afaqs!

Profile: Matt Seddon: The itinerant ad man

By Shibani Gharat , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | December 21, 2011
Matt Seddon, the newly-appointed CEO at Saatchi & Saatchi, although a British, has spent a considerable amount of time in Asia. afaqs! tracks Seddon's journey from the UK to Singapore, via Vietnam and the Philippines, and finally to India.

Born in the UK, Matt Seddon had to move to Singapore with his father when he was five years old. Since his childhood he understood what it meant to live in a different culture. He went back home to complete his education and took up his first job at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (DMBEB) in London, as a trainee account executive. That was in 1987. He had no formal education in advertising, apart from having taken a few courses at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) in London, during his tenure at DMBEB.

In 1992, Seddon moved to Y&R Hong Kong. "I think having grown up in Asia, there was always a yearning to get back out East," says he. He met his wife on his very first day at Y&R Hong Kong.

Seddon, who was a director of international accounts at Y&R, and while there, handled clients such as Holiday Inn, Lufthansa, Camel Brandy, and AT&T. The job demanded extensive travelling, and he loved every minute of it. "I had a fantastic chance to get to know the region and know more about Asian culture."

Y&R Hong Kong was followed by his tryst with Saatchi & Saatchi in 1994-95. He was originally posted at Saatchi Singapore, but had to focus extensively on the Vietnamese market. "There were two big accounts there -- P&G and Tiger Beer. I moved in and out of Vietnam. But, very soon, it became apparent that I will be based there full-time," he adds.

In 1995, he moved to Hanoi and later opened an office in Ho Chi Minh City. Over the course of five years, the branch had expanded enough to have a workforce of 45 people. "We were the first international agency to form a joint venture with a local public relations firm, the first international agency to win an international award for our work in Vietnam," says Seddon. The agency had won a CLIO for a Head & Shoulders print ad. Seddon says he is grateful to Saatchi & Saatchi for having faith in him and giving him the opportunity to start something from scratch. The Ho Chi Minh City branch was merely a satellite, the license resided with the Singapore entity.

After five years in Vietnam, Seddon, now a GM (general manager), was asked to shift base to Kuala Lumpur. The Kuala Lumpur office hadn't yet recovered from the 1997 financial crisis. His task was to rebuild the agency's business almost from scratch. After five years, when his mentor Patrick Pitcher joined JWT in Manila, Seddon, too, went along. The added advantage was that his wife was from the Philippines.

In 2007, the Manila branch was the most awarded JWT office at Cannes, with one gold and two silver Lions.

Seddon then shifted from JWT to Saatchi & Saatchi Manila in 2008. "I love the Saatchi atmosphere," says Seddon.

He feels that his India sojourn would be his biggest challenge till date. But, he also believes that there are plenty of things in common between the regions. "Advertising is a relatively easy thing to do. There are category generic ads -- be it FMCG, telecom, or kitchenware. The challenge is to get people who are determined and passionate enough to do something different."

His initial mandate at Saatchi & Saatchi will be to bring in people who are bold, passionate and capable of thinking outside the box. "My job is to transmit the Saatchi vision and culture to such passionate people."

For Seddon, it is as important to increase bottomlines in India, as it is to improve the quality of work. "Saatchi & Saatchi needs a strong India. I also want the agency to look at developing a strong digital business by nature, and not just by design," concludes Seddon.

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