In Conversation with Ron Mather

How did you get into advertising?

I passed the exam to get into The Hornsey College of Art in London when I was 13. I think I was one of the youngest to pass the exam and had to get special permission to leave normal school.

I was there for a couple of years, had a great time but knew I had to get a job. It was pretty cool to be an art student in London at that time and there were lots of clever rich kids there, who unlike me, didn’t need to work. I came from a working class background and knew my mum had done it a bit tough to allow me to go to Art college, for that I am forever grateful.

Anyway my class at Hornsey had the opportunity to spend a week at an advertising agency in London. “Coleman Prentice & Varley Int.” for work experience. I was the last of my class to go, most of the others in my class came back a bit unimpressed and preferred the comfort of the Art College. I loved it and asked the creative director if there were any jobs going? He said yes, That’s how I got into advertising.

However I believe my career in advertising really started when I finally got into Saatchi & Saatchi, a hot little agency in London at the time.

What's the best work you've done?

I’ve worked with lots of great people. In agencies that encouraged great work. With clients that insisted on great work. I have been very lucky. That combination is very rare, which is probably why there is so little great work.

The only agencies in my experience that had that combination, were Saatchi’s London (Then). Saatchi’s Sydney(Formally Gough Waterhouse) and The Campaign Palace Melbourne and Sydney. I was lucky enough to work at all of them. Although I would like to mention Grey Melbourne and Masius Melbourne (No longer exists). Two agencies that have done outstanding work and have had some great people working there.

There is nothing better than working in a great environment with great people, having a great time. However, if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in a mediocre agency where mediocrity rules, attempting to do great work can be very difficult and worse. It’s not really wanted. It can rock the mediocrity boat and will eventually get you fired. I know from experience.

But I suppose its not bad to be fired for not being mediocre. So it’s most important when you start out in the industry that you know what sort of work you want to do and seek out agencies that share your vision, then you will soar and have a great time. As far as the best work I have ever done.I don’t know, check out the Award Annuals and you decide.

If you could change something about the advertising industry, what would it be?

I would like the industry to stop taking itself too seriously and start being a lot more entertaining. Advertising Is not a science. There are too many experts, on everything.

Even within agencies there are experts with weird and wonderful titles and has any of this improved the product that is coming out of the agencies? No. Media placement is another missed opportunity, it’s all a bit predictable, no surprises. And seeing the same ad twice in a break really is unforgivable.

Believe it or not there was a time when people looked forward to seeing the ads, they had their favourites and they talked about them. Ads were funny, entertaining and if you liked the ad you liked the brand, you liked the product and you bought the product.

I would like to see more creative thinking in all areas,I would like to see more campaigns that build brands. I would like to see more ads that I want to see again. You know things are bad when programmes are being advertised as being “AD FREE” And there are thriving businesses dedicated to inventing devices to allow the viewer to block out the ads. Or devices that stop the viewer from blocking out the ads.

I was in a meeting a few years back, when a client (Not one of ours) said to me “How can I stop people skipping my ads?” Expecting some technical solution, I said to him “Do better ads”. That didn’t go down well.

So in answer to your question, lets see more clever, entertaining advertising. Believe me, you have a lot more fun doing those. When briefing my creative teams on a job, I would often say “Just have a bit of fun with it” and they did.

Name 3 essential things for someone starting out in advertising

1. Do your homework, if you are going for a job interview Check out the agency, see the work they are doing, decide if its the sort of work you want to do. It’s not just getting a job in advertising, It’s getting the job you want in advertising. Your first job is so important. A bad agency can quickly turn a good person bad.

2. Don’t be intimidated and don’t be arrogant. Listen and learn. Dont be afraid to present an idea. When you are starting you can get away with anything, CD’s should expect something different. Always respect the people you are showing your work to. A good CD can often take a good idea and suggest something that can make it great. But that’s only in good agency’s where great things happen.

3. Keep up to date, constantly check out the great work that is being done around the world. Not just advertising, new ideas, products, architecture, movies. You will be surprised where you get inspiration from, often unknowingly.

4. Don’t always follow the rules. Good Luck.

Is there anything you wish you'd done differently?

No, I have been very lucky to have worked in some great agencies with some great people and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it,what more could you want?

Career highlights

Originally from London. Worked at Saatchi & Saatchi London in the early days.

Came to Australia. Worked at Masius Melbourne.

Creative Director, Saatchi’s Melbourne.

Creative Director, Saatchi’s Sydney.

Creative Director & National Creative Director, The Campaign Palace, Melbourne & Sydney.

Creative Director Grey Worldwide.

Inducted into The AWARD Hall of Fame. & MADC Hall of Fame.

Twice voted Australian Creative Director of the year by BRW magazine.

Judged Cannes twice, D&AD and first Australian to be chairman of Clio Awards..

Director at Production Company, “Mather Godsell” in Sydney with producer Kare Godsell.

13 years ago I started a Consultancy “It’s The Thought That Counts” with Christine Barnes. It’s just the two of us and the fact that we have had a very successful 13 years of thinking , is something I am particularly proud of.

Currently, I am working on my drawings and paintings. I have had two exhibitions and am working on a third.

Life really is too short.

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