Abi Stephenson and Matt Jones: From the beach to BETC

How a chance meeting at the Epica Awards press lunch in Cannes led to a career plot twist for creative duo Abi Stephenson and Matt Jones.

кем Mark Tungate , AdForum


Winning awards can boost careers, but it isn’t usually the function of the Epica Awards to be a job dating agency. That can sometimes happen, though, as the fabulous story of Abi Stephenson and Matt Jones demonstrates.

Abi and Matt recently joined BETC Paris as a senior creative team. But their courtship with the agency began in Cannes two years ago, at the Epica Awards press lunch. At the time they were working for VMLY&R, where they’d created Epica’s annual call for entries campaign.

After taking a bow on stage they mingled with the guests, including Michael Boamah, who handles international PR at BETC. They struck up a conversation and he offered to introduce them to some of the agency’s creative leaders. Flash forward a couple of years and now Abi and Matt are splitting their time between London and Paris.

“The relationship with BETC developed organically from that first meeting,” says Matt. Abi agrees: “It was a conversation that kept rolling, and then it all began to fall into place.”

They remain, they say, tremendously grateful for their experiences at VML, which included a true-crime podcast for Wendy’s (penned by top UK comedy writer Joel Morris) and the opportunity to travel the region to work on projects across VML’s European offices – an opportunity they’ll remember forever. But there comes a time when you feel the need for fresh inspiration.

Matt explains: “When the offer came through from BETC, it felt so unique and different – to go and work for a globally famous agency like that – it was an opportunity we just couldn’t refuse.”


Optimized for creativity


For BETC they work primarily across international briefs for clients with a global remit, exclusively in English. “Which is not only exciting but reassuring,” says Matt. “We were a bit worried that our lack of French capabilities would limit us, but it really hasn’t. In fact I think there’s something of a strategic push within BETC to seek more clients from around the world.”

The size of the projects they’ve been working on, and the trust afforded to BETC by its clients, has been eye-opening. Abi says: “They have such an amazing reputation worldwide, not only in advertising but in branding and marketing in general. I think that confidence helps them work with clients to push really big ideas out there.”

Although they spend part of their time working remotely from London, they regularly visit the landmark BETC offices in Pantin, just outside Paris. Abi says: “When you’re in that office and around the people who work there, you really do feel that everyone’s aiming for the same north star. Everyone is pushing for the work to be better.”

Matt adds: “Everything in the building that Remi (Babinet, President and Co-founder) created and the culture he and Stephane (Xiberras, President and CCO) instil in it is optimized for creativity. Production is right at hand – the agency even has its own record label. There’s a library with librarians who can prepare a reading list based on your current project.”


Collaborative and decisive


Talking of production, there’s a strong emphasis on craft, he says. “At most agencies I’ve experienced, your idea gets handed over to a ‘craftsperson’ very quickly. But here you’re encouraged to hone it until it’s the best it can be. You remain close to the work for a longer period of time.”

Abi notes that despite the edge of competitiveness that exists in all creative departments, the spirit at BETC is highly collaborative. “There’s a sense that if you need anything – a mock-up, a brainstorm, or just advice – there’s always somebody willing to help you out. It’s a nurturing environment.”

Have they noticed any major differences between UK and French advertising culture? Abi says: “At BETC, at least, what I’ve noticed is a certain directness. People are to the point, without being brash or rude. Which is perfect for our industry, where timelines are often short. Here it’s very decisive. Everyone wants to get to the next level as efficiently as possible, with the best work they can.”

Already, she believes, working in another culture has made them better creatives. “It’s really valuable to experience a tone of voice that’s different from the one you usually adhere to. Although our briefs are global, it’s fascinating to work with people who approach them from a different perspective. Being around a diversity of people, attitudes and cultures is vital to what we do.”

For the time being they’re comfortable with their nomadic existence, which enables them to bring an outside perspective to BETC, as well as concentrate their creative minds outside the bustle of an office.

It seems the Epica Awards played a small role in a big step. Proof that, occasionally, a chance meeting at lunch can change your life.



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