Adland in lockdown: 'More resilient, adaptive and caring than you ever thought'

Since the building of one of the first UK offices, East India House, in 1729, little had changed for office workers until coronavirus struck, forcing most of us to set up shop at home. Adland adapted accordingly.

Vicki Maguire

Chief creative officer, Havas London

I was eight weeks into my new gig when the doors shut. Determined this wasn’t going to derail our groove, we have been doing everything we can to keep the energy up and the momentum going. We’re busy and resourceful, so we’re finding creative ways to help each other through this (although the virtual hair-cutting webinar was not a success).

Some are relishing it. Others have had to become master jugglers – babies, kids, schooling, work, family, shopping. Hats off to all of them.

What I have learned is that I need people, I need chaos. I don’t have a home office – I work in cafés, bars, anywhere but home really, so I’m fucked. But I’ve learned to adapt. An ironing board makes a great desk. 

Paul Smith used to say inspiration is everywhere, so if you can’t find it, you’re not looking hard enough. I’m blowing dust off some of my old books, have found sketchbooks I’d long forgotten and I’ve got the vinyl out. I’ve started working to Joy Division. Ian Curtis meets Joe Wicks – that’s two names I wouldn’t have put together pre-lockdown.

I’ve done a conference call with a row of knickers drying behind me. My dog has peed on my feet in a virtual pitch meeting, and I styled it out. I’ve angled my laptop so you can’t see my grey roots, and sagging tits. For what it’s worth, freeing "the girls" from the tyranny of underwires has been a revelation. The underwear industry may never recover.

Annette King

Chief executive, Publicis Groupe UK

I haven’t owned a bike since I was 12 – until three weeks ago. When lockdown happened I tried running, but got bored and wasn’t any good at it. I tried Joe Wicks but have never enjoyed doing the same thing as everyone else – a bit like going to Center Parcs or Soho Farmhouse. Then I thought of cycling, as so many of my lovely media friends do it, but it’s also possible to do it your own way, Lycra-free. So I figured it might work for me.

Turns out that Halfords do a fabulous click and collect, same-day service, so within 24 hours of thinking of it, I had my own shiny, new blue bike. I am a total convert and go out on it once every day. Sometimes it’s the fake commute in the morning (much harder to make yourself do it to "get home" than it is to "get to work"), sometimes it’s the post-salad lunch trip to and around the park and back, the post-super-long Zoom ride or the birthday present drop-off for a friend or godchild, leaving it on the doorstep and back. My bike is a life-saver and it’s keeping me sane (and fitter than ever before). I know most of the cycling nuts out there will sniff at this, but I did Richmond and back the other day – almost 10 miles.

Not bad for someone who couldn’t have got to Tesco and back three weeks ago.

Mark Eaves

Founder, Gravity Road

Don’t worry, I won’t be live-streaming any time soon. Need to get more right notes in the right order. Learning it makes my head hurt. But not so much as a full day of Zoom.

Nadja Lossgott

Executive creative director, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

Things I’ve learned while on lockdown:

  • Thankfully my partner, Carl, is not a "let’s circle back on that" kind of conference-call person.
  • I have underrated the number of WFH looks I can fashion out of tracksuit trousers.
  • I am doing a lot more mini paintings on my nails.
  • Nick and I pass the friend test of being able to eat lunch together over FaceTime and not talk.
  • Most people are more resilient, adaptive, kinder and more caring than you ever thought.
  • We can all work from home, but the heartbeat of agencies is the gossip, the in-joking, the bitching and moaning, the inspiration, the passing comment over the shoulder that helps the work – those are the things we’ve tried hardest to replicate in different ways.
  • I miss a cheeky Nando’s.

Katie Lee

Chief executive, Lucky Generals 

What’s worse than smug yoga? 

CEyOga

That’s right, every week I give a (smug-ish) yoga class for the Generals.

But, honestly, it’s undoubtedly my favourite moment of the week. And right now, keeping people laughing is one of the most important things I could be doing.

Nicky Bullard

Chairwoman and chief creative officer, MRM McCann

So, the Bullard Bar is the afternoon office. You’ll notice the dartboard; if I have two minutes, I will throw a couple of arrows to break up the constant video calls.  You’ll also notice I’ve taken the photos off the board for this pic.

Tosh Ohta

Head of client development, Amplify

We’ve never worked from home for such an extended amount of time. Izzy, our cat, has never had her space invaded like this before either and is annoyed that my wife and I are around every day. She is quite happy to pretend to work and show up to the odd video call, though.

Ete Davies

Chief executive, Engine Creative

As we’ve all been affected by an event beyond our control, I’ve been focusing on the positive things I can control – appreciating the couple of hours I’ve got back (from not commuting) to reflect on our business, connect with my team, for self-development and more family time… it’s been a nice way to start my mornings, before getting on the daily Zoom grind.

Jim Thornton

Deputy executive creative director, VCCP

On the advice of the NHS, as a result of my age, congenital respiratory issues, and not shielding my lungs from ill-advised pasttimes over the past four decades, I’m now "shielded" in isolation offshore.

Sadly not a Bezos-style yacht off the French Riviera, but a one-bedroom houseboat on the Hammersmith Riviera. As isolation goes, it’s pretty damn splendid, largely thanks to the weather, but it has resulted in some interesting discoveries:

  • Every day at work feels like a pitch. Fast-moving, intense, exhausting, inventive, but with an amazing spirit of camaraderie.
  • I never realised how much of my day in the office was spent working on the hoof, off the cuff and on the run. Having to schedule every conversation makes creative directing much harder.
  • I never knew just how much I loved my colleagues. To relieve my isolation, they secretly arranged to each send me a surprise gift every day. It’s such a kind, thoughtful thing to do and makes me very, very teary every time.
  • I also never knew how much I loved pork. I never used to eat pork, apart from maybe the odd bacon sarnie. Now, sausage sandwiches, bacon and egg, pork pies, you name it, I’m caning it.
  • If I don’t stop eating, they’ll need to peel back the roof of this houseboat and winch me out at the end of my 12-week isolation.
  • Turns out I can grow a moustache. It also turns out it makes me look like Graeme Souness circa 1985.
  • I am mocked by the wildlife on the river on a daily basis. I’m surrounded by shagging seagulls, copulating coots and mating moorhens and they’re all laughing at the old git sat all on his lonesome.
  • I can actually get on with several of the voices in my head, but there’s at least two I still fall out with daily.
  • It’s OK to go to bed at 8.30pm.
  • Having not touched another human being for more than five weeks, I am not going to be able to stop hugging everyone – hell, anyone – when I’m finally released. I fully expect to be up on some kind of harassment charge within days of getting out.
  • I have been off the pier only once in five weeks, when I nicked a neighbour’s skiff with an outboard and went for an illegal jaunt upriver. It felt like a holiday. It felt naughty. It felt like freedom.

Andrew Stephens

Founder, Goodstuff Communications

This is my beloved Victorian greenhouse, which is, without question, my most-used space because it has so many uses. First and foremost, it’s the best place to make a phone call, owing to the strangely good mobile reception. It’s a great space to think and mull client briefs, so I always ensure a pad and pen is handy to jot down my incoherent thoughts. It’s provided a great opportunity for my three children and me to plant and grow family fruit and vegetables and, lastly, it’s a nice connection back to when I was 13 and I started my first commercial venture of selling vegetable plants to family and neighbours.

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