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In Conversation with Matt Thomson: Secrets to Success

Matt Thomson
Posted: May 2020

Thought Leaders Connected interviewed Matt Thomson, former MD of global agency, TheNewsMarket. We asked him about challenging, inspiring and memorable career moments. He also shares his learning about growing and selling an agency, his inspirations and how he is coping in lockdown.

1. What would you say are your three key attributes that have contributed to your career success?

For the last ten years I was Managing Director of TheNewsMarket, a global agency with customers and offices in US, Europe and Asia.  Having sold the business and integrated it into new owners, I left the agency last summer and have been consulting on communication and digital transformation projects. 

My three attributes for success:

  • Building trust with clients through active listening and a whatever-it-takes attitude to delivery.   The result has been an enviable roster of the world’s biggest brands including adidas, Lamborghini and PwC who have worked with me for 10+ years
  • An inquisitive approach and a passion for disruption has driven me to develop new products and services, and to find ways to scale the business delivering a return for our shareholders
  • Building and mentoring a global team from consulting to media relations to content production to project management.  You want talent to stay with your business, but it’s equally important that those that move on have fond memories of their time at your agency

2. What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far?

TheNewsMarket started life as a video sharing service for PR professionals.  The launch of YouTube threated to disrupt our business with a new focus on owned media.  I had to quickly pivot our service offer to stay relevant. 

3. What is your most memorable work moment?

Much of my career has been spent within the automotive sector and I’ve worked on high profile launches including Bugatti’s most expensive car La Voiture Noire and Lamborghini’s unveiling of the SUV that would double its production figures.   But persuading PwC to reformat their tentpole presentation event at Davos with a new live TV show was truly memorable.  The show, which features the firm’s global chairman, has gone from strength to strength and helped PwC achieve 50% share of voice among professional service firms at the WEF.

4. How are you managing in ‘lockdown’?

There is much debate about whether Zoom’s share price hike will survive post pandemic.  But everyone is getting used to new communication methods and inevitably a new normal will emerge which relies on digital rather than physical experiences.   Whilst my clients are scaling back their paid media campaigns and have halted all events, they recognise the importance of communicating and are still investing in PR.

5. I hope I’m right by saying, you like digital tools to help you run an international comms agency – which ones are you favourite?

I like Salesforce for managing client relationships and revenue forecasting, Jira and Teams for project management and remote working, Lead Forensics and GA for analysing website traffic and lead-gen, and Mail Chimp for low-cost email management.  Zoom is great, but I prefer GoToMeeting for conferencing and screen share.  Sprinklr is awesome for managing multiple social channels.

6. What is the most important lesson you have learned when growing an agency to sell?

Lumpy revenue and profits can be alarming to would-be acquirers who are looking for consistency as well as growth.  TheNewsMarket went through three acquisitions and in all cases, the high rate of client renewals and strong story on introducing new services to the retained client list was an important factor in the valuation.

7. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given along the way, and by whom?

Our former Chairman and a great mentor to me used a simple metaphor to describe management.  A company is like a three-legged stool and if any fails, so does the business.   The legs are the customer, the talent and the investors.  A successful manager must pay attention to all three; brilliant work delivered by an outstanding team isn’t enough if the business isn’t profitable.

8. What or who inspires you, and why?

David Attenborough for getting us to pay attention to the overuse of plastics, Greta Thunberg for changing the politics around climate change, the Business Roundtable who redefined the Purpose of a Corporation to be benefit of all stakeholders, not just shareholders.  And business leaders who turn rhetoric into action such as VW CEO Herbert Diess who has pledged Euro 33bn to turn the company into the world’s largest electric car maker.

9. If you hadn’t ended up working in comms, what was your plan B?

Always interested in the sciences, I originally thought I’d go into medicine until an opportunity to watch a colectomy operation put me off. I still love science and studied Chemistry at University but was drawn more to the student theatre and event promotion which set me on my career path.

10.    Do you have any hidden talents?

I love carpentry and am fascinated by the ingenious joints designed by master craftsmen to solve peculiar engineering challenges.  My last project was to build a 16 x 5 metre raised deck for a glamping lodge at our home in the Cotswolds which guests will be able to enjoy as soon as the travel restrictions are lifted.

Thank you, Matt.



The Works Search is a search consultancy specialising in corporate and financial communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities, partner exclusively with the highest performers in the industry and are expert guides when it comes salaries. For more advice, market insights, do get in touch with us on 020 7903 9291 or email sarah@the-works.co.uk

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