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,
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
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
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
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.