The Interview Series // 34

For this interview we managed to get our grubby junior mitts on one of the most successful creatives this side of the planetoid — Matt Eastwood. This esteemed dude is so good at being successful, in the time between our chat and having our transcribing monkey do the typing dance, he was promoted from National Executive Creative Director and Deputy Chairman of DDB Australia, to Chief Creative Officer of DDB New York! It’s got a nice ring to it – don’t you think? We sat down with Matt and got the low-down on his career, and all the ins and outs between. If you’ve ever wondered how one goes about becoming a successful CD then you better keep on a-readin’ below.

Junior: So you’re a Sydney boy?

Matt Eastwood: I’m originally from Perth, but I went to Sydney at about 23. Stayed there, spent four years in Melbourne, London, New York, and back to Sydney.

Jr: So you started your career in Perth? How was that?

M: There were good agencies there. The reason I left was kind of weird. I was working for Ogilvy & Mather, and we were agency of the year two years in a row, and the agency went broke. Just announced bankruptcy and shut down. I lost my job. But I was already working for the best agency in town so I didn’t know what to do. Luckily, I’d recently won Writer of the Year and I was offered a job in Sydney at Foster Nunn Loveder, so I headed East. I only spent three or four working years in Perth, but when I came to Sydney I had produced dozens of TV ads, because everyone gets to do TV in Perth no matter what level you are.

Jr: That’s quite a start.

M: Perth is a real retail city, not all of it, but a big chunk of it. So you learn to work quickly. When I got to Sydney I thought, hang on, I’m pretty quick at this! It held me in good stead, as I was more accomplished and quicker than other juniors my age. And, it helped me progress quite quickly. It was a good foundation to get started. From there in Sydney I worked with some great agencies, Foster Nunn Loveder, and DDB – for the first time.

Jr: Did you have a lot of retail work in your book when you arrived in Sydney?

M: Yeah I did, but I had my fair share of brand work as well. When I was at Ogilvy & Mather, Ansett Airlines was still around, and I had done their brand campaign. Even though I’d made the spots for $60,000 each, they were pretty good I think. I got to work on some pretty big accounts – I’d done campaigns for the WA Tourism Commission, at the same time as doing work for shopping centers and that kind of stuff. It’s definitely possible to do great work in Perth. Just look at some of the agencies there, like The Brand Agency (http://www NULL.brandagency NULL.com NULL.au/), 303 (http://www NULL.303 NULL.com NULL.au/) and Marketforce (http://www NULL.marketforce NULL.com NULL.au/), they’re really, really good agencies. I don’t think the ambition is any less, but the budgets are less. You’re making stuff with nothing.

Jr: That’s the challenge, to make more with less.

M: And you do. You don’t have the luxury of big crews, so everyone bulks in and does a bit more, and you get used to it and that’s the way it is. It’s funny when I look back now on the first four years of my career, we didn’t even have an agency TV producer. So the creatives had to produce their own ads. I remember preparing estimates and calculating markups. Now I don’t know how I took on that responsibility. There’s no way I could do that now. But I guess now I know my way around production so much better.

Jr: As a junior, were you working in a solid team or did you move around on your own?

M: I did have a few good partners, but none of them lasted more than a year or so. Not because we didn’t get on or anything, things just change and people move around. When I got to Sydney I teamed up with a guy called Shane Gibson, who is currently at M&C Saatchi in Sydney, and we worked together for about 12 years. We traveled everywhere together, we moved to Melbourne to open M&C together, and then went to London. We both found something that worked and stuck with it. Eventually I was the Creative Director and he was the Deputy, and he was offered a job within M&C Saatchi to go and run the Singapore office as Creative Director. I stayed in London, and he went off to do that.

Jr: Do you think, now that you are a Creative Director, for juniors out there wanting to get into the industry, that not being in a team is less favourable?

