We are less than three months into 2020, and the bright and shiny glow of the new year has been swept away, replaced by a tidal wave of fear, existential dread and panic caused by COVID-19.
As individuals and families across the globe worry about the health and well-being of themselves and their loved ones, businesses are grappling with new realities: a remote workforce, future projects coming into question, canceled events, layoffs and subzero team morale. Perhaps the only silver lining is that we, as a global community, are all going through this together—yet socially distant, of course.
For creatives in particular, the COVID-19 crisis presents several creativity crushers: anxiety, isolation and too much time on our hands. The movers and shakers responsible for the commercials and social media ads we are now consuming in excess are currently cooped up at home feeling uninspired, nervous and frustrated.
Yet brands are relying on these marketers, agencies and creatives to come up with the next brilliant way to communicate to consumers that they're with them during this difficult time. It makes us realize that one of the burdens of being in the advertising industry is knowing that part of your job is to help shape the zeitgeist in a positive direction—even in times of duress, and even when you may not be feeling so positive yourself.
So, how do you stay inspired as a creative when things are looking dark? You create.
As brands and businesses are shuffling budgets, pulling creative and postponing campaigns, it might not feel like there's an abundance of projects to keep idle hands busy. But in my experience, the best, most collaborative and most inspiring creative does not always come from billable client work. It's the projects we put together as a team united toward one cause that ignite our teamwork and get the creative juices flowing.
Yes, I am talking about passion projects and pro-bono work. Agency owners: I know that you all know it exists (even if some of you pretend like you don't). And I also know that you think engaging in non-billable work at a time of financial uncertainty is irresponsible. But at times like these, what makes sense to your people matters more than what makes sense on paper.
There was a time a few years back when things were tense at World Famous. Projects weren't coming in, there were layoffs, and there were some problems happening behind the scenes. Morale was low and the team was feeling uninspired. Lo and behold, right as we were in the throes of this dark and gloomy time, we were approached by Make-a-Wish about a pro-bono project. They had a 4-year-old girl with leukemia whose one wish was for a way to share her story with friends and family to help them better understand what was happening to her. We, of course, could not say no and immediately got to work to create an animated short film that featured the girl as a princess dealing with a sinister villain called Kemia. Suddenly, right before my eyes, the team was revitalized. They were at their creative best, voluntarily working overtime (sometimes until well after midnight) to finish the project and wholeheartedly dedicated to producing something incredible—and they did.
A funny thing happened after that. The team stayed inspired and positive, amazing projects started to come in, and we made it to the other side of that bad time without even realizing it. That one small pro-bono project changed the trajectory of our entire company.
And while I understand that small passion projects cannot solve every business problem, I witnessed firsthand the transformative capabilities they had for the morale, teamwork and energy of the whole office. And the craziest part? These types of projects are available to any agency, anywhere, mostly anytime. There aren't many nonprofits, charities or social good organizations that would turn away free work from an incredibly talented pool of people who want to to help them, and let me tell you something: You will never regret using your resources to help someone in need.
Agency owners, executives and decision makers: Times are tough right now. You are leading the most creative people in the world, and currently they're largely uninspired, afraid and uncertain of what's going to come next. They're looking at you, wondering what move you're going to make and how it will affect them. Give them a project that motivates them and allows them to create for the sake of something good and worthwhile during this dark and gloomy time. I urge you to reach out to a cause that you see doing some good and offer to help. In these times of social distancing, it's that type of togetherness and solidarity that is going to make all the difference—for both our communities and our businesses.
The bottom line? You have the talent, the resources, and right now, thanks to social distancing, you definitely have the time. So go out there and do some good. It won't take long to see that it was absolutely worth it.