#WFH Diaries: Carlos Musquez of ELA Advertising

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the globe, we're checking in with creative people to see how they're coping. Here's an update from Carlos Musquez of ELA Advertising.

Give us a one-line bio of yourself.

I am the executive creative director of ELA Advertising. I have a passion for creativity and have worked in the industry for 27 years. I love crafting award-winning work and have had the opportunity to work with brands including TikTok, Disney, Western Digital, Thermador, Nestle, Logitech, LG Mobile, eBay, Sony, Diageo, and Coca-Cola. My philosophy is show up every day to do the best work of your life.

Where are you living right now, and who's with you?

I live in Orange County, Calif., in a home built in 1964 that is in various stages of remodel. I live with three of my four children, ages 12, 18 and 25, and my 3-year-old granddaughter. We have a 7-month-old Labrador/Shepherd puppy mix and a 9-year-old ginger cat who is clearly the alpha in the relationship with the dog.

What's your work situation like at the moment?

My 24-year-old son recently moved out and his room has quickly become the "Catch All" room. But once COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place orders hit, my wife, who is a middle school history teacher, had to react quickly. She claimed the master bedroom as her new classroom, teaching two grade levels via Zoom sitting at a small antique desk while my 12-year-old daughter, who is madly into anime and art, uses my old drawing table as a desk for her now fully digital classes. I let her use the desk to bring her a bit of comfort and connection to me. Being at such a pivotal age, this situation affects her a great deal. 

My 18-year-old high school senior daughter is very nomadic, and while she misses seeing her friends in their last year of school, she's navigating the situation with great grace via a laptop and mobile phone. We have all pitched in to clean out my son's old room, where I moved in and now call my ELA Work from Home office. My workspace consists of a small desk, spare monitor, TV with Apple TV, and a few of my favorite things surrounding me, including a Formula 1 inspired poster my team made me for my 47th birthday recently, a mug adorning my favorite sentiment "Get After It" (a gift from our PR manager), a small white board, the usual sharpies and notepads, and a few small ELA framed art pieces to bring the spirit of our agency into my home workspace.

Describe your socializing strategy.

I am not a wildly sociable person to begin with. However, I've noticed that human connection is now more important than ever. We've employed morning and end-of-day Google Hangouts with the full team as well as every possible meeting to be a Google Hangout to see each other, versus just a conference call. This connectivity has proven to be vital in keeping our agency's spirit and creativity. We even encourage our children, pets, and spouses to make guest appearances. 

We always say that we spend more awake time together at the office than at home and this time has truly proven that we are all family and it is our human connection that brings us together. Everyone has been very open to invite each other into our respective homes. Taking MTV "Cribs" style virtual tours, our team has loved sharing their favorite art/decor, cooking and celebrating together at the end of the week with virtual happy hours on Friday.

How are you dealing with childcare?

Childcare is challenging. Fortunately the term "It takes a village" is very appropriate for my family. Everyone in the household pitches in. You can imagine what it is like to have a 3-year-old running around with everyone home. Her life has been disrupted and she doesn't quite understand why she can't simply help everyone work. We all take turns helping her single mother keep tabs on her. At 11:30 a.m. she is very good at reminding everyone it's time for lunch—which means a long walk with her and the dog. My wife and I have grown to cherish these small moments of connectivity with our granddaughter and children.

What are you reading?

I truly have tried to keep my normal routine. This includes reading all the advertising/media trade publications with a cup of coffee before my day gets started. I try to be a student of the world, so it's impossible for me to ignore the news. But for me, it's more about understanding how our lives are adjusting to our new situation; I am fascinated by our ability to adapt to our environments. I've also taken up some classic advertising reading like Luke Sullivan's Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! I love this book. I seem to read it every year, and every time I do, it's like a shot in the arm for me in regards to my advertising career. I think it should be mandatory reading for everyone in advertising.

What are you watching?

