Trueline Spotlight: Going Gonzo

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Like many late-stage baby boomers growing up on suburban Long Island in the 1960s, Matt Schwach abided by the rules set forth by his parents, Dot and Sherwood, and his teachers at Boardman Junior High School.

That was, until he discovered Hunter S. Thompson.

For a guy who learned how to read through the world of comic books (an educational approach honed by his father), Schwach says it was Thompson’s gonzo journalism that really rocked his world at the age of 15—thanks to a “cool” neighbor who would slip him installments of Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” first published in Rolling Stone Magazine in 1971.

Matt Schwach Trueline
Matt Schwach + wife Glenna

Embracing Thompson’s bombastic, irreverent writing (and his carpe diem approach to life), Schwach ditched the trapping of middleclass America for a tie-dyed tee-shirt and let his bushy brown hair grow. He soon became the features editor at Oceanside High School’s newspaper, and later Colgate University’s “foreign correspondent” in London during a free-wheeling year abroad in 1977, looking a bit like a young Jerry Garcia.

“It was a great experience at the time, but my appreciation for being able to take that long a time to travel has only grown,” Schwach says, reflecting back on those days of unfettered freedom.

After graduating with a degree in English in 1978, Schwach quickly found other ways of using his words to earn a living. Turning down a reporter’s position at The Boulder Daily Camera, he joined New York’s N.W. Ayer & Son,the oldest advertising agency in the U.S. There, he got to meet a cast of characters not unlike the drawings of Thompson’s illustrator, Ralph Steadman, who brought his provocative, often grotesque cartoon-like characters to life with his iconic splatters and ink splotches (kind of like Rorschach tests come to life).

In his early days on the job, Schwach found himself doing everything from taking memos and answering client questions over the phone to fetching coffee.

“I was a glorified secretary,” he recalls with a laugh.

Quickly proving his worth, Schwach was sent to Ayer’s media department, becoming an assistant media planner in 1979. Before long, he was promoted, leading teams to set up media strategy for clients such as AT&T, 7Up and DeBeers Diamonds.

A pivotal moment in his career came when Schwach and others “unbundled” N.W Ayer’s media department in 1995 to form a free-standing media agency originally known as The Media Edge—a radical move at the time.

“Depending on whose history you read, it was the first of its kind, transforming the structure of advertising agencies,” says Schwach, who continued on as a co-founder, managing partner and account director of the agency.

The step also bolstered innovation in the market, unleashing a torrent of advertising revenue, he says. In time, that led to opportunities handling client accounts such as Gallo Wines and Charles Schwab—just to name a few.

In 2007, Schwach was named managing partner at MediaCom, a sibling agency of Media Edge, where he headed up the GlaxoSmithKline business. Comprised of more than 100 people, Schwach’s team planned and placed $750 million in ad buys.

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“It was an amazing career experience leading the media team that contributed to the creation of a multi-billion-dollar portfolio of pharma brands,” Schwach recalls. 

L: Matt + son Fox | R: Matt + Aunt Carole in ’77

He went on to head up the agency’s office in Chicago in 2010. Moving back to New York in 2013, Schwach switched gears, spending three years as the chief media officer for engageSimply, a digital content marketing startup, and later as the director of partnerships for Sparx Technology, a real-time platform for “participation TV” that connects viewers with digital content.

But city life soon grew tiresome. Having slayed his fair share of dragons in the media market, Schwach was ready to invest more time with his family.

Permanent Road Trip

Swinging into Portland sideways from his life’s adventures (minus the 300-pound Samoan lawyer and “Red Shark” convertible filled with various contraband), Schwach discovered Trueline two years ago.

“I get to speak with the impressive and accomplished people we feature in our stories. I also can’t beat working with my Trueline colleagues, who are really a wonderful group of people.”

By that time, Schwach knew the world of advertising as well as his feathered-edged volumes of Thompson’s works.

“I thought I’d try something different,” Schwach remembers.  “Trueline’s posting caught my eye. It was not something I had done before, but I had plenty of experience engaging with corporate executives.”

When he’s not working the phones, Schwach enjoys biking the Maine coast with his wife, Glenna; connecting with son Fox and his soon-to be-daughter-in-law Ana via Zoom; and hanging out with his son Leo, daughter-in-law Marni, and two granddaughters Mona and Frankie (who he’ll take to Casablanca Comics in Portland when it comes time to read.)

Matt Schwach Trueline
Matt Schwach + Family

As for the best part of his experience working at Trueline? Schwach says the people he talks to are often just as colorful and interesting as those in his favorite books by Thompson—even if they are stone sober operating within the law, he jokes.

“I get to speak with the impressive and accomplished people we feature in our stories,” Schwach says. “I also can’t beat working with my Trueline colleagues, who are really a wonderful group of people.”

Fast Five on Matt Schwach:

Celebrity sightings: Being in the Big Apple’s advertising business has its perks. From a quick hello to Bob Dylan to standing cheek-to-cheek with Jamie Lee Curtis, Schwach also shared space with Neil Young, Woody Allen and President Biden.

Not everyone gets to do this: Spend an afternoon in Richard Avedon’s studio for a photo shoot.

Dad’s a groupie: While Schwach digs his Boomer playlist, he’s a diehard fan and roadie for his son Fox’s Indy rock band “Harvey Eyeballs”.

Reveling in rock:  From his first concert seeing The Allman Brothers Band, Schwach’s found his way into the mosh pit at CBGB’s to see the Ramones, as well as to Simon and Garfunkel’s Central Park concert.

Life’s top moments: Marrying wife Glenna, quickly followed by the birth of his two boys, Leo and Fox.