VP, ECD at Wunderman Thompson Canada on being a student of advertising, the creative health benefits of routine, and using social media as a tool for inspiration
According to creativity researchers, there are four sides to creativity. Person (personality, habits, thoughts), product (the thing that results from creative activity), process (how you work), and press (environment factors, education and other external factors) all play a part. So, we figured, let’s follow the science to understand the art of creativity. Creativity Squared is a brand new LBB feature that aims to build a more well-rounded profile of creative people.
Cass Zawadowski is a results-oriented marketing veteran with proven strategic and creative excellence. As co-executive creative director of Wunderman Thompson Canada, Cass brings 17 years of integrated agency experience, and a wealth of global brand leadership.
Throughout her career, Cass has developed culturally impactful, brave brand stories told through numerous integrated campaigns across traditional advertising, social, branded content, experiential, ecommerce, experiential and digital channels. Her talent has taken her from Toronto, to NY, Europe and Asia and back to Toronto, where she now leads creative on a number of global clients including, GSK, IKEA, Shell, and Microsoft.
Get to know Cass and her approach to her work.
How timely! We just did an exercise with some client partners the other day, using Adobe’s ‘My Creative Type’ test and my results were bang on. I’m what you call ‘The Visionary’, moved by potential, charismatic and expressive, and definitely driven by results.
My wanderlust spirit would say I very much see the world through traveller’s eyes – curious, open-minded, and rarely afraid to step outside my comfort zone. I like to explore, and I’m always questioning things. I’m also a visual learner, so I am inspired and moved by visually and aesthetically pleasing things.
I do think our tendency to be more right or left brained is formed in our early years, but I also think creativity can and needs to be nurtured, developed and encouraged. Travelling, reading, art, design, movies, befriending those of different ages and backgrounds can all help enhance your creative capacity. The more you influence it, the more likely your output will reflect it. Creativity prepares you to deal with uncertainty which is the name of the game in this industry.
I used to think I was an extrovert because I’m overtly expressive and sociable and I feed off other people’s energy. But over the last few years, I realised I’m actually a bit of both. The older I get, the more I value 1:1 relationships, and finding quiet and reflection time to recharge.
I’m a creative who thrives on structure, so I’m pretty serious about routine. I think some routine is healthy. For example, I get up every day at the same time - I workout, walk the dog and have the same protein shake for breakfast. In the evenings, I play tennis, walk the dog again, read and then spend time with my partner. The way I bookend my days is usually pretty routine (unless it’s a weekend), but what happens during work hours is never routine and I like the contrast.
I’m a copywriter and, luckily, I very much like writing outside of work. I’m also very inspired by art and design in my personal life. I love learning new things, so I’ve been pushing myself to read outside of my go-to genres. In my spare time (what’s that?!) I’ve also become a hobby florist. Playing with flowers is a way for me to exercise creativity outside of my day-to-day job role.
I recently judged the Clios and the LIAs, and something I loved about being on both those juries (besides the amazing people I met) was that we held ourselves to judging the work through the lens of creativity. For me, it’s not always about whether something has been done before or not. Of course, innovation is a big plus. But if the work makes me think about something differently, if it challenges my perceptions or beliefs, that’s creativity at work. I also think creativity must transform. Did the work bring about results? Did it grow a brand? Did sales increase? Did they acquire more loyal consumers? Etc. It’s really hard to do these things so I like to celebrate brands and work that push for bold, big ideas that transform.
I’m most proud of two recent campaigns. One for VW Canada, which was a fun brand love opportunity where we celebrated unsung heroes who were also VW owners. It’s very rare you get a brief where the sole KPI is to increase brand love (via YouTube views). We celebrated these unsung heroes across Canada with a brand activation and social campaign recognising the amazing contributions they made to their communities. The other campaign is for Church’s Chicken. Our WT Toronto office recently partnered with our WT Atlanta office to help launch the new Chicken Tenders and Shrimp meal. I love the QSR category, and this was a fun opportunity to work alongside some amazing clients and colleagues. To generate excitement for the new chicken and shrimp meal among millennials, we launched them like you would a sneaker drop and created a lookbook with beauty shots of the chicken and clever names like ‘The Lone Star’ and ‘The Longhorn’. I’m really proud of this one because our network came together to create great work with no egos. I also love that the client was willing to take a chance on such a unique and non-traditional idea. We saw great results, as the meal sold out, and this particular piece I’m referencing was named Editor’s Choice on Adweek.
I get really frustrated when I see easy one off work being celebrated that isn’t rooted in results. Our jobs are to solve complex business problems with creativity. To help brands grow. I would like to see the great work for bigger, harder clients being celebrated, great work is nothing without results. One of our goals at WT is to be doing our best work on our top 30 clients, which is a great goal and focus. It’s not always easy. But I feel so much better about my job when I know we’ve created work that helps our clients’ businesses grow.
I like to review the brief with the strategist ahead of the team. This is my time to align with him/her/them and to ensure we have an inspirational springboard. After the full team brief, I’ll follow up with my team to make sure they’re feeling good about the opportunity. If needed, I find time to brainstorm with them along the way. I believe in creatives and strategists working alongside each other throughout the entire duration of the project. There’s no briefing a team in and then disappearing until the internal. Collaboration is key to me and I ensure it’s a value that my team supports and upholds as well.
I’m a big advocate for collecting inspiration along the way. You never know when a Pin, an Insta post or an article might spark an idea for a future idea. Plus, this makes me feel less guilty about the time I’m spending online/on my phone. It’s for research after all.
I was born in Calgary, Alberta but grew up for most of my life in Toronto, Ontario. I love Toronto, but I’m still a west coast girl at heart. I was a total tomboy and played all kinds of sports, ultimately succeeding in the sport of competitive swimming. I think being immersed in sports so early on helped foster my creative spirit. I also think it ignited my competitive spirit and in my experience, competitiveness and creativity go hand in hand.
I worked (and worked and worked) on my craft. I remember landing my dream internship out of school, and not because I was necessarily the best person, but because I worked so incredibly hard for it. I proved to the agency ECDs how much I wanted it and how hard I was willing to work for it. This has been my philosophy throughout my career. Determination is just as crucial as talent. I also spent my time studying annuals and award show winners, I showed my book to many people and took all the (harsh) feedback I could. I really became a student of advertising.
I’ve been really lucky thus far in my career to have had some amazing client partnerships. I think they’ve been great because there’s been trust, communication and a similar mindset and goals from the get-go. That said, I think for clients to get the best out of teams and agencies they work with, they should allow the agencies to ‘work their magic’. Trust a little more. Clarity is key. Rest assured your agency is your ally. And give the agency defined, measurable goals and KPIs.
When it comes to culture, I believe leaders play an important role in setting the tone. Expressing and upholding agency values, leading by example - but I also think cultural responsibilities should be spread across the agency. We all have to play a role in creating and fostering the environment we want to work in. In a post-Covid world, as we return (in some shape or form) to the office, I think agency spaces need to be creative and expressive environments. Colourful, artful, inspiring. That’s personally how I thrive. That said, I don’t think WFH is going anywhere, so it’s also important to continue to emphasise virtual ways of facilitating creativity (like Miro or another similar tool that enables collaboration).