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Meet the former Shifter coming up with creative concepts for brands at a top agency

Matt Jones on his journey from pursuing an acting career to becoming a Senior Creative for global advertising agency VMLY&R

Launch of Wendy's in the UK by Matt Jones for Wendy's

D&AD Meets is a regular series where we elevate the work of need-to-know creatives who have been through D&AD programmes Shift and New Blood. Each interview features new talent deserving of a spotlight, the ones to watch, and the ones to work with. Here, we speak to 26-year-old Matt Jones who graduated from Shift in 2018, and has since worked at Droga5, BBC and VMLY&R. Jones tells us about his journey from aspiring actor to award-winning creative and the lessons he’s learnt along the way about not trying to fit in and collaborating effectively with clients. 

What does your work as a Senior Creative at VMLY&R involve?

My job is to conceptualise ideas for brands to help promote, raise awareness and drive sales of their product or service. I do this across many clients and industries, from retail to pharma, to burgers, to potato chips. These ideas are executed across a variety of media, whether it’s TV, a billboard, radio, social media, or an innovation within a client's e-commerce function or customer service platform ⁠— whatever helps the customer. 

Tell us about your route into the industry?

I left school at 17 to pursue an acting career. When auditioning for commercials I always thought that the world of commercials and production looked interesting, I found director’s treatments very inspiring, and I thought the directors wrote the ads. I had no idea there was a billion-dollar agency ecosystem behind the work. 

At 20, I met (my current) girlfriend, during the summer. I was terrified I was going to lose her when she returned to university for her final year that September. So I blagged my way onto an advertising degree course at the University of the Arts London and moved to London to be with my girlfriend. 

I dropped out after 3 months, picking up work as a Production Assistant at a production company run by the Delaney brothers. While I was there, applications for D&AD Shift opened up, and I was accepted onto the programme, during which I won a competitive pitch, landing placements at AKQA and Nike.

Barclaycard 'Travel Smart' by Matt Jones for Barclays

What has been the biggest challenge that you have faced on your career journey?

Finding my voice. I had no place in an advertising agency. I had no degree. No experience. No connections. It’s taken me years to discover my identity as a person and creative, and feel comfortable expressing that identity. The work is so much better for it.

Upon reflection I had it totally backwards, the industry needs more distinctive personalities, diverse backgrounds and provocative perspectives. Agencies can often be cesspits of groupthink, so I’m intensely passionate about giving new talent the space and freedom to express themselves without fear of judgement.

Has anyone helped you on your career journey so far, if so who?

Loads of people. I would be nowhere without Hilary Chittenden, a senior foundation manager at D&AD and creator of Shift. She changed my life by giving me a place on Shift. Hilary & everyone at D&AD have been so good to me, allowing me to give back to Shift. Anna Green, a partner at The Talent Business gave me a lot of guidance and opportunities when things were difficult, I would have likely quit the industry if it wasn’t for her help. 

Laurent Simon, my current boss, took me with him to VMLY&R from BBC Creative and has given me the space and briefs to grow as a person and creative. I wouldn't be where I am today without the trust and opportunities he gave me. Jen Aston and Jaime Mandelbaum at VMLY&R have also been incredible in giving me the chance to spread my wings creatively beyond the British isles, and sit in meetings which I wasn’t invited to but learned so much from. I also have to thank our French CCO, Dimitri Guerassimov, who doesn't just push you to be the best creative you can be, but also the best person. 

Most of all, I have to thank my life and creative partner, Abi Stephenson, for putting up with working with me. She is a force of nature. I feel blessed to do all of this with her by my side.

What has been your favourite project that you have worked on so far?

Without a doubt it’s launching Wendy’s in the UK, mainly for the proximity we had to the client. The closeness really allowed us to get under the skin of the brand, damaging stereotypes of creatives being uncooperative and uncollaborative still permeate parts of the industry, so this highly collaborative way of working was massively enriching and enjoyable. Abi and I conceived the brand platform called, ALL BEEF. NO BULL. which simultaneously educates the consumer on a category failing, whilst also communicating the solution; Wendy’s fresh, hot juicy burgers. It’s the most connected I’ve ever felt with the consumer insight, business strategy and client objectives, there’s no greater feeling.

Snapchat 'Speech to street' Case Study by Matt Jones for Snapchat

You were part of D&AD’s Shift Program, can you tell us a bit about your experience?

Shift is a fantastic solution to the lack of diversity in our industry. It was the best and most intense 3 months of my life. I knew it was the best opportunity of my life to get into the creative industries, it’s basically the best shop window you could ask for. All I did was work, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day for those 3 months, and the sacrifice was so worth it. I made lifelong friends on the programme and it showed me that the way the industry assesses talent is completely disregarding an entire class of people. Give me a hungry Shifter over a polished portfolio school grad any day of the week. They’ll out-work anyone.

Can you tell us three creatives who are doing interesting work? This is your chance to shout out creatives on the rise.

Nate Agbetu. A fellow Shift alumni and friend. Nate is my role model. He founded a social enterprise called Play Nice which builds intersections between communities and does so much for minority groups. His work has enriched thousands of young peoples lives, he recently converted a desolate inner-city space into a haven of nature. He’s showing everyone that you can build new ways of working as a society beyond working just as a business.

Sophia Tassew. Again, a fellow Shifter, Sophia is a fashion and wellness influencer who has built a following speaking about body positivity and mental well-being. The authenticity and openness she brings to her content has meant she’s had a positive impact on the lives of thousands of young people.

Dan Liakh. A fellow VMLY&R creative. He's recently made the transition into directing, creating the campaign for charity Stamma with his creative partner Josh Croston and one of our CD's, Adam Noel, and then directing the commercial. It went onto win a D&AD pencil and he was nominated for a young directors award at Cannes. Incredible stuff.

What advice do you have for someone trying to break into the creative industry?

Live your distinctiveness. It’s so so so difficult not to conform. For a creative bunch we are very homogenous in our beliefs and thinking. Do not bend to the majority. Your portfolio, beliefs, background and ideas do not have to adapt to your surroundings. Your surroundings should adapt to you. 

Get in touch with Matt and check out his work: @mattt_joness_

Meet more rising creative talent including photographers, motion designers, illustrators and visual artists.

D&AD Shift with Google in London is a free, industry-led night school programme for new creatives. If you are over 18 and don't have a degree-level qualification, Shift is for you.

New Blood Awards is open to advertising, design, digital and marketing students, recent graduates and emerging creatives worldwide. It's your opportunity to land a job in the creative industry by getting a head start while you're still at university or gaining the exposure you need to kick start your creative career.

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