The earliest memory for A.J. Matthies was learning how to drive a tractor.
“(It’s) very Nebraskan,” he chuckled, recalling the experience when he was around 4 years old.
For Matthies, that memory sticking with him re-affirmed that no matter where he went in life, he would always come back to Nebraska where he grew up on an acreage a few miles outside of the Lincoln city limits with his “standard Midwest family.” He never really had plans to move anywhere else, though he’s been open to the idea. His opportunities in Lincoln have placed him with a job he loves.
Matthies is the senior project manager and hiring coordinator at redthread, a Silicon Prairie-based creative advertising agency that has worked on campaigns for Certified Piedmontese, a quality beef brand, and Lincoln Calling, a nonprofit music, arts and innovation festival, among other clients.
Matthies’ heroes growing up were celebrities and the people you would see in movies, people he thought were “really cool.” As he grew older, his heroes became more realistic, people who he says are doing good things.
“I have a lot of respect for people that are working for equality, women’s rights, gay rights,” he said. “People who are fighting for, like, climate change and fair wages and all that stuff. So, my heroes now are a lot more …” he paused to choose the right word. “I guess they’ve also kind of grown up a little bit. It’s not so much just, like, a movie star. It’s, like, someone who’s doing a lot of good with their position.”
In 2009, Matthies attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for computer programming. He ended up majoring in business administration and marketing and graduated with a bachelor of business administration. That led him to his job in project management.
“It was never my goal to work at an agency, and it was never anything that I thought would be an opportunity that I would be presented with. But I really like it, and I’ve always really liked it,” he said. “I would say it was through most of my marketing classes that I got connected with what I’m doing now.”
To get a better understanding of what he’s doing now, Matthies through a day in his life on the job. He chooses to use a more normal day as opposed to a quarantine day.
“A typical day consists of meeting with team members, so talking to designers, making sure they know what they should work on, maybe, organizing a film date,” he said. “Making sure that our video team is prepared and making sure that our clients are in the know about what’s going on with the projects that we’re working on for them.”
He details how a lot after that is “standard, boring stuff:” meetings, emails, phone calls.
“Every so often I’ll be involved in like a really big production, or we’ll get the opportunity to travel a little bit to either a trade show, or we’ll do a production in a different city. So I’ll travel and be on set for those types of things, too,” he said.
Those types of things get Matthies excited. His dream projects and goals for the future include working with big, noticeable brands outside of the Midwest. His pride in his company is obvious in the way he speaks about it. He details how when he started at redthread, there were eight people employed and now they have 21 employees, gearing up to hire numbers 22 and 23.
“As someone that handles hiring and interviews, I feel like I’ve played a pretty big role in that,” he joked.
As a project manager, Matthies is responsible for meeting both with clients and with his team.
“We have designers, we have videographers, we have writers, we have creative directors, art directors and we have accounts and sales team members. So my job is to keep everybody’s day organized and to make sure that everybody has enough to work on without feeling overwhelmed,” he said. “To keep everybody’s day balanced, pretty much. And just to make sure that I’m facilitating work so that we’ve produced the highest quality that we can.”
Matthies understands that his workplace has a really fun image. He brings it up when asked what people most misunderstand or assume about it. But he makes it clear that it’s not just a big, silly party where people goof around all day.
“The reality is that, that is probably about 5% of the time, and the other 95% is really hard work, and doing really hard things and making really good things for clients,” he said. “So I think that’s the thing that is definitely misunderstood about us.”
One of the most fulfilling parts of his jobs, he said, is when he gets to work with nonprofit organizations. Lincoln Calling is 17 years old and a point of pride for Lincoln locals. Matthies’ company was able to create an all-encompassing campaign across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for the festival that increased ticket sales by 14.5%, the most the festival has ever sold.
“People came up to me, and that’s one of the first things that came out of their mouths: ‘Oh, my gosh – the design’s great this year,'” Lincoln Calling’s director, Spencer Munson, said. “I’ve worked with large design firms where we’ve gotten completely lost in the shuffle. I’ve worked with smaller design firms where it was a combination of not knowing how to handle us and helping us manage our time. The festival world has one timeline and the design world has another. The communication between the two started off great and just got better.”
Because of his job title, Matthies understands the need for communication and time management better than anyone.
“It’s really rewarding because we actually get to see how our work can improve their business but also the community and the people that they’re trying to help,” he said.
Matthies acknowledges how important community and connections are in a career. In fact, his ability to create those connections is something he takes a lot of pride in.
“In my personal life, I think that I am most proud of being a diligent, connected person,” he said. “I don’t want it to sound like, ‘Oh, I just have like a ton of friends,’ but I have a really good group of friends. And I have a really good family that I rely on quite a bit, and so being the person that’s like very diligent about keeping those connections and (keeping) friends. I’d say that I’m most proud of that.”
The glaring topic that seems to sit in the back of everyone’s minds in 2020 was brought up briefly in the beginning, and when brought to the forefront again, Matthies spoke on how lucky he is. Since redthread is a flexible work environment, he said a few employees would choose to work remotely a few times a month prior to the pandemic, anyway. The environment, however, relies on collaboration, forcing the workers to be more diligent and timely.
“I feel pretty fortunate to be in the position that I’m in. Just because we’re still able to work, we’re still busy,” he said. “Almost everybody that I work with has a pretty full plate to get through stuff, so that makes me feel really good.”
His normal day is packed with meeting other people and organizing for others. So one would expect a quarantine day of work to be slightly different.
“My days are pretty much the same, except the office meetings are generally replaced with Zoom meetings and Google Hangouts,” Matthies said. “On my off days, I try to keep busy by doing some house projects and catching up on some shows to watch.”
Personally, Matthies said he isn’t scared. His worry is reserved for others more than himself. He’s reminded of the clients he works with who are struggling a bit more and his own friends and acquaintances who have to worry about job security among other things. To summarize his work in one statement, he hesitated.
“We do have, like, a vision statement and a company statement, but I would probably say something along the lines of, like, I don’t know, I’d probably go the cheesy route to say ‘Work together.’ Because I know it’s a lot easier for us to solve our problems if everybody is working together and collaborating.”
And for himself?
“I’ve always tried to, like, use the statement, ‘Do your best.’ I know that’s, like, really cheesy and pretty simple but I would say that, for myself, I always want to be a high achiever.”