Finding Harmony as an Agency Producer, in Lockdown and Beyond

Lessons in balance from Brooklyn to California

As 2020 came around, I remember thinking how fortunate I was to have reached the stage in my profession where I had proved my worth and was receiving the autonomy I had been seeking. Recognizing that my chosen career of a producer was never going to be a straight 9-5, nor did I want it to be, I witnessed many of my peers giving vast amounts of their time to their job and I was acutely aware that I envisioned a life where work didn't feel like a job but more of a cause to which I was committed.

Back when we were commuting daily to our Manhattan offices, I protected my mornings at (almost) all costs, knowing there was a strong chance I would be working later into my evenings. Depending where I was in my projects, I wouldn't open my emails until at least 9:30 a.m. or, super truthfully told, 10 a.m. when I arrived. There, I said it. I don't mind admitting it took a while to cultivate this boundary, but giving away the extra morning hours on top of the evening hours never felt like success to me, and no one wants a cranky producer on their project. So I instilled this by religiously waking up at 6 a.m. and telling myself I had three hours to do whatever I wanted or needed that day, without the guilt.

Everyone vibes differently, but in my world, the worst habit I could formulate is diving into emails before I've done anything for myself, like getting out of bed and making a cup of coffee. I'd ask myself: Is this getting me ahead or making me feel anxious? Being extremely honest with myself, I know that anything of urgency will find its way to me and that's OK if it does. The more I stuck to this guardrail and allowed myself those few morning hours, the sharper, more positive and enthused I felt towards my work.

Then the pandemic hit, and almost overnight I became pretty much available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With so much uncertainty, we were more determined than ever to make sure we delivered for our clients, but I quickly found my "free time" getting mixed up with my "availability." So while our brands were (fortunately) still hungry for content, there didn't seem to be enough hours in the workday to do my job the way I had previously been accomplishing. 

We're an industry built on saying yes, which can be a heavy mixture of exciting and challenging, but given the world was shutting down, I had to find "solves" that allowed us to continue, and a lot of those meant working with partners in Europe, but remotely. The first commercial we shot in lockdown was a technical Samsung shoot in Portugal, and the entire U.S. team were working 18-20 hour days due to the time zones. It was intense but we were successful. Then the next remote job came, and then the next. While there were some perks to working from home, the challenges of not being together were sometimes weightier; I went from plate spinning multiple projects at a time to working in a linear format with the same workload and deadlines. I started to feel consumed and claustrophobic in my cozy Brooklyn apartment. It was at that point I realized that I was being presented with an opportunity to do something I wouldn't have been able to do under "normal" circumstances. 

Two months later, and with the support from my adamandeve family, I was packing all my belongings into storage and heading for California, which I had yet to see more of. While the 7 a.m. starts have been a learning curve, I now spend my late afternoons exploring beaches, deserts and the Pacific Highway, and the experience has given me a fresh viewpoint on how I approach my life and work. In the last year I have produced ambitious creative for Jim Beam and Peloton, shot an activation for Miller High Life, and filmed a fun stunt for JetBlue. I am so grateful for my colleagues, who have been mindful and championed my adventures along the way. That's been an important factor. I recently read in an industry mag "not to focus on finding a balance but to go for harmony. Balance is making things even. Harmony is making things work together," and I couldn't help but give myself an internal high five. 

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Gemma Conway
Gemma Conway is executive producer at adam&eveDDB New York.

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