How to stay creative when you feel dejected: Advertising industry’s Creative Officers share some tips

  • “Deadlines can wait. First, let me take care of my mental health!” said no advertising employee ever. In this industry, you are expected to be available 24*7 even though the job doesn’t require saving lives (I did ask around just to be sure).
  • With the impending third wave of coronavirus, it is exhausting to be creative, ‘ahead of the curve’ right now when every third person you know is positive.
  • We are all anxious and struggling to keep going but are scared to admit it. When you are in the business of ideas, it is a little more challenging to keep going.
  • So, we decided to check in with a few Creative Officers of Advertising agencies, who are expected to hold the whole family together.
  • They told us about their struggles, how they are finding the strength to keep going and shared a few tips on how we can deal with the impending wave from a both business and personal perspective.

“Work-life balance? What’s that?” a 24-year-old copywriter, a friend, laughed when I asked him how is agency life is treating him and whether he has mastered the art of work-life balance in two years. I was almost embarrassed to have asked that question and realised that we have normalised inhuman working hours to an extent in which having a work-life balance is every agency employee’s pipe dream. I was going to ask him how he’s taking care of his mental health now that his mother has tested positive, but I decided to sit that one out. Well, let’s be realistic! Do advertising people have time to go to therapy or join a Zumba class or just be alone with their thoughts? People from the industry often say, some even with a generous dose of condescension, that ‘if you are not willing to be available 24*7 and clock at least 16 hours a day, you are not cut for the job.’ The person who does prioritize a personal task over work, is often frowned upon. With work from home, the stress levels, urgent deadlines, demanding clients and high pressure have all increased manifold. And when our country is preparing itself to face another possible wave of COVID-19 and its several mutations, it is becoming increasingly challenging for everyone to focus on work and continue leading normal lives inside our houses.

Advertising agencies bear the additional responsibility of coming up with optimistic campaigns that drive change and raise awareness. Despite facing the blues of working in isolation and pressure to overperform in a dismal atmosphere, ad agencies are increasingly pushing their boundaries to come up with empathetic, change-making campaigns to help our country.

These people in the business of ideas are expected to pitch new ideas almost every day. However, it is exhausting to be creative, ‘ahead of the curve’ right now when every third person you know is positive. Just when we started believing that life might be back to normal again, the universe took us back to square one. While one might argue that our medical industry does have better resources to support our citizens today than it did till last year, mentally, how can we find hope and do this all over again? How can we remind each other that this is temporary — that holding on to hope is important more than ever before? Thankfully, there are a few optimists among us who are reminding us to keep it at and holding the whole family together. In the advertising ecosystem, it is the Creative Officers and their team members.

Reminding us how there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, Titus Upputuru, Creative Head, Taproot Dentsu, Gurgaon and National Creative Director, Dentsu One took us back to our childhood days.

He said, “In childhood, I remember the days when the electricity would go off and there were no back-ups or inverters, we children used to simply put candles in the darkness and make giant shadows on the walls with our hands. We would create barking dogs, flying eagles, and trunk raising elephants, all with our hands and sometimes feet. So to me, dark times are an opportunity to innovate. The dark homes helped us children to innovate and create magical things. If the lights hadn’t gone, maybe we were just watching Doordarshan.”

Upputuru has seen a few of his loved ones lose their battle to the virus in the past two years.

“The first time Covid happened, I became a little restless. I just knew that I wasn’t going to be chained; so I wrote songs, collaborated with artists, created content with Instagrammers. Second time was really trying. I lost three cousins and one uncle and aunt in a matter of 3 weeks and we were continuously attending funerals over zoom. Every week someone would disappear from those zoom calls and we were all wondering who will be next. It was quite heart-rending. I wrote ‘Lohe ke Gubbare’ (Balloons of Iron) about a little boy who was desperately seeking an iron ‘balloon’ for his dying mother at the hospital. So darker times push creativity in many ways,” he shared.

Upputuru’s faith gave him hope and comfort to keep going. He also decided to spend his free time upskilling.

“In current times, one can also upskill. Last year, I did a full digital course and learnt about digital marketing. The great thing was it was not just lectures – although there was a handsome measure of those – we also had to collaborate with teams across the world, across different streams and resolve real-time marketing issues on digital platforms. It was terribly exciting and it did keep me sufficiently occupied when the workload had become lesser due to the business impact. My go-to always has been to spend quiet time with God. I read Bible the first thing in the morning. There is so much wisdom and guidance that one can get on one’s knees. Also, I like to talk to God and have conversations. These conversations often help me to let go of things one can’t do much about. And yes, I do take care of my body with daily exercise. It’s important as the human body was meant to farm in the sun, hunt in the jungles, and fight as soldiers. But modern-day lifestyle, especially in current times, forces us to only sit or lie down,” said Upputuru.

