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'We need the culture': 8 questions with Matt Lawler, VP, social strategy, Canvas

Matt Lawler, VP, social strategy, Canvas

Editor’s note: ThinkLA’s DIG (Diversity, Inclusion, Gender) initiative has been created to celebrate and work towards greater diversity in Los Angeles. ThinkLA and The Drum are pleased to highlight African American leaders in the Los Angeles marketing community, their thoughts on the industry and how to build greater momentum for all.

Matt Lawler, VP, social strategy, Canvas

Who was your role model when you were younger?

I had a few, but I think I was most influenced by my dad. He worked in sales for Citibank/Diners Club, working with fancy restaurants to install terminals that take the card. We got a lot of free meals, but I was impressed by his overall knowledge of things. He always seemed to know a lot about a lot of stuff, and that was intriguing to me. He was also always connected to weird sub-worlds that were unexpected to me. He knew NCAA Basketball Coach Steve Lavin, and he had crazy wealthy contacts with the largest houses of all time. Part of me wondered if he was doing something illegal, but I feel like I searched the house really well for it, so I think he was just that charismatic.

What was your first job in advertising?

I got poached from a job client-side to run a team of social media managers/strategists at Initiative. The accounts I started on (Hyundai/Kia) are the accounts I still work on. That was my favorite title (associate director, social) because of the potential for abbreviation.

What is most rewarding aspect about your job? What makes it all worthwhile?

The most fun part of this job for me is creating something that has a tangible impact, either on client business or the general social well-being. We’ve done things that have generated thousands of retweets, and we’ve done things that have generated significantly fewer retweets, but higher volumes of key performance metrics for client business. Succeeding, generally, feels good.

What's the best compliment you've ever given?

I give so many, it’s hard to pick? Our Oracle rep speaks in a very data-laden vernacular. So much so that sometimes I can tell in meetings people get lost really quick. So one day I equated his last name with an ornate data language and implied that everyone at our agency spoke [his last name]. He recounted that story to me as one of the best compliments he’s ever received, so I think I’ll go with that.

What advice do you have for young black people in advertising?

I haven’t given a lot because there aren’t a lot of us. So I guess my first piece of advice would be to recruit more friends! We need the culture. Seriously. That would be my second piece of advice – literally, be yourself. Because you are so unique to the advertising landscape that your thoughts and opinions will likely develop into something new and refreshing for a client. And that’s always valuable. And then, of course, there’s the “work harder than everyone else” thing because it’s still a thing. (Canvas is easily the most diverse agency I’ve seen in my short tenure in advertising.)

How can we support more diversity in advertising?

I don’t think we do enough outreach. At Canvas, we’re working with local community colleges to build programs that cross-train their vastly diverse student population on the various different parts of the advertising ecosystem. I also think it’s important for diverse people to see their values being upheld by the advertising. We have a supply problem and that’s because we have a teaching problem. And we have a teaching problem because we don’t make this kind of work available, en masse, to a diverse population. But I think it goes beyond just community colleges and perceived “underdeveloped communities” because when I was in business school, I didn’t hear anything about the major agencies or holding companies and the very, very lucrative high level positions that exist within advertising. So I don’t think we do a good job of communicating the opportunity to a broad audience.

What's something about yourself that would surprise people?

I cut my own hair. (I fired my barber a long time ago, and I’m much cheaper than the marketplace.)

What should our industry be talking about in 2017?

What we should be talking about is what technology is forcing us to talk about. Transparency, authenticity, value and performance-based measures of evaluation. All of these things are already conversations, but that’s what the public cares about, beyond advertising. If I’m going to get an ad, I want it to be highly relevant, I want it to potentially add value, and, if I choose to, I want to be able to act on it, in the most efficient and effective way possible. Don’t show me garbage, don’t sell me garbage. And that’s me as a consumer. As a worker, we need to be talking about piece of mind and quality of life. We work way too hard. Clients, I think, don’t want us working weekends and after hours because it ruins the output. They’d prefer to have us fresh. So we have to find focus too – focus and priority. I think those things (focus, priority, transparency, value) are all going to be conversations for the foreseeable future.

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