In this episode, my guest is Matt Barraclough. He’s an old friend who runs a TV and video production agency in Manchester.
Here, he shares entertaining stories about:
- the differences between Manchester and Leeds
- climbing the ladder to success
- working in Advertising vs Drama
- bullying in the industry
- the business of problem solving
- and Manchester as a creative hub to rival London.
Matt is one my favourite storytellers and you’ll see why!
-LISTEN TO THE FULL CONVERSATION HERE-
➤ When you meet someone new and they ask, ‘What do you do?’ how do you respond?’
I normally say ‘Advertising’ first and then if they pry a little more, I say, ‘TV advertising,’ but I generally don’t want to say that and the reason is because then they’re going to ask me, ‘Oh, what have you done?’
They’re always going to go into that because everyone has access to TV advertising so they’re going to ask me. So it depends on the situation if I’m in a mood for a long conversation about what I do for a living then I’ll just say, ‘TV advertising’ but otherwise I just say, ‘I’m in advertising.’ and most of the time it’s enough. People just go, ‘Oh right, okay cool!’ Do you know what I mean?
If I’m obviously in a position where I’m networking or I potentially might see an opportunity I’ll probably go deeper. Or sometimes if I’m just in the mood for a chit chat and it’s an ice breaker because as I say, the advantage of TV advertising is that people all have a relationship with it.
Immediately you can open a conversation about ads, whether it’s my ads or whether it’s ads they’ve just seen on TV that they love or classic ads that they remember from when they were kids. There’s always a conversation opener there because everyone has got an experience to share or something they hate, you know, so it’s quite a good icebreaker in that sense.
➤ And do you consider yourself, your company, a Manchester company?
➤ Oh, I got a definite response there! Before we started recording, you said you don’t consider yourself a Mancunian. And I said you’re more Manc than you think you are. How long have you lived in Manchester now?
I moved to Manchester in 2006. So 15 years. I moved here for my first official job in TV advertising although I’d done it on and off over a longer period of time since the early 90s and then when I moved here for my job, that was my official launch into trying to make it.
➤ When you go abroad, when they ask, ‘Where are you from?’ what do you say?
That’s a good question actually because I either answer one of two things. If I was abroad and they say, ‘Where are you from?’ I generally say Leeds.
➤ No! Do you? You still don’t see Manchester as home?
No, but that’s abroad. Weirdly if I’m in England, I always say Manchester.
➤ So when you’re in London, you’re representing Manchester.
Yeah, yeah, and I feel like it’s because they’re asking, ‘Where do you live?’ Do you know what I mean? If it’s ‘Where are you from?’ I still feel like I’m from Leeds. That’s me, I’m a Yorkshire man but I moved to Manchester in 2006 and yes I love it here.
But also, I’ve got this thing where you say you’re from Manchester and you know what a lot of people will say – straight away something about football teams and I don’t support either of the Manchester teams and one I particularly have a dislike for so it doesn’t go down well all the time. But then again, in saying that, you can get a bit of banter when they find out that I don’t support the teams.
➤ This is one of the main reasons why I wanted to start this podcast because whenever people talk about Manchester, why is it always football? Can Manchester grow beyond football, do you think, in the eyes of the world?
I think in the eyes of the world it’s very much football. They always mention Manchester United first, don’t they? I’ve had a few people talk about Manchester music, a few people, but it is more Mancunians who do that, I think! But yeah I mean it’s always football.
But Manchester’s got so much more to it, I agree with you in that sense and you know it should be celebrated particularly for its creative sector. And I know I’m part of that so I feel like I’m blowing my own trumpet but Manchester’s got a great creative center and lots of activity and art and drama and dance and media and digital and tech and stuff like that. It’s got loads going on!
➤ Oh that’s the sound bite I’m going to open this episode with! Beautifully put! So tell me — you came from Leeds which is hardly far away — why did you first come to Manchester?
For work. That’s it.
➤ Do you notice any differences?
There’s big differences. First of all let me say when I first came to work here at the beginning of 2006, I actually worked in Stockport which is South Manchester and I commuted from where I lived just on the outskirts of Leeds so I never actually really went to Manchester for quite a few months. I never explored the city that much. I literally just did the hour and a half drive commuting there and back.
Then my job moved from Stockport right into the center of Manchester just off Deansgate so that was literally learning about the city every day which was great because I was able to kind of wander and discover and find out stuff on lunch breaks and that kind of thing.
And then I actually moved over to the area in August of that year. And obviously from then on just spent my time finding out more and more about it and understanding things.
So the things that are different though was the question, wasn’t it? Weather! Weather, yeah! Massive difference here in Manchester. Growing up, I used to think it rained so much in Leeds until I moved to Manchester and I realised Leeds is glorious for weather in comparison!
