Spotlight on Matt Britton: How I Built a Youth Marketing Empire
Known in the industry as pioneer of youth culture and marketing, Matt Britton has rapidly grown his ad businesses by marketing to Millennials.
Matt Britton, chief executive officer (CEO) of global agency MRY, knows Millennials, a demographic that helped him grow his business from a one-person gig to a 350-employee global agency.
Like one of the saavy mad men of the titular TV show, Britton has made a career of mining culture for creativity. He is the owner of agency MRY (formerly known as Mr. Youth), as well as a major shareholder and chairman of the board for marketing platform Crowdtap and Smooch Labs (owner of Jewish dating app JSwipe). Known in the industry as pioneer of youth culture and marketing, he also wrote a book entitled YouthNation on how to build brands in a youth-driven culture.
Those achievements are a far cry from 2002 when Britton founded marketing company Mr. Youth, where he was the only employee. At the time, the Internet was increasingly becoming popular among college students, but few brands knew how to engage this young group online. Britton sensed an opportunity.
“I thought there was a big opportunity to create an agency that could help brands come up with new ideas and use the Internet to reach college students,” he recalls. “The timing was just right.”
Mr. Youth launched its very first marketing campaign for Red Bull, where the agency conducted movie screenings on college campuses for the brand. After Red Bull, Mr. Youth started diversifying its marketing approaches to help more brands target young audiences.
One of its main services was building up a student representative program, where Mr. Youth hired thousands of college students to represent brands on campuses. In order to manage college ambassadors and measure their performance, Britton and his team developed a software called “RepNation.” Soon, many outside agencies approached to ask if they could use the software. Britton spotted another way to appeal to a college-aged audience.
“The software was not really built to be given to other agencies, but we thought that could be a new business opportunity,” he recalls.
Britton took some of RepNation’s initial foundation and created a new product called Crowdtap to let other agencies manage their own ambassador programs. Then he spun Crowdtap off as a separate software company in 2011. Now as a standalone business, Crowdtap has its own chief executive officer, Sean Foster, and more than 100 employees.
While Britton remained the chairman of Crowdtap, he was mainly focused on his first ad business, Mr.Youth. In order to grow the agency, he decided to merge Mr.Youth with the former U.S. operations of LBi in 2013 and rebranded the combo to be a larger marketing company called MRY.
Although Britton is the driving force behind Mr.Youth, MRY and Crowdtap, he could not have built his youth marketing empire without Millennials, a generation that likes producing new ideas and expects brands to appeal to them creatively.
“I enjoy working with twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings,” Britton says. “I’m learning from them.”
To convince Millennials to join a corporate culture they’ve traditionally eschewed, Britton believes that companies need to create an environment that embraces people: making employees feel energetic and free without boundaries.
“I think big companies have bureaucratic systems: you have to work for three years to be at this level, and another three years to reach that level. That type of system doesn’t work for Millennial audience,” Britton explains. “You also need to embrace Millennials’ passions. Most of them have their own venture outside the office. You don’t need to prohibit that and make them hide their side project. You want them to embrace everything they are passionate about.”
Giving employees the flexibility to manage their own time has brought a huge benefit for Britton, as evidenced in JSwipe, one of his major investments.
The dating app is aimed at “Millennial Jews around the world.” Today it has more than 350 thousand users around the globe, but few know that the app started as a side project in 2013 when its founder David Yarus was still working as a general manager for Mr. Youth.
Last May, Yarus decided to leave the agency and grow this side project into a startup. Surprisingly, Britton supported his decision.
“I thought leaving a company I loved was the scariest conversation to have with Matt. But he turned that scary conversation to support and guidance,” Yarus recalls. “He told me that it would have hurt him more knowing that he was holding me back from what I needed to do as an entrepreneur.”
Britton not only encouraged Yarus to be focused on JSwipe full-time, but also financially invested in his business.
“Matt has been a mentor and a friend over the past five years. I’ve learnt more from him about business than I would have learnt at business school,” Yarus says. “When I was working for Mr. Youth, Matt encouraged me to break rules, build great things, and taught me the meaning of hustle. Then when I started my own business, JSwipe, he became a major investor and driver of our success.”
Yarus is perhaps one of the lucky ones to meet his mentor so early in his career. But his success can also be ascribed to a dynamic and thriving culture at Mr. Youth.
As the agency’s CEO, Britton believes that building a world-class company culture is the premise for building a world-class product, and leaders shape the culture.
“You cannot create a system where the leadership is above any job. The leadership needs to socialize with employees with all levels at a company,” Britton says.
“Promoting from within is also important to creating a great culture: putting young people in positions to succeed, while in other businesses they may never have that opportunity,” he adds.