How painful pandemic reality has made me fall more in love with adland

I've been relatively quiet as of late, trying to grasp my thoughts and feelings. Here they are.

The last couple of weeks have been particularly hard for the industry -- and, truth be told, it hasn’t been a cakewalk here at Campaign either. 

After having many tough conversations with people in adland recently, I started thinking about what this experience has taught me so far. And CNN Business’ Brian Stelter inspired me over the weekend with his honest piece about the grief and frustration he’s been feeling throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I don’t think my learnings are particularly unique, but writing them out is cathartic, so I hope reading them provides a similar release - or even inspires you to do the same. Here we go. 

We’re not in control right now, and that’s alright. I honestly winced while typing that because, well, let’s be honest, I’m a bit of a control freak. But I’m coming to terms with the fact that we all have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. That shove outside of the comfort zone has actually led to some impressive, innovative thinking from agencies - from pitching via Zoom in unique ways to overcoming remote production obstacles.  

Adland has taken these unexpected challenges and done its best to adapt. We all need to take each day as it comes in the next few weeks and roll with the changes, rather than be rolled over by them. 

It’s okay to be just as sad and anxious as you are grateful. These are uncertain times - and that ambiguity can cause a multitude of emotions. If you’re feeling hopeful one minute and despondent the next, that’s completely fair and to be expected. One of the silver linings of these tumultuous days, however, is how much the industry - and the world - has joined forces to help one another. The examples - many of which have been featured on Campaign US - are countless and range from fundraisers and donation drives to pro bono campaigns and feel-good content. 

Look at independent agency Convicts NYC. Instead of wallowing when the shop had no work to produce for clients, founder Peter Maiden and his team decided to put their skills to good use by creating a two-minute PSA to empower New York residents. The inspirational "NY Tough" video, which uses voiceover clips from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 press conferences, has been viewed and shared millions of times, and counting.  

The power of positivity is incredibly real. With bad news constantly consuming our mental space - death, layoffs, unemployment and more - it can be hard to focus on anything good right now. But looking on the bright side can be just as useful as it can be helpful. Take the "Golden Ages" throughout history - those times when the most incredible technologies, inventions and art were birthed - they all emerged after dark days, wars or recessions. 

Agencies and brands have already been rising to the occasion. We’ve seen a number of innovative ways of working and creating content so far, such as Biscuits Filmworks Director Aaron Stoller, who is known for multi-million dollar shoots, producing a spot in his laundry room with his four sons and wife serving as actors and crew. Oh, and he jiggered an old knee scooter into a camera dolly.

Maybe the industry will go back to big budget productions, but this period has taught everyone that adland is scrappy and that creativity can and does thrive in the toughest conditions. 

Taking time to unplug is more necessary than ever. Calling or FaceTiming friends and family members is super important since we can’t have those in-person connections. Aside from that, though, taking a bit of a digital detox here and there wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Most of us are on Zooms, Google Hangouts or some other video conferencing platform for hours on end these days. And if you’re not on video calls, then you’re likely staring at your computer screen or phone and working even longer hours than normal because start and end times associated with "working from home" don’t really exist. 

Keeping clients, shareholders and consumers happy is clearly a key objective right now as the industry continues to wade in choppy economic waters, but that doesn’t mean everyone should work to the point of burnout. Make sure to take breaks from your email and phone. Do yoga, mediate, read, paint - whatever it is, just unwind for a bit. You’ll be more productive and creative after these breaks. 

That "Watched Pot Never Boils" proverb is onto something. When will all this be behind us? I wish I had the answer to that. 

For the first couple of weeks, I kept looking at dates as potential endpoints, thinking things like, "We’ll be back to normal-(ish) in three weeks," but that way of thinking isn’t helpful. 

The truth is: No one knows when we’ll be back to whatever "the new normal" is or what that will look like in the future. Rather than pining for those adland events that aren’t going to happen anymore - or wondering if other ones are actually going to get off the ground in 2020 - we need to focus on the here and now. 

Campaign loves hosting live events and awards, but those won’t be happening for a while, so we’re looking at how to deliver the best content to our readers in fun ways - virtual conferences, webinars, Zoom interviews and so on. 

Brighter days are on the way, and while we don’t have an exact timeline, we can still look forward to the future, while accepting and doing the best with what we have at this moment. 

Seeing adland evolve and come together through these rough weeks has made me fall even more in love with the industry. As the weeks carry on, I’m sure I’ll keep learning from this experience and from all of you. Keep doing what you do best -- producing great work, influencing culture and making a positive impact on the world of marketing and advertising -- and we’ll be here at Campaign to keep championing your creative spirit.  

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