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5 Minutes with… Cass Zawadowski



Co-CCO at Wunderman Thompson speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about a childhood love of cereal ads, sharing creative responsibilities with Ari Elkouby, and flexing her creativity as a hobby florist

5 Minutes with… Cass Zawadowski

"Great creative has no boundaries. The best work can come from anywhere. Meet some of Canada’s best creative thinkers. The work is world-class and consistent."

Canadian production company FRANK Content is a proud supporter of Little Black Book as its partner for the Canadian market. As part of that relationship, LBB is sitting down with the brightest and best minds from across Canada's advertising industry. Today, it's the turn of Cass Zawadowski, co-CCO at Wunderman Thompson in Canada.

Cass Zawadowski’s relationship with advertising began at a young age: through a love affair with brilliant cereal commercials, a memory we’d wager most people can relate to. Her career in the industry since then has taken Cass from her native Canada to New York, Germany, and Korea before resettling back in Toronto as co-CCO at Wunderman Thompson. Cass shares chief creative officer responsibilities with Ari Elkouby, with whom she thrives thanks to each other’s complementary traits and good nature, Cass tells us. 

LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with her to find out more.

LBB> Let's start by getting to know you a bit better! What sort of kid were you and did you have any strong opinions about advertising growing up?

Cass> I was a total tomboy. I loved sports and didn’t really have any female friends until I was about 10 years old. I also grew up a competitive swimmer. I dreamed of going to the Olympics and dedicated myself from an early age to the pool. I learned discipline, hard work and dedication from a sport that was as much individual as it was team oriented. I think all of this translated into my creative personality, and my competitive nature. When I was young, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I loved cereal commercials growing up (true fact!) but it wasn’t until my post-graduate studies that I discovered advertising. And so, after five years of school pursuing one career, I pivoted into creative advertising and copywriting ‘just like that’. 

LBB> How did you wind up in the industry as a creative? And what were the key decisions or happy accidents along that route?

Cass> Once I fell in love with advertising, I fell hard - and quickly became a student of the industry. I studied everything from the work to the brands, to the agencies, to the people in the business. I knew who worked where, who did what campaign, which agencies had which accounts, etc. It was early in my student life that I also discovered an agency called Zig. I loved the work the agency was doing, and I admired the creative leaders - two empowering female rock stars. I did everything to land an internship with them. And after many portfolio revisions, and one big ‘why you should hire me’ presentation, they took a chance on me. And I’ve been forever grateful since. I know my book was not necessarily the best in the city, but my passion, my determination, and my work ethic, were untouchable. Thank you, Elspeth [Lynn] and Lorraine [Tao], for believing in me. 

LBB> Your career has seen you work in a number of different markets - New York, Toronto, a lengthy stint in Germany and some time in Korea. What sort of lessons did you learn while outside of Canada that are now helping you as a national CCO in the market? 

Cass> I went abroad for a few reasons. Personally, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, travel and challenge myself in new ways. I’m a true wanderlust spirit and find new places soothing and inspiring. Professionally, I wanted to grow in ways that I wouldn’t have been able to do had I stayed in Canada. I wanted to experience bigger budgets, be part of teams that formed global strategy, lead diverse and global teams, and travel. Even at the earlier stages of my career, I was always thinking about my 10- or 15-year goal: ‘What can I do now to become a better global leader?’. One of (if not the) biggest thing I’ve learned from my time abroad is how to be a more diverse leader. Coming face to face with different cultures, learning from locals and building teams with creatives from all over the world has helped me understand how important different perspectives are (I came from a heavily white, male-dominated industry at the time). It’s also helped me understand that leaders need to be chameleons – it’s our job to flex our leadership styles to our teams, not the other way around. 

LBB> You're actually a co-CCO at Wunderman Thompson - a few agencies have that set up these days, but it's still mostly the lone CCO. How do you work together? Do you both oversee most stuff or is it more about dividing and conquering?

Cass> Ari Elkouby and I lead the creative department across Canada, making joint decisions about our people, our product, and our industry profile. When it comes to new business and the day-to-day work we divide and conquer. It’s the best way to ensure our clients have ongoing senior creative leadership at the table, and it gives us the ability to help drive opportunities and to foster closer relationships with our clients, team and colleagues. We come to work daily with a number of ambitions, but mentoring and growing our team is up there. Our split responsibilities give us the chance to really invest in this development of people. As a CCO duo, we complement each other well – he’s an art director by craft and I’m a copywriter. We both have global experience. The obvious: he’s male and I’m female. Wunderman Thompson is a creative, data, and technology agency, and together our combined experience covers this expertise. 

