Creative industry Leader Interview - 5 minutes with...

Matt Broekhuizen

Founder, Table19

Matt Broekhuizen - Table19

Career to date:

2008, Founder, Table19
2007, Head of Customer Marketing, BSkyB
2003, Group Account Director, WDMP
1998, Account Director, Black Cat
1996, Account Manager, The Marketing Organisation
1995, Account Executive, Sitel

Creativebrief: As founder of Table19, what’s your primary focus day to day and then on a greater scale?

Matt Broekhuizen: My day to day role is twofold: heading up our client servicing team and leading new business. On a wider scale I focus on making sure the agency stays true to our vision of creating ideas that make a remarkable difference to our client’s business. It’s easy to get distracted with everything changing so fast in the industry but nothing is more important than making a positive difference to our client’s business. There are lots of ways we make that difference, from working with clients like BlackRock to develop customer centric business transformation programmes through to developing highly personalised, contextual and automated CRM campaigns for clients like Sky.

Then it’s about trying to get everyone in the business to think ‘remarkable’, because it’s very easy, especially when you’ve worked with clients for a long time, to mirror how a client works and react. If we just do what they ask us to, we’re not making a remarkable difference. As an agency, all we are is our people; it’s about investing in those people and making sure they understand the vision and their role in helping us achieve it.

Creativebrief: Can you outline your career to date, any particular highlights and what led you to found an agency?

Matt Broekhuizen: My first significant role was within an agency called Black Cat. It was there where I learnt how to be an effective account handler. With account handling, you’re many different things, a salesman, a client servicer, a resourceful co-ordinator. I learnt from some of the very best; most of them had a very entrepreneurial outlook and knew how to get clients to buy great work. The agency grew to roughly 140 people and was then sold to WPP. It was a great place to start but I do think the world was a bit easier back then.

The most important lesson I learnt from those days was to how nurture and cherish every client relationship. It never fails to surprise me when I ask senior suits coming in for interviews how so few of them have remained in contact with previous clients. It’s something that seems to have left the industry. For me, the most important skill that an account handler needs, is to be able to build and maintain great working relationships.

After that I moved to a start-up agency. I was their first permanent employee, and that was where I learnt how to start a business and thrive in a growing business. Over four and a half years, the agency grew from three to over 50 people. It was a great lesson in what to do, and what not to do, to run a successful business.

I then got a job at Sky, which if I’m really honest I didn’t like, but I learnt so much about corporate life. I looked after the customer marketing team. Sky’s a really tough, ambitious place to work and it’s probably the best company I could have joined to understand corporate life and the challenges that clients face on a day to day basis which, as an agency person, you really don’t appreciate.

I didn’t know it at the time but working within these three businesses was a perfect grounding to set up my own business. I had all the contacts from previous relationships and I had a good understanding of how big business worked. I’d be lying if I said there was a grand vision; there wasn’t at that stage. But we must have been doing something right as we were working with Carphone Warehouse, Sky and Blackberry within our first year and then things built up from there.

“For us, no one is effectively sitting in the middle [of the CRM space]. No one is consistently combining tech, data and creativity in a brilliant way. This is what we're trying to do. We're trying to keep it human."

Creativebrief: What do you think is unique about Table19?

Matt Broekhuizen: You’ve either got agencies in the CRM space who are heavily focused on the tech solutions that promise omni-channel experiences and efficiencies that come with automation or you’ve got agencies that are more traditionally focused on developing communication ideas and campaigns. For us, no one is effectively sitting in the middle. No one is consistently combining tech, data and creativity in a brilliant way.

This is what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to keep it human. We’re embracing the tech but people don’t like to know they’re interacting with machines and robots; they like to be talked to as a human being and understood. That is what we’re focused on helping our clients to achieve.

Creativebrief: What do you think has been your agency’s best work in the last year?

Matt Broekhuizen: That question is heavily influenced by the fact that we won the Sainsbury’s CRM account a year ago. We’re helping them move from an effective, but fairly basic CRM operation to a customer centric, highly personalised and intuitive programme.

Probably the most successful thing we did for them last year was a Nectar ‘Collect for Christmas’ project. We asked customers what a good Christmas looked like for them and then we helped them achieve it by encouraging them to collect enough Nectar Points to deliver that Christmas. We had participation rates of over 700,000 customers. Not only did we give them a great Christmas but we also influenced how they shopped for nearly a whole year.

Creativebrief: Industry wide, what work has excited you most this year?

Matt Broekhuizen: What impresses me most is agencies that are challenging their own business model. I especially like examples where agencies are sharing the ownership of IP with their clients. There’s something exciting about agencies investing in their ideas not just to sell on to large corporations. I think that’s where the future of our business will end up. The limitation in the traditional agency model is that you’re limited to the number of hours you can sell which rarely has any relation to the quality of your ideas. By challenging ourselves to think differently, we can open up new opportunities, and be in the enviable position of earning money whilst we sleep.

