Coping with Covid

Issue 55 | June 2020

There have been lockdowns before. During the plague of 1665, the village of Eyam put itself in quarantine for a year with no-one allowed in or out. In isolating themselves, the villagers saved hundreds, even thousands, of lives.

In 1918, when Spanish ‘flu swept the world, it became common in the U.S.A. for those who had contracted the virus to tie a white scarf to their doors. This was a message to the community that the people within were looking after their neighbours by isolating themselves.

Thanks to the internet and Zoom in particular (or Microsoft Teams, Skype and Google Hangouts) many of us haven’t been as totally cut off as our great grand-parents may have been. It has allowed the advertising industry to stagger on. Agencies big and small have taken a pounding as their clients have tried to adjust to the economic crisis that is twinned with coronavirus. Many creative people have been made redundant. Others have been furloughed. Most have taken a pay-cut.

The virus has affected the mental health of many of us. For some it is simply boredom; for others it is loneliness; for others it is fear of death.

That said, creative people are lucky. They have ideas.

Creativity in lockdown

Daniele Fiandaca, joint founder of Utopia, put out a short survey to creative leaders (mostly) in the US and the UK.

First question: How creative have you been feeling since lockdown?

Only 18% answered that they felt creatively inhibited by quarantine and curfew.

Second question: What have been the biggest barriers to creativity during lockdown?

Directory asked a number of creative people, at both the top and at the bottom of the ladder, to share their personal experiences of the last ten weeks.

What comes through in most of the short thought-pieces is how optimistic adland’s creative community is.

Community is an over-used word yet there is no doubt that many creative people have both become closer-knit to existing networks or have set out to create new ones.

The younger they are, the more they hope this crisis will bring positive change to both the way we live as well as to the way we work.

Most hope that the new normal is a better normal, as Ian Bates puts it. 

Aaron Goldring 
Executive Creative Director, Engine, London 

I have a six-month-old son, Archie, and since lockdown I've been able to spend more time with him. Breakfast, bath-time and, when Zoom allows, even some middle-of-

the-day play, something I would have missed under normal circumstances. For that, I am grateful.

However, for many people, this crisis has already been devastating and life-changing. Only when we finally emerge from our bubbles will it be clear how severe the damage has been.

So I consider myself extremely lucky. My family and friends are, so far, healthy and safe and I can work well enough from home.

And it is possible to be creative from home though things do take a little longer. And yes, back-to-back Zoom meetings are punishing but didn’t we say the same thing when we had just as many meetings back in the real world?

However, there are days when I don't leave the flat and a creative mind craves variety and difference, not routine and familiarity. It’s the people I miss the most, the energy you get from creating work together, the buzz from striving towards a shared ambition. Zoom ruthlessly filters this out.

The most challenging part has been creating work in lockdown which will run in the future. How do you judge the tone of a campaign that will connect in six months from now? When no-one really can say with certainty how we'll be living our lives?

Creativity will undoubtedly play a crucial role in the recovery.

Will all marketers value it? I doubt it, but those who do will have a better chance of getting through this with a competitive edge.

I'll leave the predictions to smarter minds than mine but I know what I hope for the future. I hope we're a kinder industry, which cares about its talent as much as its ambition. I hope that the brands that seek genuinely to solve the problems of the world with decisive actions are the ones who succeed.

And finally, I hope that Archie will get to meet his grandparents in New Zealand next year because, right now, we all need something to look forward to. 

Bianca Guimaraes
Creative Director, BBDO New York

I’ve been working from my apartment in Brooklyn, NY, with my husband, who’s also in advertising and my 1-year- old baby, who’s loving having both of his parents around all the time.

BBDO has always been supportive of the “work from anywhere” mentality, so that part wasn’t strange or hard to adapt to.

The hardest parts are having to share the room with my husband while we both have calls, and stopping myself from eating everything we have in the fridge.

There have been many upsides as well. The awkward moments during Zoom calls with our clients and teammates, where our kids make an appearance, the fire alarm goes off, and we forget to mute the call while talking to our spouses, are bringing us closer together. We're all getting more of a window into each other's personal lives and developing deeper connections.

