What makes a creative partnership work?

Bruce Matchett and Andy GreenawayWhat’s the secret to a creative partnership that lasts? Andy Greenaway and Bruce Matchett, creative directors at Sapient Nitro, have known each other for almost 30 years. The duo nicknamed the “grumpy old men” talk about the secret to longevity in a creative team.

Greenaway (pictured, right) and Matchett first met at one of Neil French’s regional creative meetings when they were both working at Ogilvy & Mather (Greenaway in Singapore, Matchett in New Zealand). They struck up a friendship straight away. In 2009, Greenaway asked Matchett to join him at Saatchi & Saatchi as ECD for Singapore and Malaysia. They worked there together for three years. The old team was reunited in February at SapientNitro two months ago when Greenaway, who is APAC chief creative officer, appointed Matchett, who’d left Saatchi’s at the end of 2013, as regional creative director. In this interview, the duo talk about what makes a strong creative partnership, and how to hold it together.

Tell us about your first creative partnership.

Matchett: My first was an odd one. I had just turned up for an interview at a big UK agency. The CD quite liked me. He asked me to hang around and have lunch with a writer he was also interviewing. He thought we would make a good team. I met the guy in a pub. He was English. After ordering a Quiche and an orange juice, he sat down and crossed his legs. Being Scottish, I’d never had a drink with a bloke who crossed his legs before. He wrote poetry and was a vegetarian. I was a heavy drinker then, not very well read and Scottish through and through.

On paper it was a disaster.

But our differences propelled us into surprising creative solutions. We each brought different experiences to the table. We didn’t socialize together at all, but when we worked together, magic happened time and time again. We trusted each other and found our collective strengths. Eventually he became my best friend and best man at my wedding. He still crosses his legs, poor sod.

Greenaway: It took me quite a while to find a lasting creative partnership. In my first job at O&M Direct, I was used as the ‘fixer’ to sort out difficult people in the creative department. I remember being paired with an old bloke called Philip. He was old school and would write envelope headlines which were 45 words long. He didn’t believe in partnerships and would leave the copy on my desk to subserviently artwork up the way he’d written it. Being a young upstart, I would proceed to rip up his copy and write my own. He didn’t last long. Frustration got the better of him and he handed in his resignation. After he left, I was put onto the next one and the next one and the next, until there was no deadwood left.

So what about a partnership that worked?

Greenaway: I’ve had a fair few of them. My first one was with a lady called Randy (I say lady, because she was twice my age). We clicked immediately. We enjoyed working together, enjoyed each other’s company and, like Bruce and his crossed legged writer, have been friends ever since.

And what about the Andy and Bruce partnership?

Greenaway: It’s been a blast. Which is why we keep on working together.

Matchett: Laughter, said Victor Borge, is the shortest distance between two people. Andy and I laugh all day long, we make it look like fun. Others want to join in.

Greenaway: We give each other a lot of banter. Which is half the fun. Some people have called us “The Grumpy Old Men,” and we play up to that because we know it entertains people – and makes the working environment enjoyable for them, too.

What about the work?

Matchett: We have 85 years of industry experience between us. So we’re fast. And we still have the passion to seek out the big idea. The world has changed a lot, but it’s still about that big cuddly idea in the middle.

Greenaway: We never hang onto ideas too firmly. We let them writhe, transform and change, hopefully for the better.

Matchett: And we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We tend to lunch together with a pad but it doesn’t feel like we’re working. It’s just fun solving problems together. Yes we slag each other off, we duel and tease, but that’s where the gems lie.

Does your partnership ever fail to produce an idea?

Greenaway: When you’ve been around the blocks as often as we have, you don’t panic. We know we will always get something. People around us don’t panic either, because they see that we are calm and having fun. It’s always very spontaneous between the two of us.

Matchett: Funnily enough, we come at problems in different ways. Which is good, because if we thought the same, it would be easy for us to hit a brick wall. Sometimes I get a kernel of an idea and Andy will jump on it and help flush it out. And sometimes Andy gets a thought and I’ll jump on it and help flush it out. And sometimes, very rarely, we’ll both stumble across the same territory.

Can you give us an example of a campaign you created together?

Greenaway. One is ‘Germ stamp’ for Safeguard that we created while at Saatchi & Saatchi.

What would life be like without a creative partner?

GreenawayWe’re both creative directors. And we’ve been doing it for a long time. So it’s easy to partner with anyone, really. In fact, the new partnership is more than just two people. It’s now six or eight or ten.

Matchett: The skillsets you require to make a campaign come to life is far more diverse than in the old days. Our teams are now made up of UX people, IAs, eesigners, writers, journalists, technologists and art directors.

Greenaway:  And some old buggers like us thrown in the mix, of course. We bring wisdom and a brand lens to the work, I suppose.

So, what’s the key to a lasting creative partnership?

Matchett: Fun.When that goes, it’s time for the partnership to go, too.

Greenaway: There you go again. Stealing my lines.


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