M: I think it’s definitely easier in a team. Maybe 80% of the time when I’m looking for someone, I’m looking for a team. I was recently looking for a junior writer, because I already had the art director, but that’s probably the first time in about 10 years that I’ve done that. It just doesn’t happen that often. It’s much better if you can pre-package yourself as a team. Or even if you don’t team up, if you can find someone who you can put yourself in front of a CD with, tell them you haven’t worked together but you get on, it definitely makes things simpler. The natural way into our agency for first time juniors is through our LaunchPad program. We look for teams, but we also put teams together. But it’s much easier already if you’re pre-teamed.

Jr: At what stage in your career did you go overseas?

M: I think I was about 32. I’d been running M&C Saatchi in Melbourne for about four years. And we’d done really well. Back then we won Agency of the Year four years in a row. It was ridiculous. It was good; it was a really successful time. I got a call from Maurice Saatchi, who asked me to be the ECD of the London office, which was amazing. The weird thing was I was packing up my house to move to London, and about a week before I was due to leave he rang again and told me that the Creative Director of the New York office had resigned, and how would I feel about going to our New York office to fill in for three months while they found someone permanent? It was like a dream! So I went via New York and fell completely in love with it, I got on well with the CEO, and ended up staying. The London office didn’t need me to go there straight away, so they let me stay in New York. The sad thing was that “September 11” happened in 2001, and that completely destroyed our business. Our biggest client was British Airways. They were obviously having a hard time and couldn’t afford to pay us for the next eighteen months. Everything went from amazing to nothing. We put the agency on ice, let a lot of people go, and that’s when the London office asked me to come and do the London ECD gig. So I moved to London, stayed there for about four years, and eventually when New York started to get going again, they sent me back to renew the office there.

Jr: Did you work with Maurice Saatchi in London? How was that?

M: It was amazing. It’s weird, you really don’t get to meet icons of the industry that often. I remember there was two great moments for me. I’d already met Maurice, but I didn’t know him that well. There was one time when he took the management board out for dinner to celebrate my new role, and he did a champagne toast to me. And I was like, wow, Maurice Saatchi is doing a toast to me. The next moment was my first pitch in London, and I was sitting next to Maurice – him being the suit, me as the Creative Director. I thought – this is just awesome, seeing one of the world’s greatest ad guys pitching, and I’m next to him. It was pretty cool. A few words from him could make you feel three inches taller. He was very, very good, and incredibly smart obviously as he started two amazing agencies. It was an incredible time.

Jr: That’s pretty darn amazing! Is he still involved?

M: He’s still there, he’s still on the board. I haven’t worked for M&C now for about six years, but I imagine he’s probably winding right back and not so involved. When I was there he was at the office every day, and that was amazing. The five partners of the M&C London office all sat together in one room as they had done for 30 years through Saatchi’s and M&C. They had all the stories that we’ve all heard, but they were all the stories. They were the ones that did it. It was fantastic going out to dinner or travelling with those guys, and hearing the stories that go back 20 years. It was a great time. But in the end, I didn’t love working in London as much as I thought I would. I find New York to be a global city where I find London to be, London. There’s definitely a view that ‘we’re the best in the world and no one else matters’. Whereas I think New York is the complete opposite. Everyone in New York is from somewhere else. It’s rare to meet a true New Yorker. They’ve all come from all over the world, or all over America. It’s a melting pot of global ideas. I found them much more open to new thinking.

Jr: Did you notice much of a difference coming back from overseas to Australia in terms of digital thinking and capabilities?

M: The thing I loved about DDB is that it was a lot more possible to integrate digital thinking. I think it had a lot to do with scale. The last job I had in New York was at Y&R, and we had two floors of above-the-line creatives, and a whole floor of digital creatives. But they were all separate. I think if I had stayed longer I would have brought them together more, but it was difficult to get people working and thinking together. People were still seeing the two as separate roles, whereas now I think it’s seen as one person or one team can do it all together. The thing I found here was that because of the size and the scale of it, it is much easier to get people working together. We have Tribal DDB within our office but we don’t really run Tribal as a separate company. We run it as one creative department. Everyone reports to me, they all work together as one team.

Jr: A lot of people at a more junior career level and age group see the overseas thing as the pinnacle of making it, or getting somewhere. Do you think that helped you in your career moving overseas?