Another upside is that it can be helpful not to get distracted by people around the oice or spend time trying to find an empty meeting room to work from.

Most of all, it has been great to be home on time for bedtime every night.

Regarding the industry as a whole, I don’t believe this crisis will push creativity further down the marketer’s priority.

I actually think it will make it more important than ever. We’re bringing creative solutions to help our clients adapt their business model during the crisis, helping them engage and communicate with their employees, and finding their positioning amidst it all.

I believe that the challenges and limitations we're facing now will make us more eicient and resourceful in the future. 

Christopher McKee
Creative Director, Wunderman Thompson

Day 38 in the Big Brother house. I mean my very small house. With a toddler. Sat next to a potty.

Yes, I am going slightly stir-crazy. But I can still count (up to 38), have a job and most importantly my family are in good health. There are a lot of people worse off than me.

During this crazy-awful time, I imagine most agencies are still scrambling to ‘respond’ to the crisis. And although I’m doing my darnedest to steer our clients through this unscathed,

I find myself in a strangely enlightening position creatively. Albeit, still sat next to a potty.

Working from home during Covid-19 has forced me to re- evaluate my own approach to the work — rather quickly. As I adjust to the new abnormal and crave more contact with the outside world, I spend less time staring into the PowerPoint vortex of audience profiles, behaviour and data (the stuff we know) and more time being surprised by whatever happens next (the stuff we don’t).

The never-ending stream of selfless responses to the pandemic have been inspiring. Millions of people working tirelessly to solve monumental problems that affect all our lives. Everything means so much more and it all comes directly from the heart.

Basically, the landscape has changed. Dramatically. Facebook even created a 90-second spot, what the fuck happened to best practice?

Humans are not a marketing opportunity right now, and creativity is significantly more than a sales tool. People and brands are harnessing their creative superpowers — from home — to help the loneliest people on earth connect, get the entire nation fit and even feed the five million currently struggling to feed themselves. Everyone has a part to play, it just shouldn’t be backed by a sadvertising track called ‘End of Time’. That’s my one stipulation.

In a nutshell, I’m learning to be more human, with less human contact than I’ve ever had. Not too sure what that says about me. 

Damon Stapleton
Regional Chief Creative Offcer for Australia and New Zealand, DDB

I have spent the last four weeks in lockdown with my new creative partner

Scooby. To be clear, Scooby is a dog but he is also a wise Zen master. Completely re- organising your life is tricky. I am sure we have all felt the same way. For the first week it is kind of an adventure and then slowly you feel

like you are in some weird version of Groundhog Day. Is it Monday or Thursday? Can I wear pyjama pants in a zoom meeting? And finally, do I need to wear pants at all? It’s at a point like this in your life you need a great teacher.

Well, I got Scooby.

If he has taught me anything it is we fill our lives with so much bullshit. We worry about so much and we miss what is in

front of us. I have realised just how much I think about what I should have done yesterday and what I need to do tomorrow. But Scooby doesn’t work that way. When Scooby is hungry he eats. When he is tired he sleeps. And when he feels like barking, well you get the idea. He does what he needs to do.

This enforced solitude and my hairy Zen master have reminded me of the concept the Buddhists call Western laziness. Eastern laziness is sitting on your porch all day drinking tea and doing nothing. However, Western laziness is where you fill your day with stuff and activity so you don’t really deal with what’s important. For me that is the gift of this break. Focus on today. Focus on what you have to do. Worry less. Be like Scooby. 

Evan Roberts 
Executive Creative Director, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne 

Creativity always finds a way.

History shows that through war, oppression or depression creativity always finds a way. It creates a new path. Finds a way to flourish.

In our current environment there are a few clues as to why.

From my iso-bubble I’ve seen a re-emergence of our humanity. The level of empathy, vulnerability and curiosity in each other has never been higher. We’ve been more transparent with each other than any other time I can remember and that is a wonderful thing, because that creates trust which ultimately leads to better work.

