CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/PAUL WOOLMINGTON’; Fast-talking Bozell star has a monster task at APL

Paul Woolmington is now a part of the APL five-year plan, Harriet Green writes

Paul Woolmington is now a part of the APL five-year plan, Harriet Green


Paul Woolmington could talk for Britain. Trying to slip a word into his

conversation is like launching a toy boat in a typhoon. It gets

submerged in a swell of ideas and philosophies.

Even in quiet times, the suave, well-dressed media man is excitable,

telling you all about his travels, his exercise regime or the blue and

white flowers in his Clapham garden. But when he gets his hands on a

briefing note about ‘media research’, or ‘best practice’, Woolmington,

34, begins to look like Marty Feldman playing a mad scientist.

Last week, Professor Wooly must have been in danger of overheating. He

landed a new job, which will take him away from Bozell Worldwide, where

he is currently the executive media director, and 20/20 Media, where he

is the managing director. Soon he will take up the newly created post of

worldwide strategic media director at Ammirati Puris Lintas (Campaign,

last week).

Woolmington has become part of Martin Puris’s five-year plan. Last

autumn, Puris, the network’s charismatic chairman and chief executive,

set out to overhaul the previously lacklustre Lintas network. And last

month he announced a restructuring of its media operations,

strengthening the in-house media resource at APL’s creative agencies and

developing its European media network, Initiative Media, into a global

brand (Campaign, 29 March).

Puris’s restructuring work has not been without controversy. His rivals

insist it places a huge emphasis on strategic planning within the

creative agency and this, they gloat, means Initiative will lose

planning credibility. After all, they argue, in some countries APL’s

full-service client, Unilever, makes up the vast majority of

Initiative’s business. Under Puris’s plans, in these countries

Initiative will only do a small amount of strategic planning for the

relatively insignificant media-only client base. A senior figure at a

rival media network goes as far as to say the move has ‘killed


Naturally enough, the worldwide media board co-chairmen, Mike Lotito and

Marie-Jose Forissier, deny this. They insist that APL and Initiative

will work in partnership. ‘We fully believe that, for APL’s full-service

clients, strategic media should be in the agency,’ Lotito declares. ‘But

we know many clients want media to be separate and they can find the

best media planning and buying through Initiative.’

Woolmington has taken the plans to heart. In our interview he quotes

Puris: ‘Our goal is to ensure that clients in every corner of the globe

will benefit from an approach in which media is inextricably integrated

into the process of creating outstanding advertising.’

Woolmington muses on the words of his mentor for a nano-second, then

enthuses: ‘That’s what I have always passionately believed. I want to be

an ingredient in the cake rather than just a candle or icing on the


And so he shall be. In addition to the global strategy role, Woolmington

will sit on the worldwide media board alongside Lotito, who is also the

chief media officer of APL New York, and Forissier, Initiative’s chief

executive. He will also oversee the strategic media planning directors

in Europe, the Asia Pacific and Latin America.

Woolmington’s physical relocation should be a breeze. Born in South

Africa, he spent his early years following his father, a travelling

lecturer and adventurer, around Africa and Asia. And although he says

he’ll miss his colleagues at 20/20 and Bozell - and his Georgian house

- those who know him agree New York will fit him like one of his

designer suits.

Phil Georgiadis, the chief executive of Initiative in the UK, says:

‘He’s central casting for Madison Avenue.’ Certainly, Woolmington is a

snappy dresser. Sipping celebratory champagne in his Soho club, he

sports an Armani suit and a Paul Smith waistcoat; his cuffs are

decorated with understated little silver baubles and he writes in an

elegant hand with a fountain pen.

Leo Burnett’s managing director, Nick Brien, is an old friend of

Woolmington: ‘It’s a monster challenge and a monster job. He’ll need

physical stamina and he’ll need authority as part of the strategic group

to make it work.’

So is the little guy up to it? ‘Paul’s physical size is deceptive. When

it comes to strength and energy no one can beat him,’ Brien says.

Lotito also marvels at Woolmington’s energy: ‘He makes me look like a

turtle. Paul has the attitude that he wants to come to work and change

the world.’

That attitude was highlighted in 1991 when Woolmington joined forces

with Chris Ingram to form the CIA/Bozell joint venture strategic media

company, 20/20. It was seen as a way of taking the fight to the enemy

instead of waiting to be picked off like so many other small media

operations were in the late-80s.

So wouldn’t he rather follow his friend Brien and move up the ranks of

agency management? ‘Nah, given the choice of agency managing director or

this job, I’d take this position any day of the week. Media is at the

heart of the change in the advertising business over the next decade. It

allows you to be a businessman, to be a strategic thinker and to play on

a bigger canvas,’ Woolmington says.

Since becoming Bozell’s worldwide media director 18 months ago,

Woolmington’s reputation has spread internationally. One senior figure

who quickly noted his potential was Steven Heyer, the president of

Turner Broadcasting’s worldwide sales operations. Last year he asked

Woolmington to advise him about Turner’s media expansion. ‘He’s really

smart. Paul has a nice easy style - he’s aggressive, intensive and

focused,’ Heyer comments.

His style is inspirational rather than bullying. After 17 years in

advertising, he seems to have made no enemies, which is quite a feat

considering he made it to media director at 25.

Greg Delaney, the joint creative director of Delaney Fletcher Bozell,

says it is because Woolmington is ‘a genuinely lovely person. We’ve

worked together for six years and we’ve never had a single cross word’.

Like a friendly puppy, Woolmington likes to know everybody. ‘I’ll be in

a position to talk to everyone and to transport the best ideas. I’ll

spend time making sure the right people are motivated. Then we can start

creating forums where we can talk about issues such as state-of-the-art

research,’ Woolmington says.

He adds: ‘I don’t have a grandiose vision. My feet are firmly on the

ground. What I would love to do is to infuse what I call energy in

media. It’s a way of not just counting heads but getting into the heads

of consumers.’

But Woolmington is not just a friendly chap. He has a broad view.

Delaney says: ‘He’s a media man who understands the creative process.

It’s always been more than number-crunching to him. He’s the best media

man I’ve encountered in my time in the business - and I’ve worked with a


Mick Desmond, Laser Sales’ chief executive, makes a similar point: ‘He’s

always looking for more than the obvious. He’s akin to a great creative.

He’s always been a bit of a star. He stands out because of his wild

passion and enthusiasm.’

What most fires that enthusiasm now, Woolmington explains, is the chance

to ‘play on a very big stage, and to be genuinely involved in the brand

that is called Ammirati Puris Lintas’.

Woolmington launches off on another complex analysis of his future role.

He talks so much, it’s hard to keep up. But a former colleague of his at

Delaney Fletcher, who laughs that Woolmington was always allowed an

extra 15 minutes to speak at pitches, insists he is no bullshitter.

Lotito also defends him against such a charge: ‘On my voicemail I have a

message that lasts for 30 seconds, and I tell callers that if they can’t

limit themselves to that time they’re not saying what is important.’

Professor Wooly, it seems, has yet to use all 30 seconds.


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