Interviews

Matt Waller, Creative Director, Recipe

"Creativity does have the power to change perceptions, to aid protest as well as selling washing powder."

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor, BITE

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Matt Waller - Recipe

Career to date:

2016, Creative Director, Recipe
2013, Executive Creative Director, BMB
2010, Creative Director, Grey London
1999, Creative Director, BBH London

Creativebrief: Could you just outline your career to date, focusing on particular highlights and how you ended up at Recipe?

Matt Waller: Back in ’99 I started on placement at BBH which me and my partner turned down because we were going to go on holiday and we’d never heard of them! Then we phoned them back up and went, maybe we should come. Three months later we got hired, but lost a holiday. It still hurts. At the time they were pitching for Johnnie Walker. They pitched with our idea and Johnnie Walker Keep Walking. Coming second to that was not too bad! We stayed there 11 years. A lot of people said why were you there for so long? And it was different agencies during that time. It got really huge and then went more global and then we became Creative Directors, so our job changed. It didn’t feel like the same place. They decorated once or twice.

Then we decided, either we were going to be lifers or move. We went to Grey at that point and met Nils [Leonard – former chairman and chief creative officer at Grey London]. He’d been on a really good pitch run and we were looking for something completely different. It was a really crazy fun time. Lots going on and no one really knowing if it was going to work. I spent three years at Grey before joining BMB and that was my first job as ECD with Trevor [Beattie – founding partner, chairman and creative director at BMB]. Then the opportunity came at Recipe, a half agency, half production hybrid that to me, seemed like the agency for the future. 

Creativebrief: In your role at Recipe what’s your primary focus?

Matt Waller: We operate a relatively flat structure, so the first thing was I’m not going to be a ‘typical’ ECD. My role is to be responsible for all creative output regardless of shape or size and also to create an atmosphere where other people can be as good as they can be. Really good agencies manage to make everyone in it better. It’s a constant and never ending puzzle. Just when you think you’ve cracked it, you turn it over and realise the other side needs some attention. 

“All too often projects don't fit into agency processes and everything suffers. So, it's to everyone's advantage, especially creative, to be geared up ready to tackle any business problem with an adaptable streamlined process."

Creativebrief: What do you think’s unique about Recipe? What drew you to move in the first place?

Matt Waller: I heard about Recipe through a friend, which is always best. What I immediately felt was the way they approached things from a production company point of view. They had speed and a can-do attitude. Agencies are trying to get rid of the baggage of being slow, outsourcing and keeping the client at arms length. Whereas here they were coming from the other direction and didn’t really know the ‘rules’, and often actually leap-frogged the problem.

Creativebrief: In the last year, what do you think’s been your agency’s best work?

Matt Waller: If I had to name one, I’d probably say Coca-Cola Icon. It’s a great example of how tackling a problem in a different way can deliver great results. It all started from the sugar tax and the question of how Coke should react came up. After a series of workshops with the minimum but key people both from Recipe and Coke, we came to a strategy and explored some creative possibilities. This can often take weeks of back and forth. And then we went away and had time to craft the final idea. When you genuinely break down the wall of agency and client, the process can feel effortless. The strategy that we ended on was, the great and original don’t change. So, there was Elvis and Marilyn Monroe that appeared everywhere. The whole process happened over a couple of weeks. From zero to end solution. All too often projects don’t fit into agency processes and everything suffers. So, it’s to everyone’s advantage, especially creative, to be geared up and ready to tackle any business problem with an adaptable streamlined process.

Coca-Cola - Recipe
Coca-Cola, 'Icon' by Recipe

Creativebrief: What about industry wide, what work or agency have you seen that you’ve been really inspired by?