We’ve shared fears, problems and more of our personal lives than perhaps we would have liked. Yet rather than those flaws being greeted with ridicule they’re greeted with understanding and care. Us Australians tend to use, “Howyagoin?” as a greeting, but recently people have begun to ask the question, listen to the answer and offer a hand. Not only does this strengthen ties, it gives us a truer sense of how the world is feeling.

The pandemic is also forcing us to think more reactively. Over the last few months cultural context has shifted weekly, if not daily, meaning work that is appropriate one day can be in bad taste the next. Even as I write this the shift toward what a post-lockdown world will look like is bringing new challenges. Rapid change and the need to leave ideas behind is both humbling and motivating for any creative.

We are also acutely aware many clients are facing unforeseen challenges. But post the initial shock, there is no doubt we are all now in problem solving mode and creativity will play a big role. These are new problems so the solutions too will need to be original. If that doesn’t inspire you, you’re in the wrong game.

Yes, we are facing a new world and change is scary. I believe the current combination of new problems and a greater understanding of our own humanity is a recipe for greatness. Creativity will find a way through this.

Fernando Aguiar
Copywriter, Legendary, Portugal

During my quarantine period I have had the opportunity to discover many different things. First is the coronavirus itself. In the beginning of the pandemic I was in front of the TV or on the internet simply trying to understand what this phenomenon was about. Here in Portugal, the government acted quickly and the numbers of deaths has not been so high. However, in the rest of Europe the effect of this new virus is devastating.

When I finally realized that I would need to spend a lot of time at home, I arranged the most comfortable environment possible to work. The right chair, the ideal table, the right lamp and the perfect temperature. Everything needed to be well organized for working from home effectively.

The next step was to think about how I could help those in need and I divided this task into two parts. Firstly, I decided to help neighbours and people in need with donations of money or food. Secondly, my mission was to help my fellow professionals. To help young people who are starting their careers, I participated in a project created by creatives from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (my homeland). This project is called @40tena_review and consists of choosing one or two portfolios of young writers and art directors and mentoring them to improve their work. This project continues online on Instagram and already has the names of more than 300 professionals in the early stages of their career.

The rest of my time, I have been trying to create a personal project. I created an Instagram profile called @soundtrack_ of_hope to bring together in one place all the musicians in the world who have played music from their windows during the pandemic. The idea was to create a virtual neighbourhood, simulating a building using the grid design of Instagram itself.

I have seen several other fantastic projects during this quarantine, which have inspired me.

After two of lockdown, I am learning to cook new recipes and, while I cook, I have been accompanied by good streaming series like “Chernobyl” and “The Crown”. “The Crown” series even motivated me to start reading a book about Winston Churchill.

I also had the opportunity to take online courses and network with people from different places in the world. In this time of isolation, from which in Portugal is already emerging, closed borders were not enough to separate us. The internet has brought me what I needed. Definitely, this is a new time with a new mindset. The world will change a lot after this pandemic...

Gavin McLeod 
Executive Creative Director, Ogilvy Sydney 

Being asked to pen a few words about my experience of Covid-19 coincided with my CEO sending a note to the agency asking each of us to reflect on any unexpected positives we’d taken out of the crisis and what we should adopt as ongoing practises in the agency post COVID.

In many respects Ogilvy Sydney was well placed for the sudden switch to WFH as we’ve been working in cloud-based presentation tools for a while, so the change wasn’t as painful as some agencies have found it. I‘m excited to see if the successful transition will allow creatives greater freedom and not be tied to the oice as we move out of the crisis. I’ve certainly enjoyed being able to surf in the morning (we’re still allowed to) without the usual commute.

I have also found that I’ve needed to be more organised in my feedback in the new world of video chats. Because I have access to all the work in cloud-based decks, I’ve spent a lot more time going through it beforehand so I can be as clear as possible in the review. I’ve actually found this a good discipline as it’s forced me to examine more critically my gut instincts and biases.

Finally, our clients have been incredibly open about the challenges of COVID-19 to their businesses and have sought Ogilvy’s help from the beginning. This suits my style as I like to be involved as early as possible. I’ve also enjoyed seeing how the new normal of being stuck at home and interacting via video has really revealed a more human side to everyone. Probably my favourite moment was a client yelling feedback via Zoom as she sprinted off to stop her kids turning on the garden sprinkler in their lounge! 