It just feels like it’s like it’s constantly raining here. And sometimes I can drive back to Leeds over the peninsula and literally there’s a band of rain…
➤ You can see the rain stop!
Yeah you can see it stop! In fact I’ve seen a line of snow literally across Saddleworth Moor, which just stopped there on the border! It’s like thick snow in Manchester and literally nothing onwards. It’s weird! And so the weather’s one.
I think attitudes of people it’s slightly more politically Labour here so traditionally working-class, left-wing politics. Being a northern town, Leeds has still got a lot of that but I feel like there’s more of a mixture. It feels it like Manchester’s very red in a political sense.
The accent’s different, definitely. I always liked it when you go in the shop and the the girl at the counter would often say, ‘Do you want an angor’ you know and things like that. That was great!
➤ Wait a second, like a clothes shop?
Yeah. [Impersonating] ‘Do you want an angor?’
‘A hanger, darling!’
I think the food is different. I feel like Manchester people love pies. They really love pies. I’ve met so many people who I’ve worked with particularly and they’d want a pie all the time. I mean I don’t mind a pie and growing up I had a pie now and again but it felt like they loved pies just more than people from home! So food wise there’s some things that are a little bit different.
There’s you know, music and being northern, being friendly, you know what I mean? There’s a bit more obviously — I don’t want to stereotype — but there is really that Manchester swagger, isn’t there? I mean people obviously think of the Manchester music scene and Oasis and that Manchester attitude and swagger and it is real. And there’s definitely still what I call the Manchester haircut – you still see them 20 years on, they’re still there.
But I love all that. It’s fun. Manchester has got it’s identity and even though Leeds and Manchester are very similar in so many ways because they’re both northern towns, I think Manchester has probably had more investment in it. But essentially there’s a lot of similarities but also loads of differences in culture and even in music.
I think Mancunians care about the Manchester music scene a lot and they love it. It’s not that I don’t love it. There’s loads of Manchester music that I absolutely love but I think maybe Mancunians love to talk about it a little bit too much, you know – maybe just a little bit. I don’t know if people outside of Manchester are as bothered.
This shouldn’t be a podcast about me just having a go at Mancunians!
➤ No, this is awesome. Do you think Mancs compare themselves more to Liverpool rather than Leeds? Do you think Leeds is the forgotten northern city? Leeds and Sheffield are a little bit like forgotten in the eyes of Mancs.
Ooh, maybe… in the eyes of Mancunians, I don’t know. I’ve never really asked anyone if they think Leeds is a forgotten city to be honest. I mean I certainly don’t feel it is. I still am very much passionate about Yorkshire but I’m also equally as passionate about Manchester and the Mancunian people and you know I love living here.
I think there’s a natural rivalry, of course there is, because of the whole ‘War of the Roses’ – you’ve got that natural red rose versus white rose thing going on. But at the end of the day, I think the north south divide is far bigger than the War of the Roses. I think northerners come together on that and I wish that governments would invest more in the north instead of the south, which I know they’re making some effort these days.
➤ All right, let’s talk a little bit about your work because I love hearing your stories in the field.
Tell me about your connection to advertising. Was it advertising specifically you were interested in or was it television as a whole? Were you interested in drama in the early days? What was your first interest?
Really, I kind of wanted to work in film, as in cinema, rather than advertising. And then after my studies — oh no, even before my studies — I did my first ever paid work in the industry. It was in 1993 when I was a runner on a DFS ad.
So, DFS the sofa company, they used to do 52 ads a year – so one every week basically. They didn’t literally shoot one a week but they used to shoot them in blocks and then release one every week. And they were all about sales and you know ‘There’s a sale on here!’ ‘There’s discount there!’ whatever. And I worked with a guy — he’s not with us anymore, he passed away quite a few years ago — his name was Tom Adams and he was an actor and he used to famously walk and talk. But he was almost a bit robotic with his movements…
➤ What do you mean, famously walk and talk?
Well, he was quite iconic for his movements. People used to spoof him back in the day because he’d be like, he’d walk and he’d move his arms — people can’t see, this is a podcast — like move his arm’s a bit like a Robby the Robot type thing. And he’d kind of go, [deep voice] ‘DFS double discount on now! Sale starts Friday 9 a.m!’ and stuff like that. It was very traditional, what I call traditional direct response. It was basically, ‘I’m gonna shout at you for 30 seconds until you buy a sofa,’ you know. It was that kind of thing and I worked on one of those ads and because of that, I kind of did enjoy ads.
From there, when I eventually started properly working in the industry after doing some educational stuff, I worked on loads of stuff.
So I worked for a facilities company — basically, back in the day production companies didn’t own their own camera equipment or their own edit suites, they literally would hire them from a facility company.
