GleeTalks: Life Agency
Welcome to GleeTalks: your fix of industry tips, tricks and inspiration. In this session, Matt Connors-Jones (Creative Director at Life Agency) gives an insight into what it means to work in the creative industry and be creative, the formula for creating powerfully engaging campaigns and his thoughts on the current be-all and end-all digital era.
So you’ve been in advertising for 20+ years, what made you get into it all those years ago?
Matt: I’m not going to lie, my first love was sport (that’s why I brought the Rugby ball into the interview), but I had a really nasty accident, which resulted in almost two years of not walking. One way of describing it is to say that it focused my mind, the reality was that I was hit by PTSD. Two years of being immobile and lost meant I spent hours wondering what the hell I was going to do with my life, ‘I’m not going to be playing for Wales, so what now?’
I had always loved the idea of advertising. I had been to art college, whilst there I went and worked in a brand house in London which gave me a taste for the industry, but it was advertising that really excited me. So, I got work the ‘oldskool’ way - I knocked on the doors, worked out which pubs the creative directors frequented on a Friday afternoon (or Monday!), rolled up and spoke to people. I was brazen, undeterred by knockbacks and swearwords and didn’t take no for an answer (it cost me a fortune in warm lager and I was even kicked out of the Pregnant Man pub for harassing the locals on one occasion).
Did you have your mind set on becoming a Creative Director?
Matt: Any creative is lying if they say they’ve never had their eye on becoming a CD at some point, but it wasn’t what drove me. I loved the process of creating. Being teamed with a copywriter or just another creative person and sitting about thinking up ideas was gold dust to me. When I was a kid, I would rehash ads that were on TV and re-write the lines on them making them more irreverentor bonkers. It has always come naturally to me… being the family saddo that actually likes to watch the ads.
What keeps you creative?
Matt: As creative director, I sometimes find myself doing less of the creative stuff - but I have to deal with added pressure. As a release I need to do something creative for the sake of it, no profit, no clients, just pure creativity. I tend to throw a basketball around and I’m also a part-time professional actor (insert joke here, you wouldn’t be the first)… but it’s fun, there’s banter, it’s social – you meet new people and the good lighting does wonders for my complexion.
What’s your formula for creating campaigns?
Matt:The way I explain it to a client is – a powerful and engaging idea should do three things:
It’s got to be original, it’s got to be unexpectedand it’s got to be relevant.
If you create an idea that delivers on all three of these things, then you are guaranteed to engage people and create work that’s distinct and effective.
How would you explain the difference between brand advertising and promotional advertising?
Matt: Advertising builds brands. Shopper or promotional advertising improves short-term sales. The trouble is, some clients can often mistake the two. In order to grow, every brand from a start up to a big brand should invest a minimum of 60% of their budget in brand advertising and 40% in short term sales activation work.
There’s the age old battle between tactical quick wins and brand building which are always considerations of course, but when clients are asking you to build their brand then hitting you with questions like, ‘can’t you make our product bigger and can’t we just have a big picture of the product next to the price,’ and I’ll point out – is that original? No. Is that unexpected? No. Is that relevant? No. Then why will people engage with it? Sure, it’ll drive immediate sales, but it will do nothing to build your brand value.
How has your team changed to keep up with the ever-changing creative industry?
Matt: The day of the specialist is gone, long live the generalist – I hire people with two things:
1. A positive mind-set. Positive people are more open to finding solutions and solving problems.
2. People who are passionate about communicating in general, and who are brave about considering channels totally new or alien to them.
The big engaging ideas we think up need to live and breathe, unconstrained by channels. In the last 6 months alone we’ve created campaigns across TV, VR, press and digital, OOH, Instagram and Facebook… with more to come via VR and Snapchat.
What are your thoughts on digital being the ONLY way forward?
Matt:Who said that digital is the ‘only way forward’?
The truth is, there’s room for everything and there is a use for everything. Trends are important, but not the be-all and end-all. The more technology there is out there, the more ways you can communicate with people, and as less people start to use a platform or a channel, the more valuable it can become to advertisers. For example, a few years ago, direct mail was dead. Now it’s back because it’s so ‘unexpected’ to receive a real object through the post. It’s a never-ending circle.
Nothing dies, it just evolves – Instagram to Instagram stories, Snapchat to Snapchat messenger to geo ring-fencing etc (unless you’re Myspace or Friends reunited of course).
Do you have any big clients that you’re really proud to be working with?
Matt: We’ve had some incredible wins recently, with one of them being Carlsberg. They’re the perfect client for us because they do a huge amount of good across the world (not just with their beer), and that fits perfectly with Life’s proposition: ‘Find the Good’. We aim to make brands famous for good reasons and that’s something that is really important to us.
We’ve also recently won work with three of my favourite things: Playdoh (that childhood smell is just heavenly), Warner’s gin (everyone loves a gin now and then right?) and some great above the line work for Butcher’s Dog food (probably Britain’s most nourishing dog food) where we get to work with real dogs day-in-day-out. Watch this space! There’s something truly epic coming to your screens this spring.
The truth is, every piece of work that hits the mark (of ‘Original, Unexpected and Relevant’) makes me proud, because it’s such a difficult thing to do. It requires brave thinking, energy, effort and, most of all, a positive mind-set – but that’s why we do this job, right?
For more of what Life Agency find ‘good’ follow #365daysofgood on Twitter.
For more information about new and upcoming marketing and digital roles, click here.