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‘The chief creative officer is the beating heart of the company’ – McCann Health’s Matt Eastwood

Former JWT worldwide creative chief Matt Eastwood who joined McCann Health as global CCO this January, gets candid with Mumbrella's Ravi Balakrishnan on the role of creative heads, making sure highly acclaimed campaigns have a life past the award season and more

What did you make of JWT deciding to do away with the role of chief creative officer after you left?

“I would, of course, say this because I’ve got the job. But I think that the CCO is the beating heart that drives creative through the whole organisation. I worry that JWT will wake up in a couple of years and go ‘where has our creative reputation gone?’, since they have not focused on it.

“I’m a believer in taking action to deliver the result you want. If you don’t have someone leading that, it does not happen by accident. You have to really monitor, love and keep pushing for it. It’s a really important role and the smart organisations understand that.”

How different is being the chief creative officer of a specialist unit from being the creative head of an agency?

“On the surface, it is very similar. The job for me is always setting the north star, creatively. The specialism is interesting and I have, on many occasions over the last few months, felt like the dumbest person in the room.

“But to be honest, I face that with every new client. You jump in, learn, investigate and become an expert so you can sell it to someone else.

“I’m definitely never going to become a doctor but there are enough people around me to give me the knowledge I need. What I am good at is translating that into a meaningful creative solution.”

How did you decide on McCann Healthcare in particular?

“I was looking for the next thing. When (McCann Health) CEO John Cahill first approached me, it seemed like an exciting pivot into something new that I had not dedicated my time to. I had enjoyed working in the health space over the last few years and felt this was an opportunity to pursue work that I was getting more passionate about.

“Talent these days is looking for an opportunity to work in a space where they can make a meaningful difference. Health is all about that.”

Is it harder drawing in talent to a specialist unit?

“Not that it is ever easy to draw talent into the industry, but I think with a specialist unit like ours, it may be easier.

“Everything I know about the millennials and centennials is they are looking for jobs with purpose. That’s the very premise of the healthcare industry. The challenge now is to make sure that the talent knows that and the opportunities that exist.

“Around 85% of millennials dislike advertising but they love great experiences, even if its from brands. My goal has been to get that message out there. I invite creative thinkers across technology or any form of storytelling to come into our industry.

“We will launch a new programme in September this year which is all about giving young creative talent the opportunity to work at an agency; to almost try before they buy.”

At JWT, you were quite serious about awards. You used to set targets for each of the agencies. Have you modified your approach at McCann Health?

“First, you have to set the goal and give people the tools to get there. You have to be very specific about what you want achieved. Part of the reason I’m here (in Singapore) is to talk about that with the agency.

“What’s exciting about healthcare is there are a lot of conventions in the industry. Whether due to naïveté or lack of knowledge, I often come in and say, ‘Why don’t we do this instead?’ A big part is spreading that behaviour and curiosity and how we see the opportunities before us.”

How much latitude do you have? Is the creative agenda at McCann Health part of a broader McCann Worldgroup creative agenda?

“I have all the latitude I need. But part of the reason I took this role is I have been friends for a long time with (McCann Worldgroup creative chief) Rob Reily and admire what he did on a global scale.

“Even sitting back at another agency, looking at what McCann had achieved, I was so incredibly impressed. His theme is ‘our best work on our biggest clients’ and I love that.

“He has been surrounding me with resources but leaving it up to me. His classic saying is ‘hire great people and get out of the way.’

What’s some of the work that you liked from the agency before and after you’ve joined?

“The Cleft Collection for Smile Asia it’s a really lovely example. They hosted an event and created special cutlery cut in way to replicate what it’s like to eat with a cleft palate.

“Of course I loved Immunity Charm. The year it came out, I would name check it is as my favourite idea, whenever asked.

“There’s another project they did out of India called noon assembly which I liked a lot.

“There was #HopeStems: a project that had begun before I arrived but which I remained close to.

“I’m excited about work coming out in the next few weeks on anti-vaping from our New York office. It’s a pervasive problem with youngsters who think ‘I don’t smoke’.”

It’s interesting you mentioned Immunity Charm. Especially in categories like health and wellness, we find that many ideas are often short-lived and you don’t see or hear of them for long past the award season. Why do you believe that happens? For instance, what’s the status with Immunity Charm?

“Interestingly, one of the sponsors was Pfizer and they’ve put money again behind it to help assess its efficiency and make sure it’s working. And to push it into new regions; looking for versions that tap into local culture that can work elsewhere.

“It is funny how things die away after award season, but to me Immunity Charm is an idea that is translatable in a different way across cultures.

“With an idea like that, it is important to stay close to the client and help them with what they need to do next.

“We are currently looking to take ‘The Cleft Collection’ to other countries: Japan, Hong Kong, India and the United States. The beauty of having an idea like that is its very easy to transport and translate.”

What’s your goal for the end of the year?

“A diverse range of work. When I told friends about my job at McCann Health, they’d ask “Do you do those commercials where they come up and say ‘This drug may cause side effects like blah blah blah’?”

“And yes, we do some of that, but we do so much more. We do a lot of work on global health. We are doing a great campaign on dengue vaccination at the moment.

“The pharma industry is waking up to technology in a really big way. Things that had been normalised in mainstream advertising like voice are just moving into healthcare. Amazon only recently announced that it would open the platform for doctors to exchange information with parents. That’s a whole new world for us.”

Finally, how do you rate the chances of Wunderman Thompson?

“There’s a lot of great people there and I certainly wish them huge success. Some of my closest colleagues are still there – very talented people. No doubt, as they go through the transition, it is a confusing, difficult time. But coming out on the other side, the talent will continue to do well and I hope they do well.”

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