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Arts of the UK 2021: An Interview with Max Parker, founder of digital talent agency Matchstick Group

Screenshot 2021-03-01 at 2.52.24 AM

LONDON – There’s a saying that adversity breeds action, and nowhere does that apply more than Max Parker’s new talent management agency – the Matchstick Group.

Launched on 1st March 2021, the Matchstick Group’s birth coincides with International Self-Injury Awareness Day, as the inspiration to start his own agency came after Max lost a close friend to suicide in August 2020. Devastated by the loss of his friend as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and stress at work, Max was eventually diagnosed with depression and suicidal thoughts. But knowing that he had to do something about it, it indirectly led to Max leaving his job of seven years to create his own company with the support of close friends, clients, and investors Danny Jones (McFly) and Binky Felstead (Made In Chelsea).

Max Parker

I can’t believe that we’ve managed to do this while on lockdown! Both Binky and Danny are great friends I can confide in, and we’re more than just manager and client.

I can’t believe that we’ve managed to do this while on lockdown! Both Binky and Danny are great friends I can confide in, and we’re more than just manager and client; we do have a genuine relationship, and without them, this company wouldn’t even exist,” says Max. “I’ve been a little nervous leading up to our launch because I have no idea how people will take it and respond to it. It’s not so much the criticism so much as that I hope they’ll appreciate the time and effort that’s gone into setting it up, and to know that I’ll be making some small change and achievement as a business.”

Regarding the passing of his friend, Max explains how it still feels incredibly raw to him, and how he’s been taking it. “Joe’s death really came out of nowhere, and my mental health deteriorated massively in lockdown, along with self-destructive behaviour, but eventually, I realised it was time to re-evaluate my life,” says Max. “I realised that in my head, I wasn’t happy, and even thought everything on paper looked good, from having my own property, making a name for myself in the industry, I still ended up struggling so much after he died. I had to ask myself the tough questions – why am I working 5 days a week to get 2 days of rest? Am I achieving all I want to in life? It was up to me to make my own happiness, and I thought about how Joe always told me to set up my own company, and this would be something I did for him.”

“There was a lot of doubt at first – why was I leaving a comfortable job that paid a good salary, and why would I take such a huge risk, invest, and put all my blood, sweat and tears into it?” Max adds. “But it really is a case of ‘if not now, then when?’ I know it’s going to get harder the older I get, and if I end up settling down, to achieve this while still in my 20s.”

Binky Felstead

Matchstick Group is certainly also poised to live up to its birthdate, and has dedicated itself to donating 2% of all its profits in support of the mental health charity Joe’s Buddy Line. The charity aims to provide a lifeline to young people who might be experiencing suicidal or other debilitating thoughts and need someone to talk to or require other help, information and assistance. “Matchstick Group puts people before profit, and 2% is really the least I can do for Joe, in his honour,” says Max. “The entertainment industry in particular is on its knees right now, and so many people there are suffering mental health issues because of it. My heart goes out to everyone who’s been out of a job over the last year, and I can understand how soul-destroying it can be.”

“My job for now is to continue to persuade people to believe in me and what I’m trying to create.”

But what exactly is it that Matchstick Group does? “As a digital talent agency, social media and entertainment is a big part of it,” says Max. “I set out to found a company that was specialised for this digital era, something that is still few and far between, an agency that was forward thinking, and how we would be able to help celebrities and talents manage their social media and manage them from behind the scenes. It helps that we’ve already got good clients already, so they must see something good in us. The average age of our clients is 23, and it’s interesting how I haven’t actually physically met 60% of my clients, except via Zoom – there’s even one who’s on the other side of the Atlantic. My job for now is to continue to persuade people to believe in me and what I’m trying to create.”

With a roster of 26 clients already, spanning musicians, entertainers and influencers, with a total reach of over 10 million followers cross YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, Matchstick is set to be the UK’s fastest growing talent agency in 2021, and even hopes to garner 50 clients by the end of the year. Some of these include Danae Mercer, Jessica Olie, Dan Tai, Lilly SabriGeorgie ClarkeGrace Mongey, Imani Evans, and Danielle Vanier and more, each with over 100,000 followers to their name.

Danny Jones

Alongside Danny and Binky, top-tier talent launching Matchstick includes actress Martine McCutcheon, twin deaf models Hermon and Heroda Berhane – the first models with a disability to front a MAC Cosmetics campaign, singer-songwriter, model Max George formerly of The Wanted, Ollie Locke from Made In Chelsea and husband Gareth Locke, wellbeing gurus Lilly Sabri and Danae Mercer, and Patrick Hutchinson, debut author of Everybody Versus Racism, who rose to fame after rescuing an injured far-right protester during the London BLM demonstrations of 2020. Matchstick has also already snagged several deals and campaigns for his clients, including Universal Music, Now TV, Ted Baker, Durex and more.

