Canvas' Woolmington Reflects On Lessons Learned During COVID Era

Canvas Worldwide CEO Paul Woolmington discusses the “poignant lessons” that he has learned over the past 12 months has he and his team have navigated work and life during the pandemic. He does so organizing those lessons within what he terms “P” buckets—Purpose, People, Product and Profound Gratitude. 

The industry must continue to work towards a stronger purpose. Canvas was at the forefront of the current trend to define an agency around an empowering mission statement. “Our name literally refers to a blank Canvas that cannot be informed by a historical playbook ensuring team members must work outside one’s comfort zone every day,” he says.  

Woolmington recommends this near post-pandemic moment is the perfect time to reflect on transcending norms. The entire world has forever changed, which on a certain level is liberating, he says. This freedom lets the industry rewrite conventional wisdom and explore new methodologies. “We are really good at the what (just selling) and how (via a one-off tactic), but we now need to ponder a broader point of why,” he says. We need to match our thoughts, ideas with action.” 



Second, culture is people, not data sets, asserts Woolmington. Canvas notably instituted no furloughs or layoffs during the pandemic and has hired 72 new members since the agency started working remotely in spring 2020. “Our first instinct to put people first paid off,” he says. “It was as much an internal consideration as it was external with clients.” 

Woolmington’s key lesson learned is that everyone falls under this bucket known as “people,” he explains. “Clients are people.” He realizes you build greater trust at the moments of greatest crisis. “This is the time when incredible relationships are formed.” Now, the agency’s client partners are bonded in ways that they have never been before. This insight has resulted in Canvas posting double-digit growth year-over-year and winning several new accounts. 

His third point centers on the product serving as the spine for all disciplines.  “There needs to be a balance between the right insight and the right alignment,” he says. The right formula combines context, content, and contact, says Woolmington. “Marketing and communications nirvana happens when all three are in alignment.” 

He states advertisers cannot just point at "shiny objects and if we do they are part of a learning and testing agenda so they become strategic longer term.” 

The symbiotic nature of channels and messages need to be holistically considered for success, he states. Canvas, for instance, may be more focused on media, which provides the context and contact part of the equation, with context needing even more diligence. 

Woolmington says his teams must increasingly become drivers of inputs into the contact part of the solution as those points atomize. “Only that way can we deliver true holistic solutions and success.” 

A critical part of the equation for success is "bespoke," he says. “Data, tools, strategy, creative and media each must solve the problem that is truly unique to the client.” 

Lastly, Woolmington expresses profound gratitude. “My grandma said you can never say thank you enough,” he says. The past few months have reminded him how grateful he is to his team and how important it is to continue to act with kindness.  

He mentioned he has communicated more than ever before, making this contact his “critical priority” with more than 100 all-staff emails, town halls and events from serious to fun every week from day one helping convey appreciation and provide support for the Canvas team’s efforts during these unprecedented times. 

Over 80 employees have been recognized with "Good Humans" awards. “We are celebrating people in ways we hadn't previously done so,” he says. 


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