New CEO Mat Baxter on adding media literacy to creativity and his vision for Huge
The Drum catches up with Mat Baxter, who moved seats at IPG from Chairman of Initiative to Global CEO of Huge. Here he talks about the need for dynamic creativity and speed and his vision for another level of success by winning a global client for Huge. We also hear that we are resisting the idiotic mistakes of the past and receive an unexpected film recommendation.
The drum: What is your vision
Matte Baxter: The most important thing I want to achieve is to build on the agency’s creative and innovative pedigree. It obviously has very deep roots in experience design, brand identity, brand planning, and brand strategy. It has great technology and innovation capabilities so my really aim is to build on that existing success. The last job I had was a turnaround job, and I stressed to everyone at Huge that this is not a turnaround job. Huge is a great agency. It’s about acceleration and taking Huge to another level of success.
The drum: What are some of the great opportunities now that the world is opening up?
Matte Baxter: The increase in first-party data. The increasing reliance on direct-to-consumer and retail platforms. These are all opportunities for a much more orderly and thoughtful trading product and experience. The data architecture and data management are also an enormous opportunity.
Everyone is on digital and everyone is crying out for attention. Being creative and innovative is still the gateway to that commitment and customer relationship. I don’t want us to focus too much on data and analytics and some of the more functional and technical areas of business. That’s not to say it doesn’t matter, but every time we do something there we have to balance it with a dose of creativity and innovation. Emotion, creativity and innovation are still the absolute powerhouses that move consumers.
The drum: Aside from everyone crying out for attention, what are some of the other challenges?
Matte Baxter: First, it’s a cultural challenge for me. I’ve been a media person all my career. I have a deep appreciation for creativity, but I haven’t been in that culture as much as I am now. For me as Chief Executive, this is a personal challenge to realign my thinking and ensure that I promote the culture we need for the future. I’ve done a lot to run the agency, if that’s the right word, and give them confidence that this is my priority.
The challenge on a business level is the speed at which the marketplace is converging and the speed at which the digital marketplace is moving. Customers are very smart about where to place their advertising. However, customers also demand that they be just as smart with what they put into the commercial. Creative agencies are asked to create dynamic, creative work that changes based on the audience that sees it and where it is placed. This presents the agencies with a whole series of technical challenges in order to combine the programmatic work of the media with the programmatic creative work. That is a great technical and cultural challenge. Manage this convergence [is a priority] Because whether we like it or not, it happens. We have to be in the game to be successful there.
The media and creative minds are not necessarily close bedfellows in such efforts. And one reason I’m so excited to be with Huge is that I am not suggesting starting a media operation, but rather I am suggesting that we get media literate and media friendly because now everything is media.
Think about customers. They talk about Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Instagram – you know, all the big platforms. They just talk about being successful on these platforms. Now guess what, this is a media discussion. Not media-competent creative agencies are left behind [so are] Media agencies that are not creatively trained. I’m looking forward to the future. That is where the market goes. It’s a great opportunity that we’re going to take really seriously. I want to be in this race and win this race. We’ll work pretty hard for that.
The drum: Besides media competence, what else do you bring to this position?
Matte Baxter: Speed is one of the things I bring with me. The media market moves super fast. A little more thought is given creatively. I’m not saying there are no quick turnarounds with creatives, but the media market is moving so fast that you are making media adjustments minute by minute, campaign after campaign, in real time. I look forward to adding some speed to the agency.
This is not recklessness, but a bias to action and a determination and speed with which we can really start and seize opportunities, perhaps much faster than in the past. The most important thing I learned from Initiative is that if you fall asleep at this tax, if you don’t adapt quickly to developments in the market, you will get into trouble. I really want to bring this philosophy to the agency and above all respect the craft. What I won’t do is move so fast that it will damage the ship. The quality of the craft must be protected at all costs, because if we lose that, we will have nothing.
The drum: How do you hire people for the future instead of making the mistakes of the past?
Matte Baxter: Before, you only did the work that was related to your office or market. Nowadays more and more often you do your job wherever it appears on the network. This fluidity of resource management has increased. It would be a disaster to allow this fluidity and dynamic to dissolve and resources to end up dwindling and completely tied to their home office.
The industry has been forced to change its operating model and I hope we will keep the best parts of that operating model and not allow ourselves to go backwards and find ourselves in a situation where we will revert to the old way of working.
If you took Covid away and said you could come to the office if you feel like it, but you could work as fluidly as we did during Covid, that would have revolutionized people’s experiences. We have to protect that and build on it. If we lose that, this industry is idiotic. And I really hope the industry doesn’t go into the stupid thing and do something like that because we certainly won’t. We will continue to embrace and build on what we learned during Covid because it is in our best interests. It will help us produce the best work, and it will help us attract and retain the best talent.
The drum: Who is your dream customer?
Matte Baxter: I want challenger brands. I want brands that are brave, that do creative work, that want to change. We are here to question the markets, the market norms and the way of doing things. We are here to be a disruptive force in the industry. That’s what it’s all about.
We want customers who want to go this way with us. This is usually a challenger brand. Now some of the biggest established market leaders are starting to become challengers and disruptive brands. We see behavior change because they say, “Why are we being left behind? If we don’t move from a leadership mentality to a challenger mindset, we’ll get into trouble. ”I don’t turn my back on such clients, but I want a challenger mentality in these clients. They are the customers we want to work with.
The drum: What are you doing for fun
Matte Baxter: I love my movies. I have a dog that is a search and rescue dog and that’s why I love getting involved. This is part of my pastime, although I haven’t had that much time lately, but of course this is a really important and rewarding experience for me. And I love to read.
The drum: Here is the toughest question of the interview … is there a movie you recommend?
Matte Baxter: All from Christopher Nolan who I’m a pretty big fan of. This is an odd recommendation, but I will recommend My Life. For me, this film tore me a little out of my monotony of thinking and reminded me of how important it is to just go out and live your life. When we are through Covid I think this will be a big and important message. This is my. It’s not particularly glamorous or action-packed, but I think it’s thought-provoking.
The drum: Last question – in a year, what is your dream achievement that you are telling me about?
Matte Baxter: A global account with Huge. I want us to land a scaled global account. It is important for the next stage of the agency’s growth and development. So that would be one. [Number two is] To have an agency happier in 12 months than it is now, and very happy already, so it’s a high bar.
Editor’s note: The length of the interview has been edited.
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