Normally, going to work with your parents as a kid is the most boring thing that can happen in life. However, something tells me that Matt Bale's office, MBM (he is the 'B' in the name) is probably rather popular with his children.
At his work off Lambton Quay, above the Old Bank Arcade, he has, what looks like, unlimited Whittakers chocolate available, and not just because someone at work went over the top with the dairy run. Matt counts Whittaker's Chocolate as a valued client of his media and digital agency, which also includes The Green Party, The Spinoff, Wellington Regional Development Agency and many more. Matt has worked hard to build MBM, one of New Zealand's leading media and digital agencies. He's got the CAANZ awards to show for it, winning media agency of the year in 2014 and 2015. I caught up with Matt to find out how he's been in the game for so long and what it means to be a media agency in 2017.
Matt was born at St Helen's hospital in Newtown. "Wellingtonian born and bred!" he says. When he was a little boy, his mother worked as a dental nurse and his father in the printing business. "I grew up first of all in Island Bay. My mum is an Island Bay Italian. We grew up around the language, but I don't speak it. She'd make southern Italian food at home, rustic food and seafood" Matt explains. He went to two Catholic Primary Schools, before going to Scotts College for high school. "I was a generalist in my studies and sport, playing rugby and cricket, but never the star, and liked classics and history," he says.
I ask Matt what Wellington was like as a city when he was younger, back in this 80's? "When I was younger, Wellington was different. Courtney Place was a wino and bus transfer - a wreck that didn't have much to offer. There was no Te Papa, nothing for people to do when your rellies visited from out of town, but it still had a real culture to it somehow. A focus to it, you know?" Matt explains.
While shows like Mad Men have promoted working in advertising as a career, back in the day it didn't have the profile it does now. Matt studied media and communication and continued with history reading strategic military studies at Massey in Palmerston North. "I was interested in audience, film and content. I got a job out of Uni in Saatchi and Saatchi, doing a job that is now computerised. I would be in charge of when the TV print offs came each day. I started at the bottom of the rung. It was 1996.
After moving overseas, working in different jobs and running various agencies, and returning home to New Zealand, the urge to start something of his own grasped Matt. "By luck, Sean McCready who I knew at Saatchi's (who was a little older than me), had been on a similar journey to me. He had run businesses and set up a consultancy business. He was looking to do something new. So we agreed, as good friends, to found MBM on the simple premise we wanted to create the best media agency we knew how to do. It all happened at Pravda, right across the road!" Matt laughs.
What makes MBM different?
Matt and Sean's goal was to generate good value for clients, be smart about work and be passionate about transparency. "There are some unethical practices in the media industry so we are committed to being transparent" Matt says. "MBM is not just built to make a profit for shareholders. We nurture our talent and we give back via some of our earning each year to the community, such as buying some hospital beds last year for Christmas. We also want to be a partner to the creative and PR companies and data analysts. We started as a strategic media consultancy. Now we refer to ourselves as a communications technology company" Matt explains.
MBM doesn't just do media. "We have a content arm to the business now," Matt says. "We have an analytics or data science part which is increasingly important. We're doing marketing retention work as well as social media and more." Media keeps fragmenting, he explains. "Things have just evolved so fast, and computers have led the way. You can't get in a position where you fear change. We hire people who are curious, and embrace that change in media."
What businesses have MBM worked with?
Too many to name. "One of our founding businesses is Whittakers Chocolate. We also have worked with Trade Me, Z Energy, Powershop and Loyalty NZ (FlyBuys). Smaller entities like Garage Project Beer (who we've supported from the start) all the way through to WREDA and Te Papa, Wellington On A Plate and more!"
What is the most interesting area of media technology and how is it disrupting how we consume media?
Matt reckons that machine learning and artificial intelligence has the ability to revolutionise media, right through to voice-activated devices, like Amazon Alexa. "There's no interface, no screen. It's all just voice. How does that does that change how we talk and communicate with media? What's the role of marketing and advertising with this new technology?" Matt asks.
Has he ever had challenges with working in media, like burnout?
"I never get bored," Matt says "The work is always interesting, the team are awesome - but I do have to make sure I check myself to fill my tank back up with inspiration. Media? It's a service industry. So I recharge with family - they keep me grounded. I go out for walks" he explains. "I'm conscious of when I need a break, and I've become a tiny bit better at telling myself to go and take that break."
Does Matt limit the amount of media his children are exposed to?
"Within reason," Matt says. "They have limited screen time and they use YouTube Kids, for example. I'm also mindful of their privacy too. They're six and eight though so it could be more challenging as they get older.
What's next for MBM?
Matt's excited about the work that MBM's business is doing with data and analytics. "It's not sexy but its interesting work, and is key to the industry." So what is the future of media? The future is building audiences, being less platform specific, more personal and producing great content - so more of the same, but better!"
"It's in my bones. For me Wellington is home" Matt says.