CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/MATT EASTWOOD - Likeable Aussie with confidence in M&C Saatchi

Matt Eastwood is unfazed by his latest M&C creative challenge, John Tylee says.

The tug-of-war for Matt Eastwood's services ended with a magnum of Champagne and a note of good wishes being delivered to him at the M&C Saatchi London office.

"I feel I've lost a creative director but gained a mate," Garry Lace, who had hoped to entice Eastwood away from Golden Square to help shake up Grey Worldwide London, wrote.

That Grey's chief executive should have shown such generosity after his abortive pursuit of the man newly named as M&C Saatchi's creative director is testimony to Eastwood's highly personable character. It's also an indication of the prize the Australian has become.

Having spent less than a year working quietly in the agency's creative department and adjusting to its ways, he's just been put in day-to-day charge of it. Suddenly, he's lost his anonymity.

But he's no overnight success. On the contrary, it seems that Eastwood's career so far, including a period in creative control of M&C Saatchi's New York office, has been a preparation for the job he's just taken on.

At 35, he's been identified as one of the industry's unicorns - a young proven talent capable of managing and motivating a large creative department.

Small wonder that Lace, Grey's recently installed chief executive, was prepared to dig deep into his agency's coffers to get him. "Matt will be one of the leading lights of UK creativity within five years," he predicts.

No surprise either that M&C Saatchi should have groomed him to take creative control in London - despite the inevitable increase in the salary bill and the agency's rather top-heavy management.

It was almost two years ago that Eastwood was first sounded out about the London job. The occasion was an M&C Saatchi group board meeting in Sydney. Simon Dicketts, the creative chief of the London agency, had indicated his wish to take a less hands-on role in the department and Nick Hurrell, the joint chief executive, noted Eastwood's success as the creative director of the Melbourne office.

Eastwood, the son of a law firm's chief executive, had already established an award-winning creative reputation at agencies in his home city of Perth.

Stints at DDB and Saatchi & Saatchi in Sydney enhanced it.

And by the time he was hired by M&C Saatchi to put together a creative department for its Melbourne start-up, he was being bracketed with the best of Australia's new generation of creative directors. Hurrell particularly liked the way Eastwood's work personified the best of Australian creativity in which the absence of huge production budgets allowed good ideas to flourish.

Eastwood's likeability stems from his collaborative way of working and his rejection of the notion that creative directors have to be bastards to gain respect. "I don't get angry and yell at people," he says. "I've seen creative directors who do that and I've never wanted to be like them."

Dave Droga, Saatchi & Saatchi's Australian-born creative director, with whom comparisons are bound to be drawn, knows Eastwood. He says: "Matt is neither political nor full of himself. He's focused but always happy and upbeat."

The competition for Eastwood is a symptom of the difficulties faced by agencies such as Grey and Ogilvy & Mather as they seek out a creative chief for the next generation. The result may be more recruitment from abroad, particularly Australia, where the laid-back, open and honest approach to people and business is seen as especially appealing to some UK shops.

Some blame the industry itself for the paucity of wannabe creative directors.

Not only does it fail to train them but it dissuades young creatives from taking more senior roles by paying them too much too early in their careers, the critics say.

To make matters worse, increasing numbers of potential departmental heads are being lost to the production business as they fulfil their ambitions not just to create commercials but direct them.

"Creatives just don't seem to want the responsibility any more and it's incredibly short-sighted," Chris O'Shea, the chairman of the IPA Creative Directors Forum, complains.

Gerry Moira, the Publicis executive creative director, is not surprised there are so few young contenders. "Creative directors need to be good presenters and strategists as well as command the respect of their people," he points out. "And creativity doesn't always go hand in hand with management skills."

At M&C Saatchi, Eastwood has some delicate management issues to confront.

Not least in establishing a new working relationship with Tiger Savage, the head of art, who had been considered Dicketts' most likely successor.

Savage would certainly have enjoyed the status of the job, but at the moment she retains a diplomatic silence. "Tiger is above all this," a friend says.

Eastwood's first action has been to dismantle the department's group structure. "I want to get everybody singing off the same song sheet," he says.

Togetherness is important to him. He regards M&C Saatchi as "family", professes fierce loyalty to it and talks of spending the rest of his career there.

"I think we can be one of the best creative agencies in London," he declares.

"But we need more of the sort of business which allows us to do amazing work. Something like Dave Droga's Club 18-30."

It sounds like a substantial challenge, but Eastwood will take it in his stride. "I don't get overwhelmed looking after people or intimidated when dealing with clients. I think it's an Australian thing."

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