Ian Bates 
Founder and Creative Partner, Firehaus 

It wasn’t our idea to start a creativity consultancy in the time of Covid. But our first anniversary was celebrated virtually, two months into lockdown.

One idea at launch was not to rent oice-space. That now looks like a masterstroke. We’ve been ‘socially distanced’, working in shared spaces or client oices for 12 months. So we’ve been experimenting with having ideas in changed circumstances.

  1. One observation is that you discover, or re-discover, a lot of things about yourself – hidden strengths, and maybe weaknesses, that were less obvious under layers of hierarchy. Being ‘still’ can help you move on.
  2. I’ve re-discovered the ability to think rather than just react. Scribbling down ideas fast, sticking them to walls in the house (not universally popular) and walking away – a deliberate act of creative processing. Thinking and not thinking.
  3. In fact, walking is a huge re-discovery. Ambulation appears to liberate imagination. So we take ideas for a walk – pre-lockdown as a team, now as individuals.
  4. Consequently I’m working faster and with greater clarity. We chose each other for the challenge we each bring as opposed to the easy life. So we have all the rigour and less bureaucracy. And we’ve been leaning on our Crew, increasing the diversity of inputs to influence the outputs.
  5. The loss of budgets or postponement of work is a challenge of course. So we’ve put a different value in our time – and increased the number of passion projects like mentoring students, supporting good causes and other startups for free. Not for karma, not for payback, but because we can. Little freedoms in a time of restrictions.

It’s given us space to consider. Why are you doing this? How are you motivated? What really matters? Maybe that’s a discovery worth making.

Coming out of this I have one aspiration. A ‘better normal’ than the ‘new normal’ that’s being touted. That wasn’t serving our industry well. Nor society as a whole. Like it or not, we have a role in shaping it.

By putting a greater value on our fellow humans, ditching elitist phrases like ‘consumers’ and ‘harvesting data’ and by learning to value the time we expect people to spend with our work we should increase the value of creativity.

Creating a more honest relationship between brands and humans than the one they perceive right now.

Jen Speirs 
Executive Creative Director, Rothco|Accenture Interactive, Dublin 

In answer to “how am I doing my job?”, I have one hyphenated word… post-its.

My wall is filled with a shit ton of fluoro yellow squares with people’s names, incoming briefs and jobs-on-the-go written on them. And I’m constantly shuffing these around in a desperate attempt to make sure no work, and more importantly, no people, fall through the cracks.

Back in the olden days, when we were allowed in the oice, it was so much easier to get a sense of how people are doing just by being around them. Do they have too much on? Not enough? Are they ok? What’s that image for? What are those ideas on the wall? Or even – we are all clearly exhausted, let’s down tools for the day.

But now, I can only see the people I’m working with directly. So to stay in touch with everyone else I’m scheduling catch-ups, team chats, going to department WIPS, encouraging people to check in on each other, and of course, dropping into our virtual pub for catch up drinks when I can. I miss the buzz of being around everyone. I miss all that noise that’s around us while we do our jobs, that makes us do our jobs really well. And I will never take that for granted again.

When it comes to the work, we’re now experts at changing tack because in this COVID 19 world, nothing stays the same for long. A TV ad becomes a Twitter post becomes a live social event becomes a brainstorm becomes a song release becomes a TV ad. You bend, stretch, adapt. You don’t get attached to a specific solution but you relentlessly chase down the right answer.

In the last six weeks, I’ve seen agency and client teams mobilise, solve, innovate, create, make, dispatch, build and even see into the future. For me, that’s the absolute power of creativity. And it’s more important now than ever.

Manuel Borde 
North America EVP, ECD Geometry Global 

I’m just going to come out and say it; as a kid I was constantly afraid of the dark. One too many Friday the 13th and Exorcist movies I’d say.

If there was a mildly suspicious sound, I would run straight into my parents’ bedroom. It felt like the safest place in the world, even against serial killers in hockey masks. In my eyes, parents were superheroes, they never got scared.

