After more than five years promoting media neutrality as CEO of The Media Kitchen, Paul Woolmington, 44, last year defected to become a founding partner and self-described "chief tea maker" of Naked in New York. Since opening shop in December, the office has recruited 15 "brilliant misfits," working on communications planning for clients including Coca-Cola, Nokia and Minute Maid and agency partners such as StrawberryFrog, Mother and R/GA. After years spent traversing the globe for fun and profit, the Uganda native explains why all roads will lead to Naked. Q: A lot of agencies come over here with great expectations but never live up to the hype. Why will Naked be different?
A: Naked is the only company of its kind that absolutely is free of any bias … because we do not manufacture anything. Everybody can claim neutrality, but it's a very different thing delivering on it. I think that will keep us competitive. As an ad agency you can say, well, we do funky things, but if you have a creative department, at the end of the day you have to feed that department. If you've got a big media group and you've got a lot of people buying TV, you can talk about neutrality until the cows come home, but at the end of the day you've got to feed those people. How many big agencies stand up and disagree with the upfront? Big agencies don't. It's inherently not in their best interest to do so.
What is Naked's positioning?
The simple answer is that it is about core communication strategy, which is about channel planning, integration, bringing the parts together and managing those parts. Not every client wants all of those parts.
When you say you collaborate with agencies, such as in new-business pitches, what exactly do you do for them?
We do communications planning and a lot of creative amplification.
Who do you consider your competitive set?
Because we don't manufacture anything, we see ourselves as being complementary. We see our model as unique.
Aren't you straddling a dangerous fence trying to be both friend and foe of ad agencies?
The only scary thing is that we're always trying to do the right thing because we are neutral of any discipline. That can make people uncomfortable but I can counter that because we don't manufacture. We're far more a friend than a foe.
Describe a recent client project.
The Nokia relationship has been a global relationship as well as a local one. We've been building some global platforms for the NSeries, their multimedia mobile devices. One of the platforms is digital imaging, so a photographic competition is a logical extension. We got a blue-chip list of photographers involved, and the idea is for people to take photographs using a Nokia NSeries product and upload them onto a site. We had entries from 40-plus countries. The prize is the opportunity to work a day on a commercial shoot. We're expecting that people who enter this competition are budding photographers, the budding amateurs, the actively engaged audience.
What's the smartest business decision you've ever made?
Unquestionably, joining the Naked family. I feel like everything that I've been doing in my career has sort of had this road that has led to Naked. So everything that I've tried to do in agencies, in big holding companies, in big independents, in The Media Kitchen, all of it, actually crystallized in trying to create the new model of the future.
What's the dumbest?
Coming to the States and almost losing my job [as chief media officer worldwide at Ammirati Puris Lintas] by not taking a call from Phil Geier. My assistant spelled his name wrong, and I had just thought it was some rep. He had to call twice to get through to me. Eventually, the penny dropped that it was the [former] chairman and CEO of IPG. He wasn't too pleased. He was like, "Don't you know who's calling?" He was a bit of a beast and I thought, "You know, that's pretty dumb. You should take every call."
Besides your own, what's your vote for the best agency out there?
The Dream Factory, which is a collaborative group of agencies. There is no such thing as one greatest agency. Anything great can only be achieved with a collaboration, and the most-awarded has been [for "Grrr" and "Cog"]. I admire those campaigns immensely for the way they went to market and built really refreshing Web sites and got viral films on the Internet.
Name one person you're dying to work with.
I'd love to work with those guys at Jib Jab. That whole Bush parody was like genius, and the way it was distributed and the way it caught fire, maybe it was completely by accident. In today's media world, citizen media is what it's all about. The best people to work with are individuals sitting in their living rooms co-creating. If you don't get that you're going to have to lose a little bit of control and have to work with consumers and allow them to engage and evolve the brand story, then you're going to be dead.
What's your dream assignment?
To work on an issue as big as promoting Africa to the world. I have a deep worry that Africa is going to be the forgotten continent.
Give me three words to describe yourself.
Enthusiastic. Passionate. Loyal.
Three words others would use?
Passionate. Enthusiastic. Verbose.