And at just 29 years old, one wonders how Max even begins wrapping his head around all this. “My family was in the entertainment industry, and I always knew I wanted to do something along those lines as well,” says Max. “When I was 19, I spent 2 years working for free because I wanted to work my way up without relying on my family’s connections, where I was in Central London on weekdays, and doing retail on the weekends to finance that. I know 29 sounds young, but having been in the industry 10 years already, I often feel much older, and I think that I’ve seen the ups and downs of this industry with my experience. I’ve done so much already – helped develop TV shows, booked theatre shows for clients, got them on television…it feels good to have a breather to look back on all I’ve achieved, and think about how much more there is still to go!”

Imani Evans

As a ‘digital’ talent agency, Max intends for the company to be revolutionary in its approach, changing up operations by improving diversity, accessibility and representation in the entertainment industry.

As a ‘digital’ talent agency, Max intends for the company to be revolutionary in its approach, changing up operations by improving diversity, accessibility and representation in the entertainment industry, alongside greater variety in securing major brand deals, book and recording contracts, TV and theatre roles, as well as brokering equity deals and magazine front covers. “Life in general is already hard enough, but pile on certain expectations and aspirations, and it’s already harder. Matchstick is all about giving everyone an opportunity to succeed, and one thing we do focus a lot on is also the mental health aspect, and put people before profit,” says Max. “We forget that being an influencer is a full-time job, and there’s a lot more pressure to work around the clock, to see people as products and forget about their feelings. We want our clients to have their share of time off, to not have to be on standby on a Friday night just to post something, and even for me to check in on my clients with a message to see how they’re doing, outside of work.”

Max’s methodology is not without success; even before Matchstick, he was responsible for signing 24 clients for his previous employer, 15 of which had not previously had management, making Max’s signing rate one of the most successful in the entertainment industry over the past ten years. In 2017, Max was recognised by YouTube for Best Independent Music Release 2017, with YouTube showcasing his campaign strategy globally to Artist Managers. Max’s achievements range from two TOP 20 independent single releases from his own record label, five UK music tours, two theatre productions, five UK book publishing deals, and over 3,250 brand campaigns. 

Dan Tai

“I think it’s most important that our agency learn to be adaptable. Take for example a client who’s had a successful pop and TV career but now in her 40s, we can’t handle her the same way we do someone who’s just starting out. We need to know how to get the best out of them, what makes them tick, and offer them something that suits their profile,” says Max. “At the end of the day, if my talent isn’t speaking our praise, then we can’t grow as a company. We just have to ensure our ethos and moral compass is maintained at the heart of all we do, and ensure we look after both ourselves and our clients. And we have to be honest with each other, and not waste each other’s time if we can’t serve each other’s needs.”

“As a business, we’re looking towards the future. We don’t want people to send in CVs and a list of things they’ve done; that’s archaic, and a waste of time for them to write it, and a waste of time for us to read it. We would much rather see something like a 1000 word essay on their passions and what they want to achieve, and have a more fully-rounded idea of each individual rather than a list of qualifications,” says Max. “After this pandemic, I don’t think any company can say they’ll go back to the old way of working. It’s disrupted our way of life, and it’s opened us up to so many possibilities – like this interview where you’re on the other side of the world! As much as I do look forward to getting lunches and coffee to build relationships with clients again, so many of these old ideas of the 9-5 have been made redundant, and companies have to evolve and adapt.”

Patrick Hutchinson

“When you die, no one cares what property you owned or what car you drove; they care about what you did for others, and Joe still has such overwhelming love and positivity for him even now that he’s gone. It’s left an impact on me, and with the Matchstick Group, I too hope to become someone like that.”

As he readies to bring the company fully into the public eye, Max is nothing if not excited to sort it all out, and set off on this brand new chapter of his life. “There’ll be teething problems, but we’ve got incredible talent, so much to do to keep us busy, and figuring out how best to service our clients – that all makes the job fun,” says Max. “At its core Matchstick is all about diversity, individuality and supporting our incredibly talented roster of clients to not only achieve great things but thrive while doing so. I owe a massive debt of thanks to both Binky and Danny for not just believing in me when I was at my lowest but for encouraging me and backing me to take this leap of faith to share my vision of the future of talent management.”

“At the end of the day, I remember how Joe had this philosophy about how if he’s eating, then everyone else should be eating too.”

“At the end of the day, I remember how Joe had this philosophy about how if he’s eating, then everyone else should be eating too. I was previously so commercially driven and just wanted to make money, so I never understood why he would bend over backwards to give people opportunities. But I realised that by doing that, he’s left behind a legacy of kindness, that there are people out there who have entire careers because of this man. When you die, no one cares what property you owned or what car you drove; they care about what you did for others, and Joe still has such overwhelming love and positivity for him even now that he’s gone. It’s left an impact on me, and with the Matchstick Group, I too hope to become someone like that.”

More information on the Matchstick Group here

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