We often associate the idea of creativity with makers—writers, artisans, performers. But creativity is as much about the capacity for problem-solving, innovating a process, or developing a partnership as it is about producing beautiful, tangible outputs.
On Wednesday, October 7th, I led a conversation with five global marketing leaders to explore creativity through the lens of how five brands are responding to the pandemic. Our lively discussion explored how working remotely can make it easier to corral creative thinkers, writing the new rules of engagement in real time, the resilience of the human spirit and why in some areas, creativity continues to be undervalued.
In closing, I asked our panelists: What has COVID taught you about creativity, where do you look for inspiration, and finally, what is your commitment to replenishing your energy? Here’s what they had to say.
The main lesson is that we’re incredibly resilient people and humanity is remarkably resilient. We’re optimistic, and we’re continually looking for ways to make things better. For me, it’s how do I keep bringing newness into my world, especially when I’m stuck at home? I’m constantly looking for ways to bring in newness and originality and ways to surprise people, whether it’s for my team and my work.
So much of inspiration is a full sensory experience, so I’m getting a lot of the visual inspiration through Pinterest or my screens. But now that restrictions are lifting a bit, I spend a lot of time exploring the city. Whether it’s the sights, the smells, just observing humanity and how they’re acting when they’re not stuck inside.
Before the pandemic, I thought of my home as an oasis, and I did whatever I could to never bring work home. And now, of course, the lines have been completely blurred, and it’s really about being rigorous about my schedule and having a definitive start and end time and being transparent about that with my team. As a leader, I am encouraging my team to do the same because no one will set those boundaries for you; you need to do that yourself.
—Judy Lee, Global Head of Experiential Marketing, Pinterest (NYC)
Increasingly, creativity is for our businesses is a change of mindset, a change of a way of thinking. And whether it is people serving customers day to day or whether you’re running an ad campaign, it’s how you respond to the things presented to you and how you are more inventive, more ambitious, more outward-looking. How can we fuel that culture or spiritual creativity?
Working from home means everyone has to function quite dynamically: you’re taking the kids to school, and you’re jumping on a call, you’re eating at the same time that you’re speaking to your boss. That has caused us to be much more flexible and fluid. Not just in the way we work, but the way we think.
Our customers continuously inspire me. They send us all their home improvement projects, and it’s incredible to see what people are doing. When our pubs shut, we had a whole load of people sending in pictures of them building bars in their gardens, because they missed sitting at a bar. We ask our customers for a bit of inspiration, and they’re delighted to give it.
During quarantine and lockdown, where do we get our energy from? The spirit of adventure and daily change is quite energizing because it’s so different from the rest of my career. On a personal level, working from home has its downsides. You miss that social connection from where you get a lot of energy from. However, having the ability to take five minutes out when the kids return from school or going out for a five minute run at lunchtime is a rarity for everyone in their career. It’s one of those things where, yes there are downsides, but we’ve got to make most of the time we have and the way of working.
—Chris Graham, Director of Marketing, Planning & Communications, B&Q (London)
The pandemic has created exciting opportunities for us to explore the concept of creativity. Whether it was us reimagining our brand or finding new ways of repurposing old material, it’s been troubleshooting and learning every single day. To me, there is no playbook for creativity, but what we’re doing right now is writing the new rules of engagement, in the middle of the action itself. And it’s exhilarating.
I am on the board of the new MEPR Association, and it brings together communication PR professionals from all around the world. Utilizing that platform to look at PR campaigns from all these professionals was inspiring in so many ways. It was not only the pandemic, so many other crises that challenged people. For example, Lebanon was going through an unbelievable crisis and how they dealt with that when it came to PR and communications was very inspiring. Looking at those professionals out there in the community is the key.
Being a workaholic, I will pack my stuff up and go wherever my job needs me to be. My parents live in Dubai, and I live in Abu Dhabi. Given my career and my passion for climbing the corporate ladder, I don’t spend much time with them. Part of what this situation has taught me is flexibility and the need for work-life balance. It allows us to be more responsible with our time, and it so much easier to manage and balance. As I mentioned, I didn’t get to see my parents but this allowed me some more face-to-face time with them. And to be honest, they seem like very, very nice people, and that was nice. It’s easy to lose sight of the boundaries of when to stop and when to start working, and your work becomes your life. But we need to be responsible. It’s not only us, but we’re also accountable for the people around us, be it family, friends or colleagues. We have to ensure that our team members are given time for their mental health, physical health, and live life.
—Souad AlSerkal, VP, Strategic Communications, Tabreed (Dubai)
The biggest lesson COVID has taught me about creativity is that it’s undervalued and continues to be undervalued. Many of us are in situations where companies are looking to be more operationally efficient. We’re looking to manage budgets more brutally than we have had to before, which is fair. As we’ve been going through this understanding of the situation and getting our company to be financially viable, I’m conscious that the next phase will require vast amounts of creativity. What I’ve learned is that to inspire other people, understand a problem, communicate that problem to them in a way that they are challenged by it and be interested in solving it, that is something that we don’t put enough emphasis on as a business community. When I hear folks ask, why can’t we be more like Apple, Nike, Patagonia? Well, you absolutely can. You simply have to make those decisions. You have to put an emphasis on the product and creativity and make sure that’s prioritized.
There was this list of things that I had floating around that I was never able to do and recognized that well actually, this is the time. So why don’t I start today and put a little something back in the tank? For me, the best source of replenishment is undoubtedly music. I’ve been playing the guitar for literally decades. And the advent of things like this where I was able to take personal lessons from a fantastic guitarist, that never would have been possible when I was starting. There is this whole universe of YouTube videos that I can learn new things from, that I’ve never really been able to dive into before.
—Peter Giorgi, Chief Marketing Officer, Celebrity Cruises, Inc. (Miami)
Creativity from within your organization is easier to leverage than ever now because barriers have diminished. Now it’s normal to meet virtually, and it’s so easy now to get a more diverse group of people together to talk and think about things. The crisis has forced us to do that. I found myself talking to colleagues in functions before that I didn’t have to talk to. But now we came around because we had to discuss COVID strategies together and more came out of that. It’s now easier than before to get this creativity off the ground within your organization.
I am also finding most of my inspiration, externally. I haven’t attended so many training sessions like these with peers and colleagues from other industries pre-crisis. That has been very inspirational over the past few months, and it’s fueling our communications internally as well. I also value things like baking sourdough bread at home or bringing my little one to kindergarten by bike on my way to work.
Now with the blurring of work and private life, I appreciate the little things, like taking care of the kids and baking bread. They add to my workday, which I couldn’t have imagined before. I miss podcasts because I used to listen on my commute, and now that the commute is gone, I have to make time to listen in my schedule.
—Sven Rudloff, VP Brand & Channel Management, Uniper (Dusseldorf)
This is a biweekly series for brand-side senior marketers. To request an invitation, visit events.siegelgale.com