5 Minutes with… Matt Batten

5 Minutes with… Matt Batten

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


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. Continue reading on LBB…