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Playing the long game and #GettingToKnow Great State’s Matt Powell

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Matt Powell was recently hired as Creative Director at Great State, where he joins a multi-disciplinary team redesigning the Royal Navy’s website, plus significant projects for Honda, Orange and Bristol Airport.

Starting his career at Profero, one of the UK’s foremost independent digital agencies of the noughties, Matt progressed from designer to Creative Director working on brands including Apple, M&S, Mini, Smirnoff, Nike, Channel 4 and Johnson & Johnson.

He worked on ground-breaking, government initiatives such as Change4Life and Talk to Frank. Here he won more than 30 major awards including two Revolution Grand Prix awards alongside a Silver & Gold at the Cannes Cyberlions.

Moving to Jaywing in 2011, Matt continued as Digital Creative Director, overseeing PepsiCo clients including Doritos and 7up, Walkers, Britvic, CityFibre, Crayola, Randstad and the Open University.

 At Jaywing, Matt delivered one of the first-ever native paid-media campaigns on Instagram in the UK and reimagined the end-to-end digital customer experience of subscribing to premium car manufacturer, Infiniti.

To learn more about what he plans on bringing to the table at Great State, we sat down with Matt and got to know him a little better.

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Tell us a bit about your role! Is there a “typical” day?

I’ve always loved being a Creative Director and it’s no different at Great State. I divide my time equally between being in our central Bristol office and a 7x7 ft summer house, although it’s mid-October and starting to get chilly. There’s some predictability to the week but never to the work, which ranges from content creation to creating mobile-first design systems for sites.

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?

I’m an introvert, so getting to know 80 or so Great Staters was exhausting when I started. I also think it takes about 6 months to really get to know a brand or organisation, so it’s been a steep learning curve getting to know the Royal Navy, Honda and Orange (to name just a few) in order to let the ideas flow.

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

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I’m not sure I could even write a paragraph on my background, it’s not terribly exciting. I’ll say this though - having a 17 year old daughter is fantastic – she is my secret weapon when I’m trying to find ways to engage Gen Z. Just seeing the way she consumes media is fundamentally different, and she doesn’t pull any punches when reviewing my ideas!

What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?

I guess the thing that felt like the biggest win was being invited to be a Cyberlions judge at Cannes a few years ago. Being given the time to debate the difference between good and great digital work taught me lessons that will stick with me for the rest of my career. I remember standing on the balcony of the Palais de Festival and thinking ‘It doesn’t get any better than this’.

I’m not sure about the biggest loss. Everything happens for a reason doesn’t it? Things that feel like a loss (and when I say loss I mean complete creative heartbreak) one day can turn out to be for the best in the long run. You have to play the long game.

Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

I have so many heroes I’ve lost count, but I don’t worship big name industry titans. I’m talking about the people I’ve worked with at the coal face – the project manager who makes an idea feasible in the budget, the account director who you stood shoulder to shoulder with in a tough meeting, the designer who put in that extra time to craft an interface, the planner who made the complex simple.

It sounds like a cliché but they really are my heroes. That reminds me, I must take a day off and just write 100 LinkedIn recommendations going back years.

If you could go back to your teenage years, would you have done things differently? Do you have any regrets?

If you presented me with a time machine to go back to my teenage years, my only question would be to ask whether we can change the coordinates and visit the future instead!

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

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I like to think I’d be a slightly eccentric tour guide, taking visitors through some ancient ruins. I have a knack for bringing things vividly to life in people’s minds.

What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?

Over the last few years, digital has gone from being a hotbed of innovation and experimentation to one of optimisation and best practice. My one big dream is to blend both. Of course, products and experiences should be useful and intuitive, but also have some brand personality that goes above and beyond, the sort of interactivity that surprises and delights so you’re still thinking about it the next day.

What are your top tips for aspiring creative professionals?

I would tell them to please keep changing the industry for the better. Make it more inclusive, more sustainable, more compatible with having a work life balance. I put myself through the mill in the early years, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Secondly, through the work you do, try to fix problems like doom-scrolling and the portrayal of unattainable lifestyles. You have the power.

What are your top tips for other creative leaders?

Keep learning, but also keep unlearning how to do things. The game keeps changing and so must you. It’s easy to be a cynic of emerging tech and platforms, but sometimes they come good.

When you think about your team, what is the thing that matters to you the most?

That they understand that it’s not just what you do, but why you do it. Listen, look at the big picture, ask questions, collaborate. The process is as important as the product and I think our clients appreciate it when we take care to challenge conventions instead of just cranking the handle.

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

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I subscribe to Skillshare, which is great to keep you in the know. I watch little episodes when I’m doing the ironing or on the exercise bike! I’m also part of an Whatsapp group of digital creative directors from around the world – it’s full of great advice, links and wisdom and completely uncompetitive.

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