But the truth is, every time I jumped behind him, my dad was probably more scared than I was. He just did a really good job hiding it.

Fast forward 30 years and we find ourselves facing arguably one of the most diicult collective moments in our recent human history. It is indeed a scary time personally and professionally across the globe.

Leaders are expected to be brave and lead by example in these challenging times. We crave and look for protection and answers.

So, how am I coping with COVID-19 as a leader? Well I can’t help feeling just like my dad did.

I am a bit scared and I don’t know all the answers. But hey, THAT’S OK, everyone is! And frankly, who actually does? (unless they were working in advertising during the Spanish flu)

Keeping composure has been key, but so has being open and sincere, accepting that you don’t know everything and that you need to lean on each other to find answers and share the burdens.

Accepting new realities as the new normal, just three months ago some bosses were still reluctant to allow WFH one day per week or letting people into a pitch meeting without business attire. No-one predicted that cats, dogs and toddlers popping into our zoom screens would be the best ice-breakers to any meetings.

Who knows where creativity will land after this crisis? Will it be pushed even further down marketer’s priorities? I can only hope poistively for the best as I venture into that dark living room with a bat in my hands.

Shh… did you hear that???

Marley Muirhead
Copywriter Student at SCA 2.0

To me, being creative during lockdown is just as challenging as it was out of lockdown. The challenge has just changed. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot more on our shoulders right now. The toll this global pandemic is taking on us is as immeasurable as it is indisputable. But it seems very easy to romanticise the creative process both before and during lockdown.

Before coronavirus started its world tour, creatives still battled with writer's block (or creative constipation as I like to call it). We still had to use techniques, trips out or chats with friends to get things going. We emptied Sharpies on endless pieces of paper only to come out with a three-course meal for the recycling bin. We still had not-good-enoughs or try-agains.

On the flipside, there’s the temptation to believe that lockdown is a blessing for a creative. We all get to live our shabby-chic artist fantasy of being free from mortal distractions, locked in an apartment with nothing but four walls and our art, writing the next Picasso or painting the next Shakespeare.

I think that’s where all this pressure to create is coming from now. I wouldn’t be surprised if “what did you make during lockdown” becomes a conversation starter within the creative community once this is all over. But really, whether you're in or out, creativity is struggle. It’s just the nature of the beautiful beast. There’s no doubt that it’s harder now. But I think that comes from not being able to use our usual creative laxatives. We’ve got a whole new learning curve to climb now, from student to CD.

Nick Moffat 
Former Executive Creative Director, Cubo, London 

So. In February I had a job. Now it’s April and I don’t. But, weirdly, I don’t mind (yet). This crisis is making me forget that I’m out of work.

As I joke annoyingly in feedback sessions, this isn’t a problem, it’s an opportunity.

We have humanitarian problems to solve. So there’s fantastic, inventive work being done to help with lockdown and celebrate key workers. I’ve been talking to prospective clients, as brands need help too. And I can choose who they are now.

Beyond that, there's a world on pause. Invaluable, unprecedented free time.

So I’m giving remote uke lessons to my mate’s 8-year-old, which is awesome. We’ve done Bowie and Pharrell so far, and it’s helped my friend work during the school holidays.

Next up, it’s virtual book crits - what a fucking awful year to graduate in any subject. We must give these people all the help we can.

I’ve also been giving my cousin advice about his business (Virtual FD, a great idea that helps start-ups who can’t afford a full timer). His new product is in beta stage, so we’re keeping the two offerings separate with fresh propositions, tone, ideas and content strategies. (I seethe with rage when he refers to his designer as ‘the creative’, but let’s move on.)

I’ve realised two things: first, I actually know about some of this stuff. Second, it’s way more fun without the usual agenda of panic and budgets. There’s neither.

It’s giving me ideas about what next. We’ve all seen big, wafty statements about ‘the new normal’, how we’ll never work in oices again and everything will be done on remote platforms. Good luck to you. Your teams will be utterly dysfunctional.

Obviously, Zoom etc are the glue of society at the moment, but it’s because we all know each other already. We need that security to bounce ideas around. The balance to find in the new ‘not that different actually’ normal will be nurturing tight teams while being smart with tech and desk space.

