Top ad leaders on how to stay creative while working from home

| | No Comments
Top ad leaders on how to stay creative while working from home

A widely shared piece in The New York Times last week repeated a common assertion about working from home: that it makes you more productive, but less creative.


This quote, from none other than Steve Jobs, appeared in the article: “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

Without a doubt, in-person interactions have always been central to the creative process in advertising, too. So, how can advertising people stay creative now that we’re all confined at home for the foreseeable future?

Muse by Clio’s Tim Nudd asked a bunch of people in the business how they’re dealing with the new reality. Check out their responses below.

David Alberts, chairman and co-founder, BeenThereDoneThat, London

At BeenThereDoneThat we have a community of the world’s best chief strategy and chief creative officers. They’ve all worked for 20-plus years. They all work remotely. So, when it comes to the topic of the day, they really have been there done that. Our job is to create the ideal conditions for them to work. Here are five that work for me.

When you send me a brief, please don’t tell me to think outside the box. Just tell me what the box is. Tell me why I am doing this. Why it matters. What is success? The adage “A problem well defined is a problem half solved” is an adage for a very good reason.

I want a very tight deadline. Every one of our projects happens in a week, and each creative thinker only works on the problem for 24-48 hours. After that it’s no longer fun, especially when you are working alone.

Decouple thinking from the execution. When I ran a creative agency, the answer was television, whatever the question. At a content company, the answer was content. At this stage of my life, I want to focus on solving the client’s problem, not on feeding another machine.

Give me the freedom of anonymity so I can give you the freedom of thought. The best bit about working from home is I never have to look at a client or a creative director; I just have to look myself in the mirror.

And finally, the only thing a client should ever want is your opinion. When you’ve been there done that, life’s too short for second-guessing.

Emily Wilcox, head of account management, Johannes Leonardo, New York

The current situation we’re in as an industry is forcing us to evolve. To develop or build on behaviors, ways of working, or appreciation for different ways of thinking that are in service of supporting creativity at its best.

Trust has become more important than ever. We all know as leaders it’s important to have trust among teams and with our colleagues, but it is sometimes harder to practice in everyday behaviors. This WFH home situation is forcing us all to build that muscle quickly, and I think in the long run we’ll all be better for it. Trust is an attribute that is needed among the most creative and high-performing teams.

Feeling as though you have the space and time for creative thinking is just as impactful as physical connection and collaboration, but unfortunately not as celebrated in our industry. Often the conversation is about open workspaces, brainstorms and random run-ins. And yes, those are all great, but I think what we might find is that a little bit of distance will do us some good. To give us some quiet to actually think, contemplate, look at the world outside of the office more than in it. We might find it’s an untapped source of inspiration and creativity. To connect, in a new and real way.

I draw a lot of energy from the amazing people we have at JL, but I draw just as much energy from reflection, contemplation and seeking out unexpected thinking from people outside our industry. That energy inspires me greatly from a creative standpoint.

However, when connection is needed in order to meet clear business objectives, or for those people who draw their creativity from it, our agency has been finding success in embracing technology for strong connectivity. We have been using Zoom for larger conference calls and scheduling virtual coffee dates with one another. Employees are coming together on Slack to share daily inspirations and livestream workout classes for a mid-afternoon mental break. When we are intentional about it, we can come close to physical “bump-ins” that spark new chemistries and ideas.

During this WFH period at Johannes Leonardo, we have been encouraging teams to find their own ways to inject creativity into their current routines that inspire their best work. For me, that means getting up early, exercising, eating breakfast with my daughter. These small intentions have established a sense of normalcy and balance that give me a focused approach that helps me to be at my best, which helps me to be at my most creative.

Linda Knight, chief creative officer, Observatory, L.A.

At home, you have time to think—a quietness. Ideas can come in the shower. Or tidying the kitchen, or drinking that one coffee (OK, two coffees) as you gear up. At work, it’s a collaborative time. Conversations, brainstorms, meetings. But that quiet time at home is something precious in the creative process, often overlooked. Not sure my best ideas would come in the shower at work.

Thankfully, with new technology, we don’t have to sacrifice our work connection. Just yesterday, Observatory had an hourlong session with creative collaborators in London whom we’d planned to fly in to work with. A virtual writers’ room! Today, we had three Zooms, and next week a creative team will video conference into an edit. There is still so much going on. We are just as engaged and connected but with more time to really think.

The enemy isn’t the office or working from home. Creativity comes from keeping things fresh and changing them up.

Josh Paialii, creative director, The Many, L.A.

We’re a WFH agency for now, and as a creative, I’m not worried. Maybe it’s all the freelance years, or working remotely between our L.A. and Boston offices, but some basics always hold true for staying both creative and productive. The caveat? It doesn’t always come easy at first:

Keep your morning routine:
Wake up, get dressed. Take the dog out at the same time as usual. Go for a run at the same time. Don’t change the way you start your day. It makes a difference.

Work your schedule:
Figure out when you do your best work, and block your calendar to prioritize your craft. Then schedule your calls and Hangouts around that. But don’t forget to stay connected to your team—video/FaceTime even if you don’t have to, even more important at a time like this.

Trade in “cooler time”:
There’s a fair amount of time spent at the office not really working, chatting around the coffee pot or in hallways. And that takes time and energy. Add that up and give yourself some quality time at home in exchange. Tuning in can be primetime for creative exploration—read, watch documentaries or rob banks in Red Dead Redemption 2. Sometimes that’s when you’ll do your best thinking.

Get back to basics:
Put the computer away and change your location. Write with a pen and paper. Get a whiteboard. Concept with and without the screen. You might like working from your patio that much more.

Continue reading on Muse by Clio…

Tell us about the balance between your work life and your personal life. Email