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5 Minutes with… Matt Batten

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Indie agency Edge’s ECD on detecting cancer with mobile phones, ‘transformational’ doublespeak and painting indoor murals for rich people…

5 Minutes with… Matt Batten

Nobody who speaks with Matt Batten can be in any doubt about the power of advertising. 

Across the Edge ECD’s multi award-winning career (over 120 of them internationally), highlights have included the original Share a Coke campaign, bringing agencies back from the brink, and in one case literally saving a child’s life. 

If that’s not enough, Matt also finds the time to write, produce and direct his own short films. It’s a career that’s given him a fair sense of perspective on the industry. 

To chew over it all, he spoke to LBB’s Adam Bennett.

LBB> Can you tell us how you got into the industry? When did you decide you wanted to be a creative?

Matt> I didn’t really decide! I always tell people I went backpacking, woke up one morning in a bathtub full of ice with a scar on my side and a phone number saying congratulations, you’re in advertising! I’d never thought of advertising as a career. Growing up, I was always creating, writing, drawing, painting, all this arty stuff. I got my Bachelor of Arts, then I had this weird job painting lifelike murals on the walls of rich people’s homes, and that got me into -

LBB> Sorry - you were painting personal murals for rich people?

Matt>  Yeah, in their palatial dining rooms or whatever, they’d want it to look like the Tuscan hillside or something like that. Something realistic. There was a whole team of us. One job was painting the ceiling of a new casino in Canberra to look like the milky way galaxy. It was a cool job I just got into through an ad in the local paper. The money was great too but I was only working once every three months, so I ended up looking for something more steady. 

LBB> And that took you into advertising?

Matt> I took a course in Graphic Design and that landed me a gig where I was suddenly laying out ads and I was like “Oh, I work in advertising now!” I went up through the ranks in design studios. As a designer you always you get someone over your shoulder all day saying ‘nudge this up, nudge it down’, and you just think ‘I can do that’. So while I was at Saatchi & Saatchi I did AWARD School, made Top 10, and they made me an Art Director. 

LBB> Absolutely - so how did you get from there to Edge?

Matt> After Saatchi, my Copywriter and I went to BMF during this amazing growth period in their early days, then we went back to Saatchi & Saatchi. But I got my first Creative Director gig at Wunderman Sydney with their newly appointed MD, Jo Lloyd. We had a big job in turning that business around – having inherited an agency that had just lost a major account and our first weeks in the job were spent laying off staff until we had only thirteen left. But after a year or so we were winning a shitload of awards and getting noticed, which got me great exposure both in Australia and in the global network.

LBB> So how did you fix it?

Matt> Really it was all the basics. Looking at the work and making it way more creative, but most importantly changing the culture of the company and the enthusiasm. We said what we were gonna make sure was that nobody forgets the name Wunderman Australia. We PR’d the fuck out of every opportunity. If we bought a toaster we would PR it. After a couple of years we were the most awarded and fastest growing office in the Wunderman network, and winning highly-prized accounts like Coca-Cola – little old Sydney. People didn’t even know we still had a Sydney office! So that got me on the network’s radar and eventually led me to Wunderman London. They asked me to do the same job I did for Sydney there.

LBB> So you’re kind of a creative firefighter then?

Matt> Possibly more of a ‘change agent’. Even before Wunderman when I was at Saatchi & Saatchi, my Copywriter and I were part of the team adding Direct and Digital to their ATL offering. And when we went to BMF we did the same for them for a few years and were winning awards for ‘integrated’ campaigns when that was the buzzword, and then Saatchi poached us back because they had kind of lost their BTL skills and wanted us to make bring it back for them. Then at Wunderman Australia and then in London it was the flip-side in making them expand from BTL to broader, multi-channel creative thinking. 

Then Edge brought me back to Australia to creatively get them from being a content specialist to being an integrated creative agency. Three years later and it’s happening, we’re winning pitches against big agencies, developing brand platforms and rolling out integrated creative campaigns. That’s what I see as a change agent: helping shift an agency, make its work better, grow it, expand its offering. Because no agency can afford to do just one thing, even if it does it really well.

LBB> Yeah, and that seems to be a trend in the industry at the moment - agencies being able to do more and more for brands on a consultancy level. So that’s happening in Australia too?