After two years of living in the constant fear of catching a deadly virus, Garima Khandelwal, Chief Creative Officer, Mullen Lintas has learned to find comfort and joy in small wins.

She said, “The pressure to be creative is a constant, while the scenario has been challenging, now for 2 years in the running. We all are coping with it every day, keeping the ball on the output, and for us a lot of what was taken for granted in how we worked or collaborated has changed forever. Yes, there are days that are low, but it’s all part of a day that comes to an end every day, and that is the thing to remember. With a “This too shall pass,” I look for small joys in everyday and cherish them. It’s okay to not be okay some days and days that are just about okay are okay too.

What really comes into play is to deal with empathy. We had an unfortunate experience of being stuck at the Taj during 26/11. It was a tragedy the world knew about, but to live through it, and coming out luckily seemingly unhurt, it still played out for a long time after we got back home safe. I draw this parallel because for once we all are going through the exact same scenario, while some are dealing with more hardships than others. It’s not normal for anyone and it’s important therefore to be empathetic towards self and to others. My escape has been to go back to simpler times, a lot of things I remember my grandmother used to be busy with when I was growing up. With family, spending time in home improvement, all things I was always too busy for, I have found comfort in. Don’t worry about how and when things will go back to how it used to be but take each day as it comes. It’s all about living In the moment and honoring them with gratitude. Don’t hesitate in seeking help. We often underestimate the overwhelming nature of what we set out to do in a day, and we could do with a little help, just to understand better for ourselves how to deal with all of it.”

DDB Mudra Group’s Chief Creative Officer, Rahul Mathew found a companion in his dog. “I don’t think there would be anyone who hasn’t struggled through these times. Over the past two Covid waves, the lucky ones have found antidotes to keep it together. My most potent antidote has been my dog. Having him around makes it easy to transition from high pressure to extreme joy. There’s also a practise I started many years back, to identify one optimist in your life (work or otherwise). And to have regular conversations with that person, especially when you feel your emotions sagging. Because as maligned as the word is today, being positive is the one thing we all need to be,” said Mathew.

“In this business, there’s always pressure on the person to be creative. We’re only as good as the engagements, disruptions and unexpected work that we put out on a regular basis.

The damage a pandemic does or did, is put pressure on the culture of creativity. It really tests how strong or weak the culture really is. A strong culture rearranges itself to protect its core of creativity and ones creating it. While a weaker one often succumbs to the pressures of the every day, by exposing its core to chaos and panic. It’s really a test of our belief in creativity as agency leaders. You’re only as strong as the people beside you. And I feel that’s the key to making it through the toughest of times. Both professionally and personally. We need to dig deeper into the connections we have with our people. And protect the ones who are core to what we do. Because it’s they, who in turn will keep us going,” added Mathew.

Mukund Olety, Chief Creative Officer, VMLY&R India said that the agency has hit a rhythm, working in a ‘come what may’ model.

“Covid has tested our resilience. But creativity is a bug that flourishes in the toughest of conditions. If history is any guide, the most difficult periods have been followed by the most creative ones. The constraints have not just pushed brands to explore new mediums and create new kinds of work but also encouraged creatives to develop new ways of working. The initial few months were of course tough but now we have become well-versed in reacting and adapting to the changing situations.

Creative folks thrive off each other’s energy. And it’s important to fuel that energy even while working remotely. Yes, now we are having more planned conversations than unplanned bumping into each other in the corridor ones – and sometimes those agenda-less corridor conversations can be super productive. We try and bring that same spontaneity even in virtual rooms. I encourage people to turn their cameras on during a brainstorm. It makes a difference and of course makes those long spells of silence more palatable. Every Friday, we have Fearless Friday sessions where all the creatives get together. It’s a platform to discuss and share whatever they like. And lastly, one important way to keep your team motivated and going is to genuinely empathize and care. It shows when you do. It reflects in the work,” said Olety.

For an industry that is built around deadlines and deliverables, advertising people have found themselves at the intersection where moments of magic meet the point of serious stress, time and again. And as the country looks at the third wave of COVID-19, advertising folks advise you to listen, acknowledge and act upon what an individual may be going through in these trying times.

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