And my job, initially I started there as a runner, which meant I literally made the tea. I made the tea, I got clients lunches, I cleaned up after people, I had to clean the toilets, I did all that.
➤ You paid your dues!
Oh yeah, I definitely did.
And then from there I became a camera assistant and I looked after the camera department. And I had this Mercedes Vito van and people used to hire me with the gear.
So back then, we were shooting on tape still which was DigiBeta at the time. So I used to have all the camera, lights and everything in my van and then I’d drive the crew to the locations we were filming and you know be the camera assistant on set, and then drop them all back. I loved it, it was brilliant.
The great thing about it was, I got to work on all different genres at that point. So one day I’d be on an ad, next day I’d be on a corporate video, next day I’d be doing some documentary stuff. We did loads of fly-on-the wall stuff with Channel Five. For one production company I did this amazing advert where it was like a two-week shoot for an ad, it was mental! We filmed in Newcastle for a week in a studio and we did a recreation of a New York street in Newcastle. We then went to London and we filmed at 5am at Piccadilly Circus so no one was around. We went to Paris and filmed at the Eiffel Tower – like it was a great ad to work on.
I worked on sports stuff, I did a bit of news. Literally, you name it, I got a chance to do. The only thing I didn’t do at that point, I never got any chance to do drama stuff which was still at that time what I was interested in.
And then after leaving there, I kind of went freelance and then that’s when I got the opportunity to do drama stuff. So I did this, you know, Hollyoaks, Brookside soap opera kind of stuff and then I did a series called Fat Friends. And then it was at that point really where my life sort of changed and I thought, ‘You know what? This drama thing’s not right.’ I didn’t enjoy it. I thought it was slow, for me, my mind. I thought it was quite boring. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t really like the atmosphere in the crew, it was old school film. I wasn’t treated very well.
I think the first few years in my career were challenging if I’m honest and there’s a few key moments that happened even right at the beginning when I worked for the facility company.
There was this moment quite early on I think I’d only been there about three weeks and the boss was was you know proper old-school film guy, you know. He’d worked on Pathé news and he’d worked with Ridley Scott on adverts and you know he was old school film – proper taskmaster. You know, you started your career by sweeping the cutting room floor kind of thing and I tried really hard for that first three, four weeks, I really did try. I was definitely doing my best cups of tea ever you know. I was like 22, maybe 21.
I remember he used to have this thing when he was angry with you he’d just shout your name. It was a big building and he’d just shout your name and you’d walk through the door and what you wanted him not to say was, ‘Shut the door,’ because if he said that you were about to get it.
And one day, literally, he shouted me and I obviously heard it and I thought, ‘Oh god!’
➤ What did he shout?
MATTHEWWWW! You know just like shouted like that, ‘MATTHEW!!’ like that, ‘IN MY OFFICE!’ like that. And then got into his office and we used to do this thing as well – you learned that when you walked in his office you did it at pace so if he said, ‘Shut the door,’ you didn’t want to be near the door so he couldn’t say it.
So I just sort of walked in the office. He went, ‘Shut the door!.’ I was like, ‘Oh no, what’s this? It was my first ever telling-off. He called it a ‘bollocking.’ He did call it that, his words not mine.
➤ Such a sign of the times. Think about today, how that doesn’t exist anywhere.
Thank goodness! That was 1997 – it’s one of the things…
➤ I don’t know man. Do you say, ‘Thank goodness’? Don’t you think that made you the man you are today?
Definitely not. Oh gosh, now we’re could get onto so many stories why it’s important not to be like that. So basically, he gave me a bollocking because I’d not cleaned the table to his standard. And bear in mind, this was my first job in the industry. And I was still, you know, I was excited, I was keen. I was doing what I thought was my best and he literally knocked me down a peg or two.
And he basically told me, he said, [impersonating] ‘Matthew, you want to climb the ladder of this industry but at the moment my friend you can’t see the bloody ladder!’
That’s what he said and at the time I was devastated. I wanted to cry. I’d gone through years of education in media and film and TV. I’d got this job which was on a pittance of a wage and literally there’s a guy screaming at me telling me, not only was I not on the ladder to start my career, I couldn’t even SEE the ladder.
➤ So you’re telling me you don’t appreciate that? You don’t appreciate the motivation, the fire it lit under your ass?
Let me explain, at the time, which was 1997 probably, I was absolutely devastated and distraught. I thought I was gonna get fired for a start, but I didn’t.
I was devastated because when you’ve spent so many years working towards something, you finally get this job in the industry — which is hard to get for anyone! For anyone trying to get into TV or film or ads or whatever, there’s not many jobs, it’s a competitive space and in 1997 it was just the same especially outside of London.
