Canvas WW's Woolmington: 'We Are Transforming The Way We Work'

As lockdowns begin lifting around the U.S., Canvas Worldwide CEO Paul Woolmington chatted with MediaPost about how the crisis is reshaping his agency, the broader ad industry, and why he thinks this dark time is revealing everyone’s better self.

“We are not just adapting to a new normal -- are transforming the way we work,” he states. The 400-person agency has remained active during the pandemic, competing in several pitches in the last eight weeks. These virtual pitches have been a “fantastic learning experience,” he adds. Although there is no replacement for the theatrical magic that comes with in-person pitches, technology has proven to be an adequate replacement in the interim.

One upside to remote working has been increased communication both with clients and among Canvas team members. There are more team chats, emails and texts. The result: more employees are updated about details and decision perhaps than in the past.



People are also more responsive to everyday tasks or requests. “You don’t have the usual issues with wrangling people to sit in meetings,” he says.

Time zone complications, for example, are nonexistent right now because people are more flexible with their schedules.

In some ways remote working has heightened familiarity among co-workers. Zoom chats usually kick off with icebreakers about binge-worthy TV or facts people are learning daily during the crisis. And Woolmington says it has been refreshing to see colleagues’ homes and learn about their passions outside of work. And his team has learned more about his interests including art, photography and gardening.

The hiring process has also been transformed. Woolmington said he hired a senior-level lead whom he has never met, but we have had about “20 video chats.”

It is often said true character is revealed during dark moments, and Woolmington feels this crisis has provided a glimpse of how clients act in stressful situations. He adds he is thankful everyone he has personally communicated with has demonstrated compassion and smarts.

As for returning back to the physical office, Canvas has established two interrelated task forces — one comprised of key discipline leaders and the other of operational managers — to guide its reopening policies. As with other shops, this complicated process is heightened due to differing state regulations as well as unique circumstances for each location.

For instance, the agency’s New York office must consider public transportation and population density, while staff in Los Angeles would drive to the office.

Travel routines will change considerably after the crisis. Pre-pandemic, there was rarely a week when Woolmington didn’t jump on a plane or train to head for a meeting. He doesn’t expect to ever return to his previous “road warrior status.” Thank goodness, he adds. “I think it was the default strategy to travel to important meetings and clients.” Now, one can have a meeting in Paris and Chicago in the same afternoon thanks to technology.

He also expresses amazement at the industry for its collective response to the crisis. He notes many strong and powerful campaigns that were developed under difficult situations, along with the incredible support agencies exhibited in creating pro bono initiatives.

“We are going to come out of this stronger, not weaker,” says Woolmington. “Under incredible stress and strain, we as an industry came together.”

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