Matthew May: Problem solving ‘with a smile on my face’

It is Black History Month, and every day this month, The Message is sharing Gavin Barrett’s short profiles of Black professionals from across the industry—marketing, advertising, PR, media and production. Barrett writes the profiles as a way to “fight invisibility,” an exercise in representation for an industry where representation must get better.

Matthew May is a creative director at Brightworks and he’s been in the business since the magnetic lasso and pen were introduced in Photoshop. “I’ll let you do the math on that one,” he says.

Creativity has fuelled Matthew’s imagination since his school days, and he remembers when he realized it could be a career. “I passionately proclaimed to my art teacher that I wanted to be a graphic designer in front of the whole class. Not everyone believed I could do it. She did—shoutout to Mrs. Dawes—and more importantly, I believed in myself.”

Breaking into the competitive advertising industry required a foundation of hard work and, as Matthew puts it, “a trifecta of focus, fortune and flair.”

Matthew never had a BIPOC mentor, but he’s had an amazing journey. “I’m truly blessed to be in an industry that enables me to play to my strengths and satisfy my natural desire to help people,” he explains. “On any given day I get to uplift spirits, listen, motivate, advise, provide guidance, and problem-solve using creativity—all with a smile on my face.”

Matthew deals with racism the same way he solves creative problems—with empathy, understanding, and sincerity. And he’s personally faced multiple examples of bias, such as those who’ve said, “I didn’t know Black people could have British accents,” or “I’ve never met a Black creative director before,” or “You’re going to have to work twice as hard as a white person to get anywhere in this industry.” Ultimately, understanding why these biases exist helps Matthew decide on whether to respond by having a conversation, educating or calling them out.

Matthew has a list of suggestions to make our industry more inclusive. “Outreach: To organizations and community groups outside the traditional school framework. Invite: Be accessible to BIPOC creatives wanting to get [into the industry]. Create safe, welcoming spaces for authentic dialogue. Listen: Pay heed to the stories shared. Challenge bias and stereotypes to hire diverse talent across all roles. Empathize and understand: To help break down barriers. Embrace the vision of a more inclusive industry and the benefits it brings. And, finally, celebrate BIPOC role models.”

Matthew is working to help his agency drive organizational awareness and action around the BIPOC experience and inclusivity. He actively supports an anti-discrimination project to elevate BIPOC youth voices and perspectives using the power of music.

For young Black talent who want to get into advertising, he says: “Be authentically you, always. Trust your instincts. Believe.” That sounds about right for a creative whose personal mantra is “Positivity inspires.”

When asked about the work he is most proud of, Matthew shares an old Facebook post about a World Vision project. It says, “…yesterday was one of the best days I’ve ever had in my professional career. It’s moving to be involved in such a bold campaign with a powerful message aiming to tackle the issue of Child Slavery. So humbled. So proud. So happy. So grateful.”

My thanks to Fred Roberts who nominated Matthew with the words “he is one the most positive personalities I have ever met.”

Gavin Barrett