Matt Eastwood’s career has spanned numerous agencies, specialties and countries, including Australia, the UK and US. Having spent three years at DDB earlier in his career, Matt rejoined DDB Australia in 2006 as National Creative Director and Vice Chairman. During his seven-year career with DDB Oz, the agency was named Campaign Brief Agency of the Year, Australian Creative Hotshop, Adnews Agency of the Year, B&T Agency of the Year, Spikes Network of the Year, and Campaign magazine Network of the Year. In 2010, Matt joined DDB New York as Chief Creative Officer. He spoke to us about time travel, creativity and #firstworldproblems.
From the streets of Perth a few decades ago, all the way to Madison Avenue in 2013. It must’ve been a hell of a ride. Fill us in on the journey in between.
I started my career working in Perth. At the age of 22, the agency I was working for had been named Agency of the Year two years in a row. I’d also won Commercial of the Year for a spot that I wrote whilst working at that agency. Then, out of the blue, the agency declared bankruptcy and everyone lost their jobs. By happy coincidence, one of the judges who awarded me Commercial of the Year was from Sydney. He asked me to join his agency. Luckily, I won my fair share of awards in those early days and my career progressed pretty well.
Then, at 29 I was working at Saatchi & Saatchi in Sydney when Maurice and Charles started a new agency. I was lucky enough to be invited to be the founding Creative Director of their office in Melbourne. M&C Saatchi Melbourne went on to win Agency of the Year four years in a row. And, eventually, Maurice Saatchi asked me to move to London as Creative Director of their head office in Golden Square. It was intimidating working with so many of my advertising heroes – people like Simon Dicketts, Tiger Savage and James Lowther – but we had great success.
Three years later Maurice asked me to help revive the network’s struggling New York office. Of course, I jumped at the chance to live in New York. But after a year or so I was tempted over to Y&R New York as Chief Creative Officer. It was a tumultuous time for Y&R. Anne Fudge, the then CEO, hired me but she was soon ousted in a fairly ugly internal battle. Eventually, the politics really got to me. And, after seven years of living overseas, I decided to return home. I took up the role of National Creative Director and Vice Chairman of DDB Australia. In my second year at DDB we won every Agency of the Year title possible – Campaign Brief, Creative Review, B&T, AdNews. And we got work into D&AD, One Show, Cannes, Clio and all the major Australian awards. It was amazing.
After four and a half years in the job, the role of Chief Creative Officer at DDB New York opened up and our worldwide CEO asked me if I’d be interested in taking on the role. The answer was, of course, “when do I start?” I had to move to New York (again). This is DDB’s head office. It’s where it all started. It’s where Bill Bernbach sat.
You graduated from Australia’s AWARD School with a focus on writing. But at almost exactly the same time you graduated from Curtin University in Graphic Design. What are your thoughts on being a generalist/multidisciplinary vs. a specialist within a creative industry?
Even though I worked my entire career as a writer, as a Chief Creative Officer I feel really lucky to have a background in design and art direction. Having a broader expertise has really helped me. I’m actually kind of obsessed with design and, for the past 15 years, I’ve put it at the center of every agency where I’ve been creative director. Having said that, there is definitely room for specialists within agencies, particularly at the bigger shops. I have a creative department of around 100 people, and that affords me the luxury of hiring specialists, like a long-form writer from a television background or a motion graphics designer from MTV.
The work out of DDB NYC extends from topical (#FirstWorldProblems), to moving (“New Beginnings” for NYC Ballet), to weirdly fucking funny (Volkswagen “Parking Distance Control”). What’s your approach to maintaining a high standard of execution when you’re outputting such broadly different ideas?
When I first became a creative director I distinctly set out never to have a house style. And that principle has stayed with me. I’ve also tried to build a culturally diverse creative department so that no one style permeates everything we do. We have creatives from Brazil, New Zealand, London, India, Korea – we have a common vernacular around ideas, but we definitely don’t have a common approach to humor or design or language. I think it keeps our work surprising.
Water is Life – #FirstWorldProblems
NYC Ballet – New Beginnings.
Volkswagen – Parking Distance Control.
The trend today is for a lot of agencies to tout their ability to be agile and lean, and “act like a startup”. But DDB New York is a pretty sizable network agency, and still manages to consistently turn out solid work. How do you achieve scale without selling out?
I try to bring that “scrappy” Australian attitude to the States. In Australia, you have to make your own luck. If you have an idea, there’s never enough money or time. You have to do deals and pull favors from friends to make your ideas happen. And we accept and embrace that. But that’s not necessarily the approach of big agencies in the US. There’s a lot more red tape and bullshit. So I’ve worked hard to build that Australian can-do spirit into everyone in my department. I remind them all the time, “no one’s going to make your ideas happen but you”. You have to be passionate and industrious and persistent. And, yeah, a little scrappy.
NO ONE’S GOING TO MAKE YOUR IDEAS HAPPEN BUT YOU
Can you give us an insight into the way you manage the DDB NYC Creative Department? Is there a philosophy or model behind the way you’ve set it up? In terms of team structure, processes, or methods of collaboration?
It’s a pretty big department, so I definitely have a lot of help running it. Although all the work still goes through me, I have three ECD’s (one who’s also Head of Art) who each look after a group of creatives and accounts. In terms of creative talent, I’ve focused on what I call the “reverse hourglass” model. Which basically means a bunch of senior people, lots of junior talent, and not too many people in the middle.
We’ve invested heavily in junior talent, particularly by bringing the LaunchPad program from Australia to the States. Three years down the track, the great thing is that the entire department is very much a part of the shared mission. Over the past 20 years or so, DDB New York hadn’t been too successful at award shows, so our mission was to change that. I really wanted DDB New York to be back on top again, where it deserves to be. I wanted everyone to have that feeling of success – of walking two inches taller.
DDB New York for The Art Director’s Club.
In 2012 we won at many of the big shows and left behind our reputation as an agency that, let’s just say, was unfamiliar with awards. But in 2013, we really outdid ourselves. We picked up, in a big way, at every major award show. In many cases, winning more awards than any other US agency. And not just for a couple of nice pieces of work. The wins were far and wide, across many of our major accounts, hopefully proving that the standard of work across the entire agency is at an all time high. And most of the team that helped achieved that result has been with me since the beginning. There’s a very strong feeling of shared purpose. And shared recognition.
When it comes to hiring for creative roles, you’ve often said “passion trumps talent”. What are some other creative rules you stick to, both in the agency world, and outside of it?
DDB only hires people who are talented and nice. It was Bill Bernbach’s philosophy, and it’s something we take really seriously. Bill said, “Life’s too short to work with bastards”. It’s so true. But I also take that philosophy into my own life. “Work hard and be nice to be people” is my personal mantra at home and at the office.
It’s five years from now, and you’ve stepped out of a time machine onto the shores of Cannes. What ad campaigns do you see picking up metal by then?
We’re on the brink of the connected revolution. Everything we do is becoming connected to everything we do. The online and offline worlds are merging (have merged?). The ideas we’ll see in five years will celebrate this revolution. Ideas like Coke’s “Small World Machines” give us a taste of the revolution. But right now I think we’re still celebrating the technology.
EVERYTHING WE DO IS BECOMING CONNECTED
TO EVERYTHING WE DO
In five years I hope that the technology will have disappeared into the background.