M: The tough thing is, if you only had five years’ experience and went to London it would be hard. It’s a tough, tough city to break into, especially if you’re junior-ish. The money is shit. I was shocked when I got there at how little we were paying our juniors, but it was industry standard. I don’t know how they could afford to live on it — it was frightening. The best thing is to get yourself some fame first because it’s a hard road if you don’t have it. At M&C I had these two students, who had been interning for two years. They had two silver D&AD pencils. They were really good, and they were working for nothing. I asked them how they did it, how they kept motivating themselves to keep trying. I remember being in awe of their tenacity to keep going. They had to fund their careers through weekend jobs and parental support, but they had two silver pencils to show for it. We eventually gave them a job, but I think that’s such a hard position to be in as a junior. It was definitely easier for me to go in at the ECD level, rather than as a struggling creative.

Jr: So with LaunchPad at DDB (http://www NULL.ddbcareers NULL.com NULL.au/User/LaunchPad/), how does it work? Do you get a few teams in?

M: We have six people at once – four creatives and two craft people – web department, designers, etc. They don’t all start together, but they’re all there for three months at a time. We also host a team from Miami Ad School once a year. It’s great fun. We’ve seen a lot of people come and go, and I think we’ve hired about 10 of them over the last four years, so a lot of people have gotten jobs. Even if they don’t get a job we’ve stayed friends. A few LaunchPadders have sold campaigns that have gone on to win Lions, which is ultimately why we do it for them. It’s so much easier if you’ve got something in your book that’s been published, especially when you’re competing against all the other juniors.

Jr: What do you look for in a good junior?

M: At the start of LaunchPad I say to the juniors not to let the three months slip by. A lot of them come in and have a lot of fun, and then the three months are up and they haven’t really made anything, and find it disappointing. I look for a hunger and tenacity, that ‘whatever it takes I’m going to make myself famous’ attitude. We push them, we give them lots of briefs, but ultimately as a junior you have to really want to be famous, and you have to want to make great ads. You need to give over a couple of years of your life but, if you do, it will set you up for life. So I guess I look for that spark. We get a lot of applications, and we only take a tenth of those that apply. I look for juniors whose books are well thought out in terms of campaign ideas. I definitely get bored at seeing a book of just print ads. I want at least half a dozen campaigns in a book, and at least half of which are blown out into different areas, from social media to digital to TV to whatever. And then I look for the equivalent in one off thoughts. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a campaign. You need to have a body of work that gives whomever is looking at your book a sense of what you are capable of doing. I think the most important thing though is tenacity.

Jr: So you’re a writer. Did you come out of an arts course?

M: Yeah. Weirdly, I’m a writer but my degree is in Design. I studied Graphic Design at Curtin University in WA. In my last year I also did AWARD school – I graduated from both at the same time. I had planned to work as an art director, but I saw a job advertised for a writer. And I thought, I can do that. I got a job as a junior copywriter with no real writing experience.

Jr: How did you learn your craft then?

M: I had a really good first boss. A guy called Gordon Dawson, he’s retired now, but he was amazing. He could see that I could write a headline but knew I didn’t have any writing training. In my first week he walked up to me with a stack of twenty novels, and said, ‘have you read Slaughterhouse Five (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Slaughterhouse-Five)’? ‘No’ ‘Have you read Catch-22 (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Catch_22)?’ ‘Nup’, and he kept going. He said read those, and gave me the Oxford Dictionary, and the Elements of Style (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Elements_of_style). He was great, and he used to really push me to be better. The criticism I have with a lot of young writers is that they don’t appreciate the craft of writing. They don’t read classic novels, or any novels, and that’s how you get better at what you do, Gordon drummed that into me. English was always one of my top subjects, but he made me better at it.

Jr: Seems like being versatile – knowing about Art Direction and Copywriting is a handy thing.

M: It’s so true. Its fantastic for me to be able to have a degree in design, I can get on a computer and do artwork, and I do my own blog (http://thingsihaveseen NULL.squarespace NULL.com/), I have always had that visual side to me. That’s part of the job as an ECD — you’ve got to advise on all aspects.

Jr: That said, do you think the craft or writing is a bit lost on many up and coming Copywriters?

