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Creativity in the Time of Coronavirus

Production Agency
London, UK
INFLUENCER: Covid-19 forced us to be more creative in our approach to marketing production - we’ve learnt lessons which we’ll take with us into the new world, says Tag’s Helen Weisinger

Picture the scene. It’s January, and Tag’s marketing production experts (who create everything, from video content to point of sale signage) sit huddled around the tried and tested retail calendar as they make plans for the year with no idea of what was to come. 

Enter stage-left - Covid-19. Consumer behaviour was turned on its head in March and that calendar was ripped up. Each market started to operate very differently, with their own set of rules and regulations, as well as cultural responses. For example, in the UK we are still coming to terms with the idea of wearing masks, with many people still avoiding it (apart from where it is illegal not to do so). 

Like all businesses, Tag needed to start operating in a way that reflected the changing landscape. But rather than holding us back, this re-evaluation helped us awaken creativity in the company that had previously lay dormant.

Here I have explored some of the changes that took place at Tag, how they helped us to be more creative, and why we’ll take these lessons with us into a (hopefully) more normal rest of the year.

Firstly, Covid-19 meant we needed to be nimbler. Our focus changed significantly, moving away from macro, global work towards increasingly targeted campaigns to help brands tell stories for each of their markets and in some cases, to even create content on a retail space by retail space basis. The situation changed daily for our clients and our supply chain had paused in some areas. 

We were still able to create great content, but it meant altering our methods. For example, we stopped creating new video content for clients on location and we started digging through the archive for material that could be reused and refreshed instead. 

The principle of never wasting a moment of production is one I hope we will continue to encourage in our clients and our processes. It’s more sustainable, efficient, and practical to have a look through your archive and be hyper-vigilant in using your production time effectively.

I was struck by how many adverts were suddenly filmed via UGC (at home with an iPhone) in the absence of on location shooting. The very first of these delighted us, but they quickly began to lose their differentiation. Yet one alternative that really stood out was the BBC’s ‘Stay at Home’ - a series of films imploring UK residents to stay put through the enterprising use archive footage from the great and the good in British TV production, featuring cameos from The Mighty Boosh and Alan Partridge to name but two.  

Alongside this new level of flexibility, we needed to get closer to our clients and collaborate. I don’t like the term ‘in the trenches’ when discussing client relationships, but clearly we needed to be side-by-side, sharing thoughts and ideas as they come. We stripped away some of the usual processes and time frames and jumped on video calls to thrash out what we could and couldn’t do. If there was ever a time that tested whether you are trusted advisor to your clients, it was week one of lockdown. 

So far so stressful, and I hope reading this isn’t bringing back painful memories of the first few weeks of lockdown for you! But strip away the panic and uncertainty that naturally came with Covid-19 and you start to see a new way of working, which breeds and nurtures creativity.

What our clients needed was creative solutions, and quickly. The need for speed took away the usual pre-requisite for everything to be carefully considered before it is suggested. What we were putting forward were ideas. Pure and simple. Not everything had to be a carefully curated plan. We had a newfound freedom, and that in itself was a good thing. 

Anyone working in a creative discipline can tell you how many great thoughts and ideas can end up on the cutting room floor, due to the simple fact that most people are naturally risk adverse. It’s what makes us human. I’m not suggesting that we should throw caution to the wind and never plan again, but Covid-19 has forced many of us to experiment and try new things. An interesting concept for marketeers who so often rely heavily on data and what has proven successful in the past. 

Which brings me to my last musing on the topic. The one thing that helped us enormously when Covid-19 hit was the positive mindset of our people. As a team, we have been reviewing our ability and expertise when it comes to offering creative solutions to clients. What the Covid-19 crisis has proved to us is that we have capability in bucket loads around the business. The key now will be how we continue to foster the entrepreneurial spirit that encourages colleagues to ask questions and push boundaries. As someone still relatively new to the Tag team, seeing this culture firsthand makes me excited for Tag’s future. 

But it’s not all down to our workplaces to foster creativity – there needs to be individual responsibility too, as the only way to become more creative is broaden your own horizons. As a Londoner, like many, I have found the closing of galleries and museums (alongside pubs and bars of course!) a wrench and I look forward to them reopening as soon as possible. Visiting cultural spaces, exhibitions, reading books on subject matter you are not familiar with, going to a play, watching a film - all of these activities help you see the world from different perspectives and it’s the ability to call upon a variety of perspectives that help us come to creative solutions. 

In the meantime, my message to everyone in our industry post-lockdown is to keep voicing your ideas, work collaboratively with clients, and consider both the local detail and the big picture when activating campaigns. Though the past months have presented challenges for us all, I feel positive for the future knowing that Tag could continue to excel creatively in the time of coronavirus.

Helen Weisinger is interim chief marketing officer at Tag EMEA

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