Archive for March, 2022

Creativity does not have to be limited by zoom

Monday, March 28th, 2022

nasdaq“You can’t be creative on Teams or Zoom.”

“You can’t bond with people without meeting them.”

“You can’t expect brilliant work from people working remotely.”

I’ve heard all of this said over the last few months, and I have proof positive that it’s not true.

In mid-November 2021 I signed up for a new global creativity competition.  For the first time ever Cannes Lions launched their Creativity for Good competition.  It is open to anyone and. everyone in the world (not just creative agencies but any member agency).   My own recent experiences have been in judging awards (including the prestigious Campaign Media Awards.)  Despite this, I decided to put myself forward as a candidate to answer the brief.

The Cannes scheme was deliberately designed to connect people with people they don’t normally work with.  Steve Latham, head of talent at Cannes Advertising Festival, told me that he believes that networking is all well and good, but that “nothing really drives a connection better than peer to peer work on a brief.”

The brief was an ambitious one, as you would expect from Cannes – which is the pinnacle of advertising festivals and of peer reviewed work worldwide – our global Oscars as an industry.  In summary the client – the World Woman Foundation led by ceo Rupa Dash, set out their moonshot mission to create an equal future for women by activating economic opportunities through entrepreneurship.  She explained their belief that “today, women represent the most significant disruptive force of the global economy — and the world is unprepared. Women are also the single largest productive economic force and drive almost every economic indicator for businesses. To ignite higher value, reach audacious goals, and building more purpose-driven ventures demands a new kind of thinking.”

Our challenge as a team, was to deliver that thinking in a competition with more than 30 other teams worldwide.  That’s competition at scale.  I had my day job to do, plus my team was 3 complete strangers from similar time zones but 3 different countries across EMEA who also had very busy day jobs.

Luckily for me my team mates turned out to be the best in the world.  Luka Mavretic from Magreb, Croatia, Francesca Ranieri from Milan, Italy and Ifeanyi Dibia from Ikeja, Nigeria.

Let’s jump to the happy ending.  We won, and the chair of the extremely distinguished and very intimidating jury, Jonathan Mildenhall, Co-Founder & Chair TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, went so far as to say that our idea was the stand out winner.

Was it tough to bond as a team, to work cross disciplines (I’m a CTO, a comms strategist by background, everyone else is a copywriter), to produce world class work in a very limited time frame?

We began our journey by ignoring the Cannes team’s advice to use icebreakers, although I will definitely revisit these on another occasion.  Instead, the biggest icebreaker for us was to define our team name.  This in the UK has fairly obvious associations with toxic team dynamics on The Apprentice, but for us deciding that we were team WRIOT (RIOT because we were going to break rules and start a revolution, and W for WWF and Writers as we all write as part of our jobs), was a strong signal of the work we would do together.  And as with all the best teams I have worked in there were no silos, no status concerns and no worries about stepping out of roles.  As Luka says: “we didn’t have assigned roles within the team.  We were very flexible and we all contributed both creatively and strategically.”

It was tough, late nights, Sunday afternoons, short deadlines, no art direction, 100% Teams and Zoom calls, but we delivered, got shortlisted, pitched our idea and of course won.

Team WRIOT worked well together because we served a single aim – to change the world through creativity.  No politics, no borders, no personal ambitions, one goal.

Can you be creative without meeting up in person?  Yes, all the way to winning at Cannes.  If you get the chance to experience this exciting challenge and journey, whatever your role, title or experience, you should jump at it.  We hope to meet IRL in June – and maybe we’ll do the icebreakers then!




Take a breath.

Tuesday, March 8th, 2022

breathIt’s all about breath.

Athletes and actors both know this

Participants in the superb RADA for business executive presence for women course are taught four breaths to change your state, reputedly recommended for statesmen and presidents before they speak to their nation.  (Techniques of course learnt by RADA alumni like Tom Hiddleston, Ken Branagh, Ben Whishaw and Nazanin Boniadi.)

Breathing is also crucial for allyship at work.

It’s almost impossible to bring your best effort into the workplace when you feel that you are not included for whatever reason.  It might be because of your skin colour, race, sexuality, age or any of the protected characteristics.  It might be because of your personality.   If you like a public debate for instance when the consensus is, well just that, consensus.

If you’re anxious that you may be left feeling stupid when you need to ask a question for clarification then it’s hard to get on with the task in hand ( if you don’t understand it how are you going to achieve it well?).

And if you want to be a good ally for a colleague who is on the receiving end of classic media land banter then each interaction could be loaded with tension.

The excellent Ad Association cross industry All In Action Plan which launched in January 22 lays out a programme of initiatives to tackle improvements in the experiences of women, Asian and older talent.  The initiatives came about as a result of the latest data showed a disparity in gender experiences especially for working mothers; a shocking statistic that 27% of Asian respondents states they were likely to leave the industry because of lack of inclusion or discrimination; and because of an entirely missing generation: only 4% respondents were aged 55-64 (versus 17% of the population).  How many businesses in our sector can claim their age profile matches that of the city in which they are based?

Latest research for my book Belonging, the key to diversity, equality and inclusion at work, with co-authors Kathryn Jacob and Mark Edwards, gives a bleak view of many people’s experiences at work in our sector.  In an update for the paperback which is out in May, we’ve seen experiences of bias, harassment and inappropriate behaviour increase in the broad sector of marketing, advertising and pr.

We’re returning to real offices and in person encounters and we know from the Time To survey that there are many who fear a “pent up demand” in terms of physical sexual harassment.

Our industry prides itself on a culture of fun, hard work and hard playtime.  We must transform this culture in to one of zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour and where inclusion is paramount.

Everyone of us must take personal responsibility for this, and this is where breathing like an actor or an athlete comes in.

Breathing can change your state and give you the equanimity to speak up for a colleague even if the person who you’re challenging is your boss or about to fill in your peer review.

As we write in Belonging: “The simplest way to stop yourself from being triggered or to pull yourself back after you’ve been triggered is via the breath. It sounds too simple to be true, but it does work.

We’ve all either told someone or been told ourselves to take a deep breath. It’s great advice, but you have to know how to take a deep breath effectively. If you simply gasp a deep lung-full of air, you’re making things worse for yourself. A rapid in-breath maintains or exacerbates your fight or flight mode. What you need to do is focus on your out-breath. A slow prolonged out-breath is a powerful biological signal to your body that the threat is over and that it’s okay to relax.”

The impact of breathing is even more relevant after a bout of COVID.  But whatever challenges you face in the workplace a few breaths can change your ability to navigate stormy waters and face your fears.