M: You don’t really meet that many people who are passionate about writing. We have a CD in our Melbourne office, Brendan Guthrie, and he’s just into writing. He writes stories and screenplays and you don’t meet people like that very often. We’re living in an age where writing and long copy isn’t popular. It’s not like it’s unwelcome, it’s just that no one does it. It’s been like that for a long time. I remember in my own career having to make the specific decision to do a long copy campaign. No one tells you to do long copy; you have to make the choice. If you don’t make that decision in your career at some point to try to write one, you can get to ten years in your career and you’ve still never done a long copy ad. I say to a lot of juniors that at some point make yourself write a long copy ad. Because you can easily avoid it. But try it, it’s fun, you get to be more like a journalist than a creative. But it’s not always going to fly because clients don’t always want long copy or CD’s don’t like it, but you’ve just got to give it a go.

Jr: Fast forward five years – what sort of skills do you think juniors will need as they progress up the chain?

M: I think there’s definitely a challenge in deciding what your goal is. There’s a lot of pressure on creatives to become Creative Directors. But I think there are a lot of people who head towards that goal that don’t really want it, or aren’t really good at it. It’s deciding which way you want to go and manipulating your career to go that way, and getting the appropriate skills. A lot of what differentiates good creatives from great creatives is not just ideas, it’s the ability to present those ideas and lead a client. I put all my team through presentation and negotiation skills training. To me that is the thing that has stood me out from many of my peers — I’m very comfortable getting up in front of a CEO talking to them about ideas. When I moved to London, I was like a freak over there, because Creative Directors had been protected from clients. They literally didn’t go to meetings. But clients had started to want to develop a relationship with Creative Directors, and I had no problem with that as I had done it all my life. And they were like wow, who is this guy?

Jr: So it was just account service that went to presentations?

M: Yep. It was an easy blame game. If account management come back with unsold work you can either complain, or just sell it yourself. So that’s what I always did. That ability and that comfortableness in front of clients — I reckon that is probably the one thing that we don’t spend enough time on when training juniors. Or on how to be leaders within the department. When I was 26, I made the decision that I wanted to be a CD. I changed my behaviours, and even started dressing differently.

Jr: That’s what Mum used to say – “dress for the job you want.”

M: One team I worked with started their “3 buttoned shirts a week” rule, and it worked. From the time they joined me to the time they left they easily doubled their salary and their award list. I think people just started to see them as serious and professional. It’s not the be all and end all, but it’s important. When I was 26 I just started taking responsibility for looking after the juniors in the agency. I rallied them all together and helped them with their work, and that experience was like being a mini Creative Director. It kind of got me better at knowing what it would be like in front of senior people doing that same thing. It’s giving yourself opportunities to try out your skills. I say to all our guys, once they’ve been in the business for 4-5 years, to be an AWARD school tutor. It’s the best thing you can do, it’s a big commitment but you learn to give advice. And almost all of them tell me that they are better at judging their own work as a result.

Jr: You actually learn a lot about your own thinking when you have to put it into words and explain it to someone else.

M: Yes, and it makes you quicker. When you’re a Creative Director you get presented work all day. And creatives want a response right then, they want to know what you think, right now. And sometimes you don’t know, sometimes you need to think about it, but you can’t just keep putting everything off. Teaching AWARD School puts you under that same pressure, to listen to your instincts and just to go with it, and you get better at it. It’s not necessarily a skill-based thing, but it’s really important in terms of getting your career off in the right direction. Apart from that, I think junior creatives are generally learning all the stuff that they need to learn. There was a time when you had to say to people, I think you need to embrace digital, but you don’t need to say that any more. Although I’ve definitely had creatives that don’t follow any blogs, or don’t do anything online, one didn’t even have a Facebook profile – you owe it to your clients to at least understand what the digital space is about. Even if you don’t like it, you’ve got to do it. It’s so easy to stay across new developments these days because of the online space. You can follow whoever you want on twitter, and see what’s happening everywhere. It’s so instant and easy. If anything, it’s overwhelming with how to stay abreast of everything.

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 25/08/2010