‘Talent is a commodity’: JWT’s Matt Eastwood’s guide to an ad career

When J. Walter Thompson worldwide chief creative officer Matt Eastwood entered the ad business over 20 years ago, he couldn’t find a job as an art director. Eventually, he was able to make his way to the creative side, and craft a career spanning numerous agencies and three countries. After helping found M&C Saatchi in Australia, he went on to join DDB Australia, followed by M&C Saatchi London. He joined JWT in July 2014. Here, he tells us, in his own words, how he got into the business and shares some of the biggest lessons he has learned along the way.

I feel incredibly lucky that I knew what I wanted to do from quite a young age. It had something to do with Darrin Stephens of “Bewitched.” I just remember thinking as a 13-year-old what a great job he’s got. Advertising seemed like a really fun and engaging career.

But it wasn’t an easy choice. My two best subjects at school were always art and accounting. And my father was an accountant, so was very keen for me to take over his accounting firm. I remember him telling me when I was 16, that there’s no money in advertising. At that point in time, it really wasn’t seen as as serious career option, and he wanted me to do something more grounded. But it all came back together in 20 years, ironically, now that I’m running a business. It helps to have that business acumen.

I realized the advantages of growing up in Australia first when I lived in London from 2000 to 2004. I realized that creative people elsewhere were always protected from the clients. They were not client-facing; they would just stay back in the agency and generate ideas. But in Australia, creatives would frequently interact with the brands and their CEOs. Having been in that kind of an environment, I was comfortable talking to executives and presenting ideas.

We also had to make do with lesser resources. I remember working at FCB in Perth, and we didn’t have separate TV producers. The creatives had to double up as TV producers. I ended up gathering all these skills that really ended up helping me in the long run. You’re used to not having these luxuries when you get to a bigger market. When I first came to New York, just before 2000, I remember I was working on a campaign whose production budget was just under $1 million. The creative director told me, “Oh, we only have $1 million; I don’t know if we can do it.” And I was amazed. I think these are some of the biggest reasons why a lot of Aussies are so successful in running ad agencies.

I have spent my whole career going out of my comfort zone. When I was 23, I moved from Perth to Sydney. When I moved to London and took over M&C Saatchi, I was 32, and that was pretty scandalous. I remember Campaign writing a not-so-flattering article about me and asking why bring an Australian in to run one of the most iconic agencies. But things like that have only made me work harder and I’ve always thought of what’s next. It’s been valuable, being in a global role, just having spent time in different countries and regions. It’s a huge asset to be able to bring that multicultural insight to global businesses.

My lowest moment was probably the first time I got fired. I was 23, working for Ogilvy in Perth, and I had been quite successful. I got called into the CEO’s office one day, and I was fired. I was absolutely devastated and absolutely distraught. I only found out months later that the agency had gone bankrupt and was shutting down, and they were just trying to make it easier for me.

This year’s events around Gustavo Martinez were also hard. (Martinez resigned after allegations of racist and sexist comments.) It was also terribly sad. The irony was that about two days before that happened, we had just won “Network of the Year” at Dubai Lynx Festival of Creativity. I felt that we were getting it right, creatively we’d accomplished a milestone, and then the whole saga began and distracted everyone. It was really disappointing in that I wished people were talking about our victories instead of that. It was also disappointing on a personal level, because he and I were very close. It ended up defining us for a really long time, and it was hard lifting the morale up after that.

Cannes this year was a huge achievement for the agency, but it was also a big personal journey for me. I was directly involved with a lot of the projects and offices. I was so proud of everyone in the agency and achieving what we achieved. It was definitely a career highlight. But it was also great because it put the spotlight back on our work.

I’m a firm believer that passion trumps talent. The philosophy of that is that talent is a commodity, and there are a lot of talented people in the world. But it is passion that propels you forward. If you fall down, it becomes harder to get back up and keep going without passion. I’ve had moments in my career. There was this one job that I hated, for example, when I thought of quitting. But if you have the passion, you can ignore that negative voice.


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