Matt Scarff on diversity and always thinking +1
Hi Matt, thanks for talking with us. Can you start by telling us a bit about your background?
I started as a journalist in Hong Kong surrounded by a really diverse workforce – Hong Kong is that kind of place. Being there gave me the opportunity to move into television and I joined Star TV. I was really keen to understand how TV production worked but I think I always wanted to be on TV presenting. I always fancied jobs like Blue Peter, Newsround and CITV when I was based in Birmingham. I wanted to be on screen.
Bizarrely, when I applied for Star TV, it was via an ad for on-air promotions. Which looking back was quite a misleading title for the role because I thought I would be on-air. Promoting. After about the third week of collecting tapes I was thinking, when am I going to be on camera in the studio?
On-air promotions is actually a vital role in making campaigns for the programmes. It’s really quite a cool job, basically an advertising job within a TV company. Working on clip-based trailers, specially shot campaigns and watching TV programmes that are fully-finished and then making creative work off the back of it. It was a variety of copywriting and music, things that I love. I was lucky that I kind of fell into it because I wasn’t quite sure where or how to apply for that type of role.
I worked for ITV 1997 which was brilliant fun. It was a small team which eventually turned into ITV Creative, the organisation I lead now.
In 1998 I moved to the BBC and had 13 great years working across all of their public service channels and UKTV. I worked my way up from being a creative to a Creative Lead through to being the Creative Director for UKTV and the ten channel rebrand that UKTV did in 2008.
In 2010 I moved to Sky as their Head of Creative within Sky Creative. Sky was great, it was real for me. It was all about working on 360 campaigns which we didn’t have as many of at the BBC. It was exciting working with the print team on site plus the advent of social and digital. Social wasn’t really there at that point but digital was and the 360 for me was absolutely elevated by moving to Sky.
How did you end up back at ITV?
I came in and did some consultancy work for ITV and then the opportunity came up to join as the Director of ITV Creative and I took it. It was totally different from when I was here in 1997, it was one company instead of different regional companies. The ITV creative team just delivered the ITV rebrand, the brand identity and new look – everyone was in really good place.
Tell us about diversity and what it means to you.
I’m a gay man and I’ve been really lucky in my career. I have never been held back for being gay but I don’t think that’s the same experience for everybody – it should be, but I don’t think it is.
Some people say it’s because you work in the media but do you know what? It’s actually not. It can be anywhere. Homophobia can be absolutely anywhere.
I’ve always tried to be who I am and be honest about that. Some people might not like that but I’ve never felt that anyone has had a problem with my sexual orientation.
I think it’s made me stronger as a result because it wasn’t always like that. At school because I was probably slightly feminine I was an easy target, easy for someone to pick on and I was bullied. I had a choice, I remember thinking I can either go this way or that way and I decided I wasn’t going to be beaten.
I’ve always been a champion for diverse workforces. Something I’m really chuffed about working at ITV is it’s not just me banging the drum about diversity – the whole organisation is.
Last year, David Osborne and Steve Basinger launched the Plus 1 initiative at ITV. It’s really simple, it’s about thinking if you’re a Manager or a leader in your team that when you get to the point of hiring you think about Plus 1 and how you can make your team more diverse. It’s about adding one more person to your team that isn’t the same as everyone else.
If your team is mainly female, maybe you need to think about the mix and add someone that’s male. But not just that, it’s important to think about ethnicity and disability. Why don’t they exist on your team, why aren’t they there?
I don’t think it’s that people haven’t wanted to do that, I think it’s that when we run our searched for people it’s been through very traditional approaches.
Everyone in recruitment to HR, to outsourced recruitment has been instructed to think about it and it means we’ll have a more diverse workforce as a result.
We’re all doing it.
Are there any challenges alongside the initiative? Such as it becoming a tick boxing exercise instead of hiring based on talent and the right fit for team culture?
I think if it becomes tick box then it’s pointless, it becomes redundant from that point.
We’re all creative but at ITV Creative it’s about the best ideas and the best copy. It’s about how we’re going to turn heads and how we’re going to make people watch our programmes. We’ve all had the opinion that applications including a show reel is the right way to go.
When you’re straight out of college you haven’t had the experience of working in TV and we want to encourage new people getting into it so maybe having a show reel isn’t appropriate for entry level graduates or entry level people that are applying.
what we’ve wanted to do with the plus one initiative is work with organisations such as Creative Access, who are specifically for BAME minorities; we work with them and they work with organisations and colleges. They know people interested in working in the media and they then shortlist them for us based on the roles we have on offer. We hired a girl last year on our team who is amazing – totally amazing and I would never have found on the normal LinkedIn trawl.
Creative Access has come up absolute trumps, that’s why we’ve gone with them again for another role this year.
So, that’s one aspect and I think it’s all good having initiatives but they have to mean something.
We’re all so passionate and it’s about having a bit of healthy competition between the different departments. ITV is a big organisation, we’re all over the country. We’re in regions with our news operations, so what is news doing? What are the channels doing? Who’s leading? Who’s doing the best?
And let’s call it out. If you’re not doing the best, then we should talk about it.
You’ve been in the broadcast industry for a long time, have you seen a big change or improvement in broadcast and how the hiring process works in being diverse?
I think individually we’ve all been trying to do it, but we haven’t had a voice. I feel like it’s now happening. Momentum is there.
On my own personal experience. Driving the pride network – ITV’s LGBT network what I’ve seen is sort of visibility not just for gay men but lesbians, bisexuals and trans as well. What we’ve been able to do because of this momentum is be able to affect policy at ITV.
In the last 12 months we’ve introduced a transitioning at work policy, which we haven’t had before. And we haven’t had it before because no one is talking about it – which is bizarre – because it’s not like trans people have just suddenly; appeared – trans people have always been there but we’ve never had a policy. So, we’re chuffed about that.
We work with organisations such as Stone Wall and if we have an initiative, we sense check with them and they give us advice on wording, reference etc.
We’re fortunate in the industry we’re in and especially an organisation like ITV who have a very big role to play culturally. We pride ourselves at being at the heart of popular culture – Coronation Street and Emmerdale have been driving LGBT storylines for years and we can’t forget that. Look at the Hailey and Roy storyline which started 20 years ago.
What we’ve been doing on air hasn’t always reflected what we’ve been doing as an organisation with our employees.
The momentum is definitely there now to change this.
Are you finding that you’re implementing the same process you have with hiring into the content side of things?
I think we’re really mindful of diversity in our creative campaigns when it’s specially shot. Take Love island, we can’t give away contestants before the show, so we’ll come up with a concept that promotes Love Island and we’ll be very conscious of the diversity within that campaign
And the same for any of those shows now. We can’t dictate the shows characters. I mean that’s not my role but I think ITV are very conscious of diversity, e.g. female leads, our soaps, dramas and even news presenters.
What do you feel the benefit is of having a diverse team?
For me it’s really simple – we are a reflection of our diverse viewers and if we can’t reflect accurately what is going on outside this building – how do we make programs that people want to watch?