LBB> How do you feel the Canadian industry has changed and evolved while you were abroad? How creatively strong do you feel the market is right now?

Cass> The Canadian market is insanely strong. I don’t need to tell you or anyone that. Just look at the award shows and the PR the industry is creating. So many great agencies, brands and creatives across the country are doing impactful work that’s getting noticed well beyond our borders. Kudos to everyone! No further comment. 

LBB> When it comes to hiring new talent, do most come from Canada? Are there a lot of people from abroad looking to come to the market right now?

Cass> I will say our hiring philosophy is ever evolving. Two-and-a-half years ago we were pretty committed to just hiring Canadian talent. But with how the pandemic has changed things, we’re more open to where that talent comes from. Beyond great work (great portfolios), Ari and I have two mandates when it comes to our team. We look for genuinely nice people – we don’t tolerate egos, and we value camaraderie. We’re all in this together. We’ve recently hired a junior writer who is going through a career change. We’ve got people on the team who are parents, newly out of school, been working in the industry for a while. Our North American network is also very strong. One of the things we love about WT is the connection we have across our offices. Often, we may pull in a team from another office, and vice versa. We are always offering a helping hand when we can across the region. That’s what we do at WT: one team, one dream, truly.


LBB> And which piece from your time at WT are you particularly proud of and why? 

Cass> I’m really proud of what our GSK (now Haleon) Borderless team accomplished last year, specifically the work we did for Theraflu. The brand embarked on its first ever purpose campaign, rooted in its brand mission of fighting for a flu-safe world. What we found was that that world was impossible to create if people continued to go to work sick. And as we dug deeper, we discovered some really unnerving facts – that Black and Latina women in the US are the largest population facing barriers to access to paid sick time. I know LBB covered some of the Right to Rest campaign when we launched (thank you), but for those that missed it, in partnership with Edelman, we helped create the Right to Rest – a fund that made 1000 sick days across the US last year possible. Our campaign was authentic from start to finish, and we really made an impact on a huge issue facing all Americans. The Right to Rest Fund started a real conversation about sick leave in the United States. And we’re just getting started. Stay tuned for 2.0 this year. 

LBB> What's one piece of Canadian work maybe from the last year that you didn't make, but you're kind of jealous of?

Cass> Gosh, I really admired and was jealous of the ‘Lost Tapes from the 27 Club’ work from Rethink. Talk about impactful. Talk about the right use of technology and data to not only make a point, but to drive impact, action, and change. Truly a piece of work that embodies the kind of work I want to do in this industry. This work takes the cake for me (clap emoji)!

LBB> Do you have a creative hero and if so, who? 

Cass> OK, family and friends aside, I’m a huge fan of Bozoma St. John. From the impactful roles she’s held at high profile brands, to the way she lives her truth (you need to follow her on Instagram), she’s truly an all-around badass. I’d love to have coffee or lunch with her one day. I’m also inspired by Indra Nooyi’s story - what a powerhouse! Let it be known, I know neither of these ladies, but I find both of their approaches to the world of marketing extremely inspiring and (as women or those who identify as such) we’re lucky to have role models like them. 

LBB> What keeps you happy, relaxed, sane when you're not working?

Cass> Time with my partner, my family, and my friends. I hate to be a name dropper, but I also really love my Peloton. Not only has it been a much-needed outlet through the pandemic, but I am a huge fan of the brand. They’re brilliant when it comes to content creation, and I love that they exemplify what a truly diverse and inclusive brand looks like. They really live their values. I’m inspired by them daily. 

But I digress… I love walking my dog and listening to new podcasts. I’m a nerd, a learn-it-all, and I’m always looking for new inspiring outlets. My current new fave is Meghan Markle’s ‘Archetypes’. I love reading, art galleries, tacky reality TV ('Selling Sunset') and documentaries. I was so moved by 'Roadrunner', the story of Anthony Bourdain. What a sad story about a brilliant storyteller. 

Oh! I’m also a hobby florist, so I do florals for weddings on the side which makes for busy weekends.

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Frank Content, Fri, 14 Oct 2022 15:11:00 GMT