Matt> More and more agencies in Australia are adopting the ‘consultancy’ mantel. But honestly I think this is a little bit of industry doublespeak. I didn’t quite understand it at first because consultancy agencies still produce ad campaigns and have showreels and all the hallmarks on non-consultancy agencies. Then I heard someone at a conference define the difference as: an agency waits for the brief, whereas a consultancy goes to the client and says here’s what the brief is. And that makes the difference clear. But when you think about it, isn’t that what agencies used to do back in the 60s and 70s and 80s and even through the 90s? Go to a client and say I hear what your problem is, here’s how we solve it, give us some money and here’s a print ad, here’s a TV ad, here’s this and here’s that. That’s what we used to do before digital, social, media fragmentation, the democratisation of creativity, et cetera. So now we have to alter our lexicon with words like ‘transformation’ because that’s what client CEOs want to hear rather than just ‘advertising’. It’s our industry evolving to readdress the agency/client relationship and get back to being a trusted partner. We’ve done it at Edge by expanding our services to include strategic and brand consultancy, and our strategy team are doing ‘transformational’ projects for many big brands.

LBB> Over your career, what’s been the most important project you’ve worked on?

Matt> No question, the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust campaign while at Wunderman London. It was the best and most important project that I oversaw. Real credit has to go to Stefanie DiGianvincenzo and Evan Jones who were one of my brilliant Creative teams. We did the work pro bono and I’m so proud of the impact we had. The charity focuses on retinoblastoma, which is a cancer that can develop inside the eyes of children at birth or straight after birth, and it’s very aggressive and fatal. In a chat with the client, there was this anecdotal story about one of the families they’d been working with and how they saw a photo of their baby and that’s how they knew the cancer was there. And Stef and Evan were like “What do you mean you saw a photo?” And it turns out that in flash photography, the eye with the tumour reflects flash and the normal eye doesn’t. So in a photo, you’ll get a normal pupil and a white pupil. And that was like, holy shit, that means everybody has the means to detect this cancer in their pockets already.

LBB> That’s amazing… 

Matt> Absolutely, it was a mind-blowing moment. So we worked with an ink technician who adapted an ink so it contained microscopic particles of silver that you couldn’t see with the naked eye. But under a flash photo all the silver particles reflect back so you see a white pupil in the photo where in the printed poster there was a black pupil. Great idea for an outdoor campaign, only problem was that as a pro-bono client there was no funding for media. So our strategy was to use this innovative print technology to drive online reach. We got posters printed and distributed through Paediatric wards and daycare centres for free, then made a content film about how these posters work and pushed that out online. And it worked incredibly: sixty-nine million views and loads of awards. It even won a silver Cannes Lion for mobile technology even though we didn’t develop a single thing for mobile, no app, no code, no site. But most importantly, about nine months after we launched the campaign, our content film had spread around the world and it was being talked about on mainstream radio in Melbourne. A lady rang up to say that she saw the video, took a flash photo of her baby, detected the cancer, and saved the baby’s life. So that campaign literally saved that kid’s life. 

And I say with genuine passion and enthusiasm. It won those awards, but once we found out it saved a baby’s life the awards didn’t count for shit. It’s the first time where the effectiveness of the campaign truly was the reward.

You can check out Matt’s work with the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust here.

LBB> As well as working in Adland, you also make short films as a hobby. Where do you find the extra creativity alongside the day job?!

I've made a few short films and have a few more in the pipeline. It's not hard finding the creativity to do this alongside the day job, but it is hard finding the time. My trusty iPhone is loaded with notes I jot down on the fly at any time of day. Some are broad ideas in a single sentence, others are more fleshed out stories, and a few are descriptions of a random scene I'd like to work into a script or film one day. It takes an extraordinary amount of time and resources to produce and shoot a short film, which is why I've only done three to date and have focused more on screenwriting. I now have over a dozen short film scripts, four feature film screenplays with two more in rough draft form, and three TV series pilot scripts – all available for consideration if there are any producers out there looking for a project! I’ve written comedy, drama, thriller, horror, scifi, adventure and animated screenplays and have picked up a few laurels here and there for my screenplays which is a nudge to keep me going at it.

You can check out Matt’s screenwriting here and one of his shorts, CREEP, below:

LBB> What can you tell us about the future for Edge?

Matt> Edge has evolved a lot over the past 2 years to go from a content specialist to a more rounded creative agency and will hopefully continue to evolve. The big differentiator at Edge is our unique ability to fuse advertising and content. And that doesn't just mean we can do both content and ATL advertising, it means our strategic approach and hybrid creative department allow us to mesh the two streams together to create seamless consumer journeys or experiences while also maximising our clients' budgets, so they get way more bang for their buck and creative work that's much more effective. That's what attracted our newest clients Wattyl, Virgin Money and Moccona – the benefits of more connected comms.

While we're joining up TV with social posts, print with digital content, radio with editorial, I'm keen to bolster Edge's tech capabilities. I've done campaigns that leverage tech in new and interesting ways such as the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust campaign, hacking a Fitbit to work on a Jack Russell, reading the brainwaves of musicians, and creating anti-Google translator app for the Google app store. So I'd like to see Edge pushing the boundaries with tech-based creative ideas that help our clients stay even more relevant.

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EDGE, Wed, 25 Sep 2019 11:38:52 GMT