as you might have figured out by now, we’re working our way through our original 30 under 30 award winners – getting the scoop on everything that’s been happening in their worlds over the last decade.
Today we sit down with Matt McCann, a natural-born leader who humbly started his career working in a mail room and has worked his way up to become the general manager at Bastion EBA.
If you missed the other 30 Under 30 profiles in this series, you can view them all here. For now, say hello to Matt and get the low-down on the last 10 years of his career.
(p.s 2019 entries are now open – enter now!)
Then: director, Mindshare
Now: general manager, Bastion EBA
Matt McCann started his career in the mail room at McCann Erickson and from there he went on to become the youngest director at Mindshare Australia ever.
Credited as a natural leader, his leadership skill was reflected in the achievements of his team who won 13 individual Mindshare awards, and maintained a staff retention rate of 98% in an industry known for churn.
Under McCann’s guidance the agency created a buying process for the Kimberly Clark business, which not only helped the client but was also a key driver of success in early 2010 for the agency.
Kimberly Clark’s head of marketing at the time, Alison Holland, commented, “Matt’s natural ability to lead a team sensures we have the best talent working on our business and we see Matt as a valued extension of the marketing team.”
What did it mean to you at the ripe age of 27 that you were chosen as one of B&T’s 30 Under 30?
Firstly, I was so lucky to have the opportunity to work with some of the best people in the industry.
From Mark Buckman (fantastic leader, built strong teams and got the best out of you), James Warburton (made you feel like you could achieve anything), Leela Nair (amazing teacher with great presences), Jacqui Purcell (for the honesty and guidance), Katie Rigg-Smith (just a superstar), Aimee Buchanan (a true leader) and Mat Baxter (incredible strategic thinker, who seems to achieve everything he puts his mind to).
I loved watching these individuals do their thing because it helped me determine my own style.
Straight out of school into the mail-room, not having the best marks at school but also having a terrible attention span, let’s just say it was super humbling. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
Just having this opportunity to personally thank these individuals means a lot. On that note, I encourage everyone coming up in the industry to identify those people who inspire you, reach out and take note about what sets them apart from everyone else. Don’t be them, just learn from them.
How do you think being nominated affected your career, if at all?
It’s never a bad thing to be nominated among such an amazing group of individuals but the recognition was definitely a great opportunity to open my network to new conversations.
I have loved reading about the latest winners and what they’ve managed to achieve.
I enjoyed seeing my friend Paige Lewis from the projects* win one of the agency categories last year. An amazing talent now in London, so you can see the immediate impact, increased self-confidence and just a brilliant reminder of what a great industry we work in.
What’s been the biggest change to your life since then?
10 years..time flies! Hopefully my photo…
Since my time at Mindshare, I went on to run the Media and Sponsorship division at Telstra managing an annual budget of $150M which is a mind-blowing number for a 28 year old before moving over to the projects* as the global, chief operating officer; an incredible experience and one I loved.
More recently, I’ve joined the agency Bastion Collective which is arguably the largest independent marketing and communications group in Australia.
The brief going to Telstra was about evolving the agency/client model and more importantly developing a more strategic relationship with our key partners.
It sounds crazy but we always seemed to be on a shoestring due to historical deals, so you work out great ways to trade assets for value and apply more of an entrepreneurial mindset to your approach.
During this period, we went from 5% digital investment to c.40% investment and our agency relationship consistently achieved +80% across 325 marketers.
The learning curve dealing with 62 C-suite executives taught me how to run an agency because it helps you understand the importance of commercial thinking, but also the complexity of big businesses. I encourage anyone to at least try the ‘client side’ because it will give you brilliant perspective around the challenges your clients face every day.
The projects* was a personal challenge to put all my skills to the test but also the first time not having a big name behind you or a large cheque book to open up doors. Working across Sydney, Los Angeles, New York and London wasn’t too bad either.
What words of wisdom would you have shared with your 27 year old self back then knowing what you do now?
Our industry has an addictive pace and is highly competitive which has the ability to make you mature and grow up quickly. As an industry, we need to recognise this and ensure we have the right frameworks in place, so as not to impact our best talent negatively.
My first piece of advice would be to let yourself be more open and don’t be afraid to show emotion (I definitely didn’t do this then but I’m now trying to do this daily).
I’m encouraged by the new generation of leaders who are applying the concepts and practices of mindfulness which is being in the present moment without judging yourself or others, because it’s so important. I’m definitely learning more from these individuals, about how I need to evolve on a personal level.
For all of the new leaders, get behind your staff and make them feel they can bring all of themselves to work. Create a space or an environment which unleashes everything about them because you will end up creating something pretty special.
Don’t try and do too many things at once. Make sure to stop, get outside and exercise but, most importantly, have as much fun as possible along the way.
Take your time, enjoy the moment and always be authentic to yourself. Fail badly, learn fast and just keep getting better for everyone around you.
Lastly, don’t push anything onto a client unless it’s truly best in class.
What are you most proud of?
My evolution professionally and personally over time. You always have the opportunity to stop, adjust and create something new.
Professionally, I’ve been given some amazing opportunities in my career and I’ve never (hopefully) taken it for granted.
Anyone I talk to, I always encourage them to try something different and never stand still. My career spanned global media agencies to Australia’s largest corporate business to running independent businesses which helped me approach every conversation from a different perspective.
Being involved with an independent business is addictive. You can see the impact immediately and you learn skills which can transfer across any industry or field.
I’m proud to be involved with such an amazing business, Bastion Collective, but also involved with the Art Gallery of NSW young benefactors board and a couple of other industry boards.
Starting and running an independent business is tough, hard work but also super rewarding. Joining the Bastion team, it’s amazing what Ferg & Jack Watts have built in such a short period of time and we’re still a long way away from realising our full potential.
I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to join the team. The boys have nailed the tight-knit feel, even with 200 employees.
What do you see as the biggest challenges that face young people in advertising, marketing and media these days?
Industry churn continues to be an issue and with the continual pressure to perform, this will only continue to challenge agency leaders.
Katie Rigg-Smith wrote a great article recently in response to mental well-being in our industry. It’s a real issue and we need to continue to drive this agenda, so more people speak up and have the confidence to chat to their colleagues.
We need to understand who the individual is outside of work and encourage them to slow down and look after their mental well-being. This takes strong self-discipline, but is vital to the longevity of a career in this space.
Like most of the other candidates, I worked crazy long hours, sometimes felt burnt out and spent very little time talking about how I felt. I hope more people in the industry talk about these issues authentically instead of using it as tool for conversation.
I was part of the system and I want to make sure I invest my time on helping new leaders to not make some of the same mistakes.
On the flipside, it’s probably one of the most exciting and challenging times in our industry. Previous agency models are being challenged, traditional measurement or forms of buying are evolving and clients are much more open to taking a risk on something new. Take advantage of the opportunity and back yourself.
What can the industry do better to attract and retain young talent?
Get involved in everything. Try different things and don’t stand still!
Sometimes, we tend to forget how amazing this industry is across the board. You have access to areas or events most people would do anything to be a part of.
We need to step outside of the current mould and try and focus on how pioneering this industry can be.
Learn and adapt. There’s so many exciting opportunities these days, take advantage of them. Everything is much less one dimensional these days and you have incredible opportunities. Step forward and help shape the next group of leaders.
Entries for B&T‘s 30 Under 30 Awards for 2019 are now open. For all the details, click here. Tickets are also available for B&T Bootcamp, a day of speed mentoring and masterclasses aimed at up and comers in the industry.