M&C Saatchi in Australia invented something called a Clever Buoy in conjunction with a mobile network [Optus]. They’ve put buoys in the sea to detect sharks. When there’s a shark coming, a signal goes to the lifeguard’s phone prompting that there is a shark in the area and to get everyone out of the sea. As I understand it, M&C Saatchi own that IP, not the network.

Creativebrief: What work or agency from outside the UK is particularly influential?

Matt Broekhuizen: Australia seems to be a bit of a hot bed, and New Zealand, for that type of thinking. Australia’s massive but they haven’t got half as many people to target; they appear to spend more of their time on the creativity.

What we can’t ignore is the tech that’s coming out of the States; platforms like IBM Watson and Albert. Albert is something we’ve been embracing recently, but it could be a scary concept for some agencies. Albert is an AI platform that manages, plans, buys and refines your CRM campaigns for you. Basically, it does all the things that agencies have been charging clients for years, and it can now be fully automated. You can either embrace it or be really scared of it: we’re trying to embrace it.

“What impresses me most is agencies that are challenging their own business model...examples where agencies are sharing the ownership of IP with their clients. There's something exciting about agencies investing in their ideas, not just to sell on to large corporations."

Creativebrief: How do you see the advertising industry evolving over the next two to five years?

Matt Broekhuizen: As CRM specialists, we should be excited. I have no doubt we are in a better place than most other agency disciplines because we understand the concept of being more personalised, more relevant and more contextual and how we need to embrace technology and media to deliver better experiences. We’re also used to working in a more agile way.

In my experience, the traditional ad agencies are struggling to adapt. They still work in that very linear way. And now that we can use broadcast channels to deliver one-to-one, personalised communications, our world is getting even more exciting.

Creativebrief: Taking it in a slightly different direction, the changing nature of the traditional pitch is something that we talk about a lot at Creativebrief. What are your opinions on it?

Matt Broekhuizen: Pitching is the best and worst part of working in an agency. The excitement of a pitch is energising for everyone. The sometimes unfair nature and the process of being procured by a team of people who don’t know what they are buying can also be demoralising.

Agencies love to moan about pitching but you won’t find us lobbying for clients to make them fairer. We take the view that if you think the pitch is unfair, don’t pitch!

The client world is changing fast too and if they want shorter contracts and less commitments, it’s probably for good reason. My view is that it’s the agencies that need to adapt to meet their customers’ needs, not the other way around.

Sainsbury’s are very good at managing agency pitches and relationships; it’s a relationship of mutual respect. They have a lot of respect for their agencies. Other clients don’t make the same effort. Sainsbury’s have a brilliant ethos; we get together once a quarter to be reviewed. Pitching was a six, seven-month process but we’re hoping it turns into a long-term relationship.

Creativebrief: Personally, who or what are you inspired by outside of the industry?

Matt Broekhuizen: I’ve been surrounded all my life by people who have a can-do attitude, who will not take no for an answer. My dad built his business up from nothing to being one of the major construction contractors in the home counties. My brother’s the same. He has his own business that he started from scratch and now about 50% of mirrors sold online in the UK come from his warehouse. My father-in-law grew up in a shack in India and he’s now one of the most respected doctors in the north of England.

I grew up around people with a real work ethic and now at Table19, I’m surrounded by people who have a similar drive. And that’s what inspires me. Like Paul Kitcatt. He’s built his own agency, he’s been doing it 15 years, he’s sold it to Publicis and he’s still got a passion for ideas now he’s at Table19. That’s really refreshing, especially in our business.

Topic of the moment

How can brands give customers the tools to express their own identity?

Taking you back to that Collect for Christmas idea, it’s built on the premise that you tell Sainsbury’s what you want for Christmas and we’ll help you achieve it.

As long as it’s done with a value exchange and that you’re asking for information for the right reasons, I think it really works. Sainsbury’s are trying to understand more about what makes you tick as a customer. Sky are doing it as well and focused on giving their 11 million customers the best customer experience. There’s loads of learning you can get from customers, which you can then use to help create a much better experience. That’s our job, as an agency; to help improve the experience based on what we know.

About the author

Izzy Ashton, Assistant Editor of BITE, Creativebrief

Izzy is a writer/researcher for BITE, Creativebrief’s daily insight into global marketing trends and the cultural movements driving them. She keeps abreast of the latest communication, technology and consumer news, and is responsible for conducting interviews with key agency strategists and creatives to gain insight into the most innovative global campaigns.