have something on the side that is going to be your award opportunity or whatever, nurture that.
I see a lot of juniors who want to win awards and I say, ‘well what are you doing to try and achieve that?’ And they say, ‘I’m just trying to work really hard.’ It’s not enough. Make a plan!
Decide that, for example, every Thursday night from 6 to 9 I’m going to stay back and that’s going to be my time to work on it. Put it in your calendar and make a plan to do it. Nothing happens by accident. It’s easy to wake up a year later and nothing’s changed. But if you didn’t actually set out to change something about the way you’re working then I don’t think it’s going to happen.
J: Would you ever start your own agency?
M: I’ve been offered that opportunity a number of times. But I love the global network of people. I like having that influence. It’s not like I don’t love doing the work, but I think I would miss that if I had my own agency.
S: You like the life!
M: Yeah I do. And now I feel like I’m just too old to go through your own agency thing. It’s tough. I have so much admiration for people who do it.
My husband started his own business in the last six weeks, a furniture importing company. It’s just him at the moment and I’m his intern.
I’m happy to keep roaming. It’s tiring but it’s also invigorating. One of the things I did to make sure I was always enjoying it – because it can be a bit depressing being away for six weeks and not seeing your husband and your dog – is that I took up photography. I went back to school and learned about photography.
Because I thought, I’m in this incredible place, like I’d be in Switzerland or somewhere, hanging around for the weekend. I should just go take photos. It was great, it really made it fun to have to be stuck somewhere.
I have a website called Becoming Amateur. It’s about the journey of being shit and trying to be a little bit less shit.
J: What happened in the end at JWT?
M: The whole network is under huge financial pressure, as are so many of the global networks. And I don’t agree with the decision but the CEO decided this costs us a lot of money to have a global CCO and I think we can cope without it. I don’t think they can. My view is that maybe they’re going to wake up in two years and go, oh shit.
It was a disappointing decision and I’ve still got great friends there and I want everyone to continue to succeed. But to me there’s no secret that before I was there, JWT didn’t really have a creative reputation globally. Then it started to happen.
S: What work are you really jealous of right now?
M: Some of my favourite work globally… I love the work Saatchi’s did for Tide. I thought that was so clever. I loved it because it took the most traditional medium and said, you know what we’re going to flip it on its head.
I was just judging the Clios and one of the things I saw there that I loved was from Sydney, the Palau Pledge.
I so admired the cleverness of that idea. Just to come up with an idea that really touches people at the exact moment they need to be told, ‘you have to take responsibility for this,’ is such genius.
I’m a big fan of ads that don’t look like ads and I think that was a great example of it. You don’t even know you’re being advertised to. Yes it happened in Palau but it’s a global idea that any country could pick up and yes we could actually make a difference.
Yeah. I’m jealous of that.