By Anna Harrison
Natasha Woodwal, who sometimes goes by Tash but never by Nat, wanted to be a child actress, then later, a criminologist. But, when she graduated from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom in 2009, it was with a degree in economics. She rushed a few job applications to media and publishing companies before a family dinner. At that point, it was less about having a passion for the industry and more about avoiding her parents’ disapproving looks across the table.
Luckily, Haymarket Media Group reached out about an opportunity. But, it was for a job in event production for which she had no experience. During the phone interview, Woodwal quickly Googled about it, and did well enough to book an in-person interview. As she told FUTURE NOW CEO and Founder, Margaret Kim, in a Leadership Talk on October 20, “Something clicked in the interview,” and she got the job.
Early in her career, though, Woodwal felt insecure about being the youngest in the room. “I used to come at that with frustration,” she admitted, saying that she assumed people didn’t take her seriously because of her age. Looking back now, she wishes that she had told herself, “You are the youngest in the room. Great! So, you have a perspective that they don’t have. Bring it. Bring it to the table.”
Woodwal also battled imposter syndrome at times. “Was I given certain opportunities because I’m young, because I’m female, because I’m brown?” But, ultimately, “I decided that I need to embrace the fact that I am different, and that is a superpower.”
"You have something that will make you unique that only you bring to the table....Embrace it....If you’ve been given [an] opportunity, take it, run with it, show them that you deserve it.”
“People say, ‘Oh, I was invited to the party, but no one asked me to dance.’ …And I’ll say, ‘Well, you’ve got legs. Get up, go to the dance floor, and dance! Why do you need to be asked to dance?’” Woodwal has done exactly that over the course of her career. After four years at Haymarket Media Group, she moved over to Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, where she has worked her way up to become the Head of Content Development.
The Cannes Lions festival is the “Oscars of the advertising industry,” said Woodwal, attracting over 15,000 branding and communications professionals to celebrate the best creative marketing work from around the world. Set against the exquisite backdrop of the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, it is attended by speakers like Bill Clinton and Will Smith and many more.
For Woodwal, it allows her “to be curious every single day," and she revels in it. Creativity lies at the heart of her job, and she believes “creativity can change culture, it can change mindsets, it can grow businesses."
Cannes Lions reaches a vast, diverse, international audience, and Woodwal is ever mindful of that diversity and works to develop content for the festival that speaks and appeals to creatives from around the world.
When the festival was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic and moved to a virtual format this year, Woodwal and her team had to get creative in a whole new way and relearn their jobs to put content across many different platforms as opposed to for one in-person festival.
“You have to be agile, particularly in events,” she said. “[Covid] has forced us to be more strategic."
And, having empathy has become especially important to her as a leader during the pandemic. “Empathy is really, really important,” because “your team doesn’t work for you, you work for them.”
And, Woodwal works to help foster an empathetic environment, especially for younger employees navigating a world that has become almost entirely virtual.
Covid may have prevented those water cooler moments or casual chats in the break room that make someone feel like a true part of a team, but Woodwal is always eager to reach out and connect, even if it’s virtually. “You have to practice [empathy],” she reminded listeners. “You have to make an effort to practice it.”