So when I got that job I thought I’d done it. I’m there! I’m on my journey! This is where I start. Becoming the next Steven Spielberg starts here at this company. And after four weeks, to be told that actually not only was that journey not started but I couldn’t see the starting point of that journey, I was literally torn to shreds. And I was so upset, I think i actually might have cried in my car driving home.
➤ Tell me there’s a happy end to the story. What about if you did something good, did he praise you?
Er.. no but let me come back to how I resolved this issue in my head, because for many years I was still upset about that he’d said that and this ladder thing has all played a part in my mind for many years.
And then there was this one point — I think it was probably 2006 — when I moved to Manchester and it was only then when I was a bit older and I realised what I’d been through and I tried all different things, different roles in TV and I’d done drama, done news and I’d done sport and I’d done all these things, it was only when I landed at the TV advertising thing where I almost thought to myself, ‘I’ve actually just found the ladder!’ I found what I was meant to do and what ladder I had to climb.
➤ So he was right.
He was bang on right! And I told him that years later. I found the ladder.
I think that’s the thing, it’s like people, particularly younger people, who want to work in Film and TV and stuff like that but they’re so desperate to get on this ladder. You’ve really got to find the right ladder first and then when you find it, it’ll just be there in front of you and you can start climbing it.
But always remember there’s no top of that ladder, you know. You’re always climbing it.
➤ It’s never ending.
It’s just a never-ending ladder and the hardest part isn’t climbing it; it’s finding it. And that’s what I learned from that.
But as far as the sort of old school style that isn’t around anymore, I experienced it, not from him necessarily. I mean, he was one of those people who believed in discipline and just shouting at you and that kind of thing. He actually mellowed in his later years. He’s still alive and he’s someone I keep now and again in touch with.
But I did experience bullying in different roles on dramas and I didn’t like it to be honest and it’s one of the things that put me off drama. The bullying – not just bullying of me but watching bullying of other people and people’s attitudes.
➤ Give me an example. What’s bullying?
Oh I don’t know, how bad this language can get on here. I was basically referred to as a c-word constantly. Like that’s it, that was my name for three months.
➤ No! What did you do to to earn that?
I didn’t do anything, that’s the point. It was just what they did, it was like hazing. The junior people would just get that treatment off the department they were in, sometimes off other departments. It just wasn’t a nice place. Particularly I had trouble with a focus puller who just took a dislike to me, didn’t like me and just treated me like crap. But I had experiences all the way through that thing.
And years later when I worked first in advertising, I was hiring crew and I was bringing in crew to do jobs with me, I had this rule in my head. It was an unwritten rule, it was like, ‘If I ever see any bullying on my set, that person will never work for me again. I’ll just never hire them.’ And luckily I’ve only had to do that on probably two occasions. But I have seen it, it has happened. Or I’ve been told about it at a later point.
It’s so much less common now but it was such a major thing. And it’s partly what put me off the drama thing, I just thought, ‘I don’t belong in this world.’ I used to think like, imagine me climbing the ladder in drama, making TV drama and me having to become one of those people and I just thought, ‘That’s not me.’
I just want to be on my corporate video with my lovely crew. We have laughs and banter and we work hard together and have fun. That’s what I enjoyed. That’s why I joined this industry in the first place. I wanted to be one of the five percent of people who actually enjoy what they do.
➤ So let me ask you. Your company ABF Pictures – have you considered moving to London? Why are you still in Manchester?
I don’t see the point of being in London, first of all. The weird thing is okay, we have been in business now 11 years and we’ve grown every year, we haven’t got any Manchester clients. I’ve got some Cheshire and I’ve got some in Lancashire but most of our clients are London-based. We’ve got clients in Boston, Barcelona, south coast of England… everywhere.
➤ So you don’t need to be in Manchester. What keeps you in Manchester?
It’s home. I just feel like it’s the right place for us, to be honest with you. If I was going to set up another office — rather than move because I wouldn’t move because we’re staying in Manchester; my business partner, he’s a real Mancunian — I mean I’d rather set up a another office in a city in Europe. I’d rather have an office in Helsinki or Barcelona or wherever.
Manchester is two hours on the train to London you know and in this modern world you can work from anywhere. If I had a house in Helsinki I’d be there in the sauna with you man.
➤ Running businesses from the sauna!
Yeah I just wanted to know if you had anything in particular about Manchester. So you came here for work and now you have your own company and you don’t need to be here anymore but you choose to be here.
Yeah I definitely choose to be. It is a choice. It’s probably part comfort. It’s just a nice place to be. I’ve got an office in Manchester but I’m working from home a lot these days. But yeah, I like it, it’s friendly, it’s relaxed.
Do you know what? You talked about that talking point of where you’re from — when I go to London I’m really proud to say, ‘I’m from Manchester.’
You wrapped that up really nicely, didn’t you? [Laughs].