“Are you mental?” A question that I cannot be the only one this year who has asked him or herself throughout what has been, and still is, one of the most challenging years that we as an industry must have been witness to. If the research by Oxford Economics is correct, “The creative industry is projected to be hit twice as hard than the overall economy and up to three times as hard regionally”, I think any one of us could be excused for questioning sanity due to worry.
However, I ask the question “Are you mental”, not as a vulgar analogy of someone losing their mind but more literally, “are you mental”, or indeed as I have very much come to realise this year, are we as human beings in fact “social” by our very nature? The “social” element, being the one thing that distinguishes us from mere animals?
Two things that I have found very pronounced this year is how much we took for granted the social side of our business both in its importance for business relationships (let’s face it, I would love a long boozy lunch or a night out), but also its importance on our creativity and understanding of human behaviour and our drivers. We crave information and love to analyse behaviour of not only our peers but that of those that surround us.
Coming from a background in financial services prior to my introduction to advertising, another industry famed for its love of a long lunch, the “creativity” angle of socialising was nowhere near as meaningful. It was the previous recession, “The Great Recession” that saw me trade the pinstriped suit of a newly qualified stockbroker, for the casual dress of the media industry back in 2008, after jobs in the square mile simply vanished overnight. To this day, I always remember the first interview that I had at the then Marylebone located offices of ‘Future Publishing’ in London. The grey buildings and spreadsheets were replaced instantly, upon walking through the double doors into the reception of the building, by the colour and vibrance of multi coloured décor and a wall full, end-to-end, of the magazines that they published. Despite trading what was then a big money position for not much more than a graduate’s salary, I remember feeling, for the first time in my professional life happy, at home and invigorated.
A scene of a series that I must have watched and forgotten nearly 10 years ago, has become really prominent in my thinking as of late. The opening scene of ‘Mad Men’ – Don Draper, a prominent advertising executive of the fictional Madison avenue ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, sits there in a bar, observing, watching and trying to understand the innate human drivers that lead a consumer to choose one brand of cigarettes over another. And this is it. This is what we do, even if we don’t realise it. The social interactions of our industry are the fuel to our creativity and understanding of the world and how we construct behavioural biases that we hope lead to our client’s ability to sell more of their product or service.
But of course this year has proved a major spanner in the works for that very socialising that feeds us (pun intended). The social interactions of a crowded bar or packed restaurant of a Friday afternoon have been replaced by Zoom meetings. As time-efficient as they might be for working practice, unless cyber security isn’t what it is claimed to be and we can in fact play peeping Tom to whoever’s conversations we choose, I thoroughly doubt that such behaviour gives us the sheer input of that of our day-to-day observations and interactions that our social industry previously did, and therefore we have to question how much effect the disconnect of the Covid world is having on our levels of creativity as a whole.
Coming back to where I started, this has been a tough year both creatively and mentally for many of us. Holding my hands up to say I’m one of the many that have struggled with both the finding the colour in my work that let my best creativity come to the surface, but also the sheer strain that a struggling economy places on mental well-being. For anyone else out there feeling this way, you are not alone. We are all in this together and we have a collective responsibility to find creative solutions to creating meaningful social interactions that provide us all with the creative juices and support that we all need to be brilliant.
Having enjoyed re-uniting physically with a few industries faces over the summer where restrictions have been eased, just how fantastic our work is has been very pronounced. I enjoyed every sip of every beer, every joke shared, every detail of every bit of work that you have discussed and all of the tales of your lives through a time that we were all so disconnected earlier in the year. With the potential scenario on the horizon of this happening again in weeks to come, we are now armed with the knowledge of ways and means to maximise our outputs and creativity. Whatever happens, let’s keep our connections at the heart of it all.
I made a promise in writing this that I’d plug what I’ve learned to be a fantastic organisation … so please don’t forget your very own industry charity, NABS are here to support your wellbeing – from emotional support and professional advice to emergency financial assistance, career coaching and masterclasses on building resilience to pressure and supporting working parents. You can also support them by making a donation here: nabs.org.uk These guys are superb!
So, back to my original question…. Are you “Mental”? No you are not!! You are Social. We all are.
Connection is key. For you, for her, for him and of course very importantly, for us.