Matt Waller: Everyone’s going to say it, but Nothing Beats a Londoner. Genuinely that’s the one that everyone not in the industry talks about. It made the adidas ad that came out a few months later feel decidedly old-fashioned. I think there will be a lot of people trying to copy the style. That’s the difference between good and really brilliant pieces of work. And from huge budget to no budget I imagine. The Three Billboards for Grenfell from BBH was really good. All too often we work in a cultural vacuum. We operate in our own little world of feuding brands and ignore what’s happening good and bad in the world around us. Creativity does have the power to change perceptions, to aid protest as well as selling washing powder.

Creativebrief: Outside of the UK, is there any work or agency you’ve seen that’s inspired you?

Matt Waller: I don’t think there’s an agency, but I think Kickstarter has changed so much. Everyone’s got a pipe dream and Kickstarter, and many like it, have given them that creative platform. Suddenly you don’t need to know somebody in the City to invest in your idea. For any creative person that’s great. You look at Cannes and a lot of those campaigns or ideas are Kickstarter-esq. It’s had a positive influence on our industry and I think it’s given us a kick up the arse. These people who aren’t paid to do it, but driven by the passion of an idea. The breadth and scope is wonderful. Sometimes it’s the sheer ambition that is enough to inspire.

“All too often we work in a cultural vacuum. We operate in our own little world of fueding brands and ignore what's happening good and bad in the world around us. Creativity does have the power to change perceptions, to aid protest as well as selling washing powder."

Creativebrief: I guess that’s part of the evolution of the industry. How do you think that’s going to progress over the next few years? Do you think it will move more to your idea of micro full service?

Matt Waller: That’s our guess and there are lots of positives to that. But the one thing we’re trying to build in is flexibility. Because if you look at clients, they all require slightly different things. And they’re changing all the time, so any agency with a fixed way of working is going to be in trouble. We’re trying to build flexibility and elasticity into the way we work.

Creativebrief: So, your ambitions for Recipe are to maintain that flexibility?

Matt Waller: To create the best, most effective work. Luckily, it’s not a new concept for Recipe. As they started as a production company the flexibility is baked in. What’s the best way to bring the idea to life? It’s what makes us different to begin with. That’s why the bigger agencies are slightly creaking because they’re based on making the process as smooth and as quick as possible to make the most money. But then clients’ needs and options have expanded. One approach is never enough.

Justice for Grenfell - BBH
Justice for Grenfell, '3 Bilboards' by BBH London

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

Matt Waller: Films and TV series. I should probably say art and books, but no it’s TV. Every problem or question you have in life is answered in some film or show. If you want to know about family relationships, look at Guardians of the Galaxy. The Incredibles 2, that’s all about dads staying at home. What they’re talking about is you need superpowers to stay at home and look after the family, something mums have known forever. Films always inspire and if you want to know how to do anything, there’ll be a film about it. There’s now AI that is reading scripts and predicting the IMDb scores accurately to a few percentage points. A lot of people go oh my god that’s scary, but I think that will actually empower the creative. Anybody can write a film script and the AI can read every script. You don’t have to know somebody in Hollywood.

Topic of the moment

Customers want to know more about the social, economic and environmental impact of brands. Is that something that you think is important and then how do you find that within the brands that you work with? Is that a conversation you find you’re having with clients? How do you evaluate each of these in the brands you choose to work with?

Blue Planet came out and it’s amazing how much that has tipped the balance. It’s now top of many agendas. For us it really doesn’t matter where our clients are on that journey, we’ll try and help them navigate those waters, scooping out plastic as they go. We know that audiences across the board, unsurprisingly, value transparency and honesty. This was put to the test when we started working with BrightHouse, a weekly payment store who have been targeted by The Sun as the poster child for evil loans. You would have thought that transparency and honesty would be the last thing that they would want, but they jumped at it, creating a 60-second commercial. We needed longer to fully explain the process, one where you make the small print big print. We didn’t hide anything. Complete transparency. Stop selling and start talking, adult to adult. BrightHouse made the brave decision to spend more on the length of the ad to fully explain everything and have been rewarded by amazing results.