All of which leads back to what was our proposition at Cubo. Clients can do most of the executional stuff themselves these days, but they still need ideas. So, an inspiring, collaborative plugin who’ll work with you - either to spark internal imaginations or deliver a multi-channel campaign - feels much more modern and on your side, compared to old- school behemoths with global riverside HQs to fund. That’s the new normal I’m after.

Finally, my Mum’s just asked me (as part of her eternal disappointment in my ad career) whether I’d started the novel. Sorry, I’m a bit busy.

Paul Marty and Etienne Renaux 
Joint Executive Creative Directors, Herezie Group, Paris 

One thing is for sure, the purpose of advertising has changed with the crisis. The current context confirms what we were already thinking: that the tedious, media-driven, 6-second

bumper, and the outdated, opportunistic Cannes Lions way of thinking, bore people. Now, more than ever, people want brands to support the community.

A great example is LVMH in France. It changed its entire production line to make hundreds of thousands of hand- sanitiser gel and masks. Was it creative? For people yes. Definitely. Because it was useful. LVMH reinvented its production for the good of the community and nobody could have predicted they would do so. Was it “award-winningly” creative? Not really. But remember, back in 2018 the Budweiser campaign "Stand by you" only won a bronze Lion in... PR.

In this particular case, LVMH significantly increased its brand love, but not with likes, tweets or PR and influencers… just with guts. And by being pro-active it showed it cared about its country and found creative solutions to connect with its community.

So, is COVID redefining advertisers’ KPIs? Yes. Because at the moment the only one that really matters is brand utility. Will this crisis make creativity more important than ever? Yes again.

Everyone’s talking about what brands are doing, but agencies need to be active too. For years holding companies and their international networks have abandoned creativity, but the advertising industry needs creative people and creative brands more than ever at the moment.

As creatives, we have a very important role to play. We need to accompany brands by finding new ideas linked to brand- relevant CSR concerns. But don’t worry, just because the topic is serious, it doesn’t mean brands have to change their DNA and hide their sense of humour. In France, for instance, if you take the Burger King campaigns or Free with the "Neighbours" campaign, they were funny, but received positive feedback despite the current climate (and media recommendations).

People are trying to work out the best way to move forward in the wake of the crisis, and many hope that it could ultimately create positive change. But whatever happens, we shouldn't be thinking about going back to business as usual, but to business as it should be.

Peter Ampe 
Chief Creative Offcer, FamousGrey, Belgium 

Corona killed the middleman

The last couple of weeks, agencies have been transformed into newsrooms, reacting to every new situation with fast solutions.

As a consequence, back plannings are not calculated in weeks anymore, nor in days, they are calculated in hours. Fast beats greats these days. To the extent that intermediate persons are cut out of the process. Depending on the briefing, agency producers are being left out; let’s just hire a cameraman and do this. Or planners are being left out; there’s no time to brief the creatives, guys. Or creatives are being left out; the client doesn’t want to win a beauty contest with this idea, he just wants his message to be heard. Or whole agencies are being left out. Sometimes even the brand is left out, with Corona campaigns that are not linked to values the brand stands for. “Stay safe” or “Together Strong” is not something every brand can claim with the same credibility.

Fast beats Great. Now what?

What happens when all of this is over? Will the middleman return? Will back plannings become humane again? Will brands go for excellence in execution again? I like fast but I’m missing great. I sensed that during our last shoot for a Belgian telco provider.

Since the beginning of the lockdown, Belgians are not allowed to visit the coast anymore, normally their favourite spot to spend the weekend. To keep morale high in Belgium after seven weeks of staying inside, we filmed the sunset with three high-quality cameras and broadcast this moment on national TV, creating a collective moment for all Belgians.

Nobody could attend the shoot because of quarantine measures, but when I saw the first test, I felt happy. Not only because I had missed the coast so much myself, but also because it was great to see quality images again.

Good thing we didn’t cut out the middleman on this one, I’m happy our producer found the right crew to make it happen. This wasn’t fast beats great. This was fast meets great.

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