Advertising Week's Scheckner: 'I know how to do showbiz'

Claire Beale meets the man who, in less than four years, captured the hearts of the tight-knit London scene and established Advertising Week Europe as a fixture in the industry calendar.

Scheckner: 'I'm not that good an actor. I have a lot of heart. I really do care'
Scheckner: 'I'm not that good an actor. I have a lot of heart. I really do care'

Had you been driving across Manhattan one early morning in 1992, you might have got an early taste of Matt Scheckner’s capacity for getting things done.

Back then, before he became Mr Advertising, he did some work for a man called Donald Trump. You might also have got an early taste of Trump’s capacity for the ridiculous: he had roped in Scheckner to work on his New York cycle race. It was called the Tour de Trump.

It’s a mark of the man that when the NYPD refused, the night before the race, to cordon off the roads to allow the track to be set up, Scheckner got out of bed at 2am and went out on to the streets to put up bollards. If there’s one thing Scheckner’s not shy of, it’s getting dirty down in the trap room in the name of showbiz.

And Scheckner has been bringing a little showbiz to London this week. Among all the sessions on data-driven marketing, native advertising and programmatic, there’s more than a little stardust at Advertising Week, the event Scheckner launched in New York 13 years ago and which kicked off its fourth year in London on Monday. Famous names on stage this year include Lauren Laverne, Jack Whitehall and All Saints. 

Scheckner admits that, while all the panels on the mechanics of the business are key to the Advertising Week Europe experience, "I gravitate towards the content we have that reaches into the broader arena of popular culture." So you like the celebrities, Matt. Come on, then: who’s the most famous person in your contacts book? "I’ll give you two – one from here, one from the States. Here, Terry Gilliam. In the US, Nile Rodgers. I place a great premium on people who break new ground; there are way too many people in the middle."

In truth, there has been a sparkle of celebrity threading through Scheckner’s career. He’s a producer in his bones; a hundred years ago, he would have been a vaudeville impresario. As it was, he started out organising sports events. "When I was 23, I was made executive director of the Sports Commission for the City of New York," Scheckner explains. "I got the job because Mayor Koch knew less about sports than any grown man or woman you’ve ever met, so it was not a priority. 

"I wrote the winning bid for the ’98 Goodwill Games and spent the summer of ’94 in St Petersburg in a room negotiating with Ted Turner and Boris Yeltsin. That was a great experience for a young man." After that, corralling the advertising industry presumably holds few challenges.

Still, it’s impressive that a man not mired in the ad business should come to London and take a lot of money out of what had seemed like a tight market, and make an awful lot of new friends in the process. "I’ve never worked in the advertising industry but I’m a New York kid who knows how to do stuff; I know how to do showbiz. And I know a little bit about a bunch of things – marketing, PR, inter-governmental affairs, live event production," Scheckner says. "If I was a dog, I wouldn’t be a pure breed that would win the Westminster dog show; I’d be the one that somebody had found and no-one knows what he is; we’d call it a mutt."

This mutt – a foreign one at that – has managed to claim the heart of the incestuous, hard-ball London media industry in an impressively short space of time, winning the sort of affection that it has taken others decades of mutual back-scratching to achieve. You only had to see him in action, setting up table residence in Bafta’s members lounge with a line of courtiers queuing up for an audience with this impresario, to understand how he amassed one of the best contacts books in the industry in an eye-blink. And it was a bunch of hard-nosed London media executives who helped the hustling New Yorker celebrate his 50th birthday by buying him a lordship, so officially he’s now Lord Matthew J Scheckner.

For sure, you’ll rarely meet anyone with his capacity for name-checking a room full of egos. To cynical Brits, this is interpreted as arch-schmoozing rather than genuine warmth, but Scheckner insists: "I tell you 1,000 per cent that none of it is an act. I’m not that good an actor. I have a lot of heart. I really do care and take it all so seriously."

Whether you’re a fan or a cynic, you can’t argue with the speed with which Scheckner has established AWE as a fixture in the industry calendar. He admits: "It was a little bit of naiveté and a little bit of moxie that gave us the confidence to come to London." 

Four years in and the gap is closing on the scale and scope of AWE and the New York edition. Relative to the different size of the markets, Scheckner says AWE is actually larger than its New York parent, with 60 per cent growth since the 2013 launch. "As to profit, we are privately held, but we are not communists," he says.

Scheckner’s sights are now set on Tokyo, where the inaugural Advertising Week Asia launches at the end of next month. Mexico City will follow next year, then maybe Sydney, and he fancies an ad-tech event in Israel. Such rapid expansion smells of a strategy for selling out but Scheckner demurs: "Right now, we’re all having a great time and we’re still as excited as we ever were. And I’m not that old; I’m only 51. I don’t think I’ve got another act in me – I think this is it."


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