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Todd Henwood: Lives Depend On It

07 April 2021

TODD HENWOOD

EVP, Executive Creative Director
GSW Canada, Toronto
 
Todd Henwood is a Canadian Creative Director, Head of Creative for GSW Canada, and a member of the Syneos Health Creative Council, of which he was a founding member.
 
He has 25 years of industry experience that started in digital pure-play and led him to integrated agencies running creative departments within Y&R and FCB. He is now hyper-focused on healthcare inspired creative and making a difference in people’s lives at an individual level. Big ideas inspired by human truth, a relentless pursuit of craft, and a fluent understanding of data strategy has led Todd to a successful career across multiple categories and therapeutic areas.
 
Todd has been recognized with awards locally and internationally and he has served as a jury member for many international advertising awards shows including LIA.
 

LIVES DEPEND ON IT

Typically, advertising a product or service is about calling attention to, and romanticising something a customer may want. In healthcare advertising, the thing you are calling attention to is almost always something somebody needs. The stakes are high – in many cases it’s life and death – and the potential benefit to the audience is vast. So we as healthcare creatives, have a special responsibility to create work that goes beyond great. It must reach for exceptional, every time.
 
In 2014, I was in my 3rd year as head of creative for Toronto based boutique agency, Rivet that was part of the freshly re-branded FCB network. A small portion of my job was to manage creative for the Toronto FCB Health office. The two organizations shared a space and some key senior people. The work coming out of the Healthcare side of the business was typical day-to-day of the time – conservative by nature, over-indexed in metaphor, and plagued by the heavy-hand of Canadian regulatory. The work was foreign to me and so every time I got pulled in deeper than 50,000 ft, I became frustrated with the roadblocks and the lack of sophistication in creative problem solving. FCB Health wasn’t my main focus and I had more than enough to keep me stimulated and creatively challenged on the larger Rivet portfolio.
 
In June of that year, I was in Cannes for the festivities, and like many people, I arrived a couple of days early. This just so happened to be the first year for Lions Health which was held the weekend before the main festival started. I remember going to collect my festival badge and seeing the banners for Lions Health and the signs pointing to the awarded work that was on display. I’m not sure what I expected to see but I remember to this day exactly how it made me feel. At first, I was overwhelmed by the volume of ambitious work celebrating healthcare and outcomes. Everything from emotional film to insightful posters filled the space. The novelty of craft was table-stakes and the commitment to ideas was ubiquitous. I was furious with myself for not being part of it, which quickly turned to a confusing excitement. At that moment, everything changed. Healthcare creative was all I could think about. I called the agency in Canada and told them, we are changing everything.
 
Over the next 2 years, as the global Healthcare communications industry was rapidly evolving, we changed the way FCB Health Toronto approached brand planning, creative development, and production. This resulted in an unprecedented volume of new business wins, exponential growth, and hiring a purpose-built creative team to bring it all to life. For me, it was laying the groundwork for what I would do next.
 
In the fall of 2016, I joined GSW Toronto as part of the leadership team that would re-define how the agency would lead clients to be committed brand marketers. It was the best decision of my career. While working in an agency environment that is 100% focused on healthcare has shown me some fair challenges, it has most certainly delivered unique opportunities to tell inspiring stories that I otherwise would never have been able to access.
 
Canadian regulatory is a beast to navigate yet we have managed to produce provocative work that has kept pace with the global industry. Currently, GSW is the largest healthcare focused agency in Canada and we are re-defining to our clients what it means to be creative lead and tell meaningful stories. Because, at this point in the history of healthcare advertising, there is no excuse for mediocre work. Lives depend on it.