I am a huge Formula 1, IndyCar, and IMSA race fan as well as a general auto enthusiast. I am captivated by the drive, engineering, performance and instincts it takes to be successful in a series like Formula 1. Since all the race seasons have been cancelled, I've taken to watching shows like Formula 1: Drive to Survive on Netflix, racing documentaries and car shows. This is also a special time when I can bribe my granddaughter to give me the remote. Otherwise, we seem to binge-ing PJ MASKS! Don't know it? It's all the rage with the cool 3-year-olds! 

What are you listening to?

Music has played an integral role in my life, as it does for most creative people. I have a tremendous range in my musical tastes. I could go from Of Monsters and Men to John Coltrane to Eminem to the Trashcan Sinatras. I made a big commitment to transition most of my audio media consumption to Amazon Prime Music, which continues to be my main rabbit hole of musical discovery. I am also an avid listener of Marc Maron's WTF podcast. In between those, I listen to meditations, and have dug out my vinyl and cassette tapes. I was an avid mix tape maker back in the day and it is fun to revisit those times.

How are you staying fit?

I would be lying if I said I was a daily gym guy or avid runner. But health and fitness have become very important to me over the last couple of years. I was diagnosed with diabetes a little over a year ago—it hit me like a ton of bricks. Weighing in at about 264 pounds, I didn't realize the impact my poor lifestyle choices and stress were taking. But as with everything in life for me, I dove into changing my lifestyle and never looked back. I've switched to an almost 100 percent carb- and sugar-free Keto-style diet. I do small home body weight workouts and take walks when I can. I've lost about 50 pounds to date, and continue to lose weight. I am very aware of my water intake and most importantly my energy. My creative partner and also our CEO, Andre Filip, and I remind each other to "mind our energy" every day. I believe the best health decision we can make starts with our state of mind. Be happy unconditionally.

Have you taken up a hobby?

Not any more than I already had. Honestly, work is my hobby. I take great pleasure in making ads and building the agency. Being an automotive enthusiast is always a very close second. But as of right now, I have no hobby cars distracting my attention from the business.

Any tips for getting necessities?

HA, I love this question. Given that my wife and I just stood in a Costco line for an hour, I'd say no. But patience and understanding go a long way these days. We are all in this together, and it is bigger than any one person.

However, I did have some friends who recently embarked on a big move to the Pacific Northwest from Southern California and took up living in their motor home while selling their house. They brought over a trash bag stash of toilet paper they had in storage and didn't need because their motor home requires a different type of paper.

An awkward moment since all this started.

I wouldn't say anything has been awkward, but I love the Google Hangout conversations we have made into quotes of the day. I was recently on an internal hangout with the team when our account executive running the meeting suddenly stopped with panic and exclaimed, "Hold on a minute guys!" She looked off camera in panic and we heard, "Hey Mark, can you take the banana bread out of the oven!?" We all laughed so hard. It was such a genuine moment. I LOVE IT! She reported back that the banana bread was delicious.

Best work email you got since all this started.

The best email I got was not to me. Rather, it was a very genuine email from the team to our CEO, Andre Filip, thanking him and all leadership for their support, positivity and encouragement during this trying time. I take great pride and responsibility in taking care of our team. Our people are our most valuable asset. I am humbled that our team shows up to do the best work of their lives every day—even more so today than ever. Their appreciation of our leadership is pure fuel for me.

An aha! moment since all this started.

Although we are a very progressive ad agency, we employ traditional tactics like putting our creative work up on walls and gathering for creative conversations around the work in addition to group brainstorming and ideation sessions. We believe even the smallest human connection and live conversations can progress the work. I thought this was going to be the hardest thing when everyone was remote. But to my delight, what I've noticed is that everyone is talking even more. Google Slides have replaced physical walls, and Google Hangouts facilitate our collaboration sessions. I truly believe that the current state of isolation is bringing us all closer together. I certainly have learned a lot about letting go to bring us closer together.

What's your theory on how this is going to play out?

I truly believe that the world has been forced into a new era—one of true digital connections. The positive side of all this is the impact on our environment. I hope we can take some key learnings from this situation and give more freedom to employees to work remotely after all this passes. Additionally, I am blown away by the creativity and ingenuity emerging from this situation.

See the full #WFH Diaries series here.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards and the founding editor of Muse by Clio.

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