News Analysis

By The Drum, Administrator

September 29, 2006 | 5 min read

\"You’ll have to forgive the noise in the background,\" Robert Harwood-Matthews tells Adline, \"I’m down at the London office today and my former team is playing Pro Evolution Soccer in the next room.\"

Right from the start, it’s plain that BDH\\TBWA’s new chief executive is no stuffy old businessman.

Harwood-Matthews, 35, is currently four days into his new job, having spent the past five years heading up the Sony PlayStation team at TBWA\\London. As client services director his remit at the agency included, as well as PlayStation, the Nissan account. These two names were just the latest in a long line of international brands that Harwood-Matthews has worked on since his first industry job in the media department of London’s Young & Rubicam.

Graduating from Bristol University, where he studied (a little bizarrely) archaeology, Harwood-Matthews joined the Y&R media team before moving on to JWT, where his portfolio of clients included Unilever and Esso.

After JWT, Harwood-Matthews enjoyed a stint at bookie chain Ladbrokes, before moving back to the agency world and joining Publicis, where he worked on both Coca-Cola and Diageo-owned beer brand, Kilkenny.

It wasn’t long before JWT lured him back, however.

\"JWT got on the phone and said ‘do you want to come back? We’ve got a great job for you and do you want to come back to the fold?’ It was a no-brainer because they gave me the Royal Air Force account,\" he remembers.

\"I got the privilege of working with the COI who were and are experts in working out how to talk to hard-to-reach audiences. We’re not talking about housewives here; this was young people that were disenfranchised with traditional media.\"

JWT promoted Harwood-Matthews to the board at age 29, an impressive feat, but perhaps not so surprising given that he had, by then, a track record working with names such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, the COI and Nestle.

It wasn’t all good, though.

\"I had the slightly unfortunate job title of DIC,\" he chuckles. \"Which stood for ‘director in charge’.\"

Looking for a new challenge (and possibly to escape his job title), Harwood-Matthews soon set sail for TBWA, where, as client services director, he would head a team of 55.

\"The reason I was attracted to TBWA was their utter passion for creativity,\" he says. \"In London you could feel it. What Trevor [Beattie, the agency’s former chairman] was doing was creating outstanding work that was built around the product. There’s only a handful of agencies like that in the world. When I got the chance I had to take it, it was just fantastic.\"

Now, four days into his new role as chief executive of BDH\\TBWA, Harwood-Matthews is excited about the challenge ahead of him. He comments: \"I arrived in Manchester and had the most fantastic welcome from both the agency and the group up there. I’ve been very impressed with the level of creativity in BDH. Coming from PlayStation up to Manchester you might think you’d be doing a lot of retail work but no. The strength of ideas and the level of polish on the executions is really impressive. We’ve got a great reel.\"

And the agency’s new chief executive already has some goals for the future. \"It’s very important to me to nurture the youngsters, the very bright, aggressive young people in the agency, which is something I’ve always been passionate about,\" he says. \"And I want to make BDH really famous. The agency hasn’t been shouting loud enough recently. We should be holding conversations about what’s going on in the agency and what’s going on in the industry and that’s what I intend to do.\"

Enthusiastic about Manchester, Harwood-Matthews seems to have no trouble with basing himself outside of the capital, citing US agency Crispin Porter as an inspiration for BDH. The Miami-based agency has built an international business far from the US advertising hub of New York. Harwood-Matthews remarks: \"BDH does have a strong reputation in London, but most London agencies are more concerned about the rivals around the corner, which is naive. Looking to what Crispin Porter have done in the US, if they can do it in Miami and not New York then we can do it in Manchester and not London.\"

Harwood-Matthews joins BDH at a time when the agency has suffered some negative headlines. Former chief executive Neil Griffiths departed rather quickly and not long after the agency lost the substantial Morrisons account to London-based Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners. Former joint managing director Carol Smith has also recently left the agency. Harwood-Matthews, however, is reluctant to comment about either one, saying: \"I don’t know either Nick or Carol. I’ve really been helped from above and below by the chairman, Martin Kemp, and Nick Brookes, the managing director. I can’t really comment on Nick or Carol because they’d left before I arrived and it’s nothing to do with me.\"

Likewise, the loss of the Morrisons account is something Harwood-Matthews sees as the past. He comments: \"I can’t really comment on that. My job and the reality of coming in as the new chief exec is to be focusing on the future; strong growth and high levels of creativity.\"

He is hesitant to declare his strategy for the agency, but it’s clear that he is relishing the challenge.

\"We’ve got a very good creative product,\" he says. \"A good client base. I’m the luckiest man on the planet and really proud to be leading the North’s finest agency.\"


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