Creating fighting spirit – how AdWeek got me thinking

What does creativity really mean? Are we all creative? How do we overcome difficulties and find resilience? With creative and fighting spirit perhaps. My wondering mind analyses the key take-outs from Advertising Week Europe 2021 two weeks on.

Can’t believe it’s been two weeks since AdWeek.  Fantastic three days of thrilling sessions covering all areas of advertising and realities of working in the industry.    This year I found the key themes, not too unexpectedly, but importantly were:

  • Equality, diversity and inclusion
  • Wellbeing
  • Remote working
  • Climate change

Two weeks later and I’m still thinking about creativity and fighting spirit.  Perhaps because they were apparent to me in different ways across various sessions, or maybe I picked up on these especially as two key facets of my own personality.  Either way, I’m going to talk about what I learned about creativity and personal resilience.

What is creativity?  Art, drawing painting, design, absolutely, but it’s much more than that as well.  Problem-solving, expression, activity, ideas – a way of thinking.

The closing session of day one for me was Colleen DeCourcy in conversation with John Cleese.  As a huge fan of Monty Python I was delighted to hear anecdotes about the making of the TV show.  John Cleese talked about creativity – how much easier it was back in the day.  

Shockingly it was 1969 when Monty Python’s Flying Circus was first aired, so the development stories took place more than ten years before I was born.  He talked about how the executives of the time gave them exponentially more creative freedom than a new team of comedy writers would be allowed now.  Partially as they were less concerned with numbers – viewing figures and ROI.  That was back in the day when the BBC was truly public service, but also a time when TV making was comparatively in it’s youth.  I’d like to think this was a time when producers believed in giving artists space, but in reality it would more likely have been a naivety that resulted in great creativity.  

Having worked in the TV industry for many years, I couldn’t agree more that the landscape has dramatically changed, there are many more parameters, particularly for people new to the industry as John Cleese and the crew faced back then.  However even when I was entering the industry in the 2000’s, there was room for creativity.  Ok the BBC weren’t going to commission a surrealist comedy sketch show written and performed by a bunch of recent graduates without a script and barely an actual idea, but we found ways of indulging our creative talents, developing important skills in the process.  With groups of friends in the business, we entered 48 hour film challenges, spent weekends making short films for the cost of a pizza delivery, put on our own film screenings and for me personally, I wrote.  So these films on the whole didn’t have a great delivery platform (often for good reason!), but from these experiences, we were able to make mistakes, grow and learn – setting us on a path of greater knowledge, awareness and creative understanding.  These were our Monty Python days and I can clearly see how they informed us, some of whom have gone on to make and produce TV and film on a large scale.  Creativity helped us find our voice.  But we still had careers to make, mountains to climb.  Our creativity wasn’t earning us a living, yet.

It wasn’t easy; we’ve all had struggles with life and art, still do and will continue to.  So how do we overcome difficulties and build resilience?  This brings me to day two at AdWeek, another plethora of brilliant discussions.

People, profit or planet: what matters most for business?  Presented by Let’s Reset, featuring Suki Thompson, Sarah Harbon, Harriet Hounsell and Douglas Lamont.  Looking at priorities for organisations in 2021, what they are and what they should be.  How to create an organisation that’s going in the right direction.

My key take-outs:

  • Listen to your team.  It’s true that you don’t have to act on everything your workforce says, but listen to their thoughts and ideas.  Work out what themes are recurring across the business.  Senior management can miss key forces in the business and surrounding community that sometimes other people do pick up on and sometimes people are less comfortable reporting to a senior manager.  People – employees and customers are crucial for any organisation, so listen to them and look after them.
  • Stop making bad decisions
  • Accept that we don’t have all the answers, but do try.  By trying you may find answers, in the fast evolving space of wellbeing, mental health, environment and climate change, you may even find answers that others haven’t considered.

The concepts I learned here are not only useful in business, but can help individuals to grow and be resilient.  It’s ok to be wrong, if you make bad decisions or mistakes, learn from them and move on.

All ideas I’m still working on in my career, but suspect I always will be if I continue to strive to do my best and be my best self.  Into my 30’s I had a career change.  I wouldn’t say it was dramatic, film/TV to marketing, there are a lot of transferable skills, but it was important for me personally.  I’ve had to grow fast and build a new resilience, but I’m eager to progress.  

Coming back to creativity, another learning was let creatives be creative.  Leaders in advertising should give creatives responsibility to be creative.  Too often creativity can be stifled by micro-management and over interest from business leaders who should be concentrating on business.  Interesting parallels to what John Cleese was saying on day one wouldn’t you say?

The last session I attended on day two was:

Ambition, strength and fighting spirit, with Suki Thompson, Davina McCall and Helen Gorman.  

Suki led the discussion, Davina and Helen talked about ambition over 50, personal challenges and wellbeing.  Davina has become more entrepreneurial.  As her kids have grown up, she’s been able to concentrate on what she wants to do – to become a fitness guru amongst other goals.  Helen moved from a long career in the corporate world to set up a start-up (Let’s Reset) just three months before the global pandemic.  A lot to deal with for anyone, then she was diagnosed with cancer for a second time, fifteen years later.

Both have different approaches to challenges than their younger selves.  With more experience, you can take a more measured approach, put one foot in front of the other.  50+ is a good time to be innovative, don’t get stuck, you can always change paths – just be open to opportunities.  Be brave and live your best life.  Davina changed her career after overcoming addiction and having a family, it’s never too late (phew!)  You can change your career any time you like.  Embrace challenges – overcoming challenges makes us stronger.  In terms of wellbeing, don’t wait until tomorrow.  Put wellbeing on the global agenda now.

Davina and Helen summarised the session with this awesome advice:

  • Attitude for gratitude – be grateful for mistakes, they give you knowledge, new learnings and resilience.
  • Have self-acceptance – no one’s perfect, be aware of your faults.
  • Listen – listen to each other and ask how people are. Watch the Roman Kemp documentary.

Personally I was glad to hear about their attitude to being 50+.  It’s good to know that in my 40’s, it’s not too late to grow, develop or even change career.

Day three was a new mix of exciting content.  Great session on the representation of black people in marketing – that’s a whole other article!  Mental health and wellbeing: why it’s critical to support black, Asian and other ethnic talent with Diana Tickell of NABS, reinforcing the need to embed inclusivity, mental health and wellbeing in every company’s strategy.  

Two weeks later, I’m concentrating on my personal take-outs from the week.  As someone in my 40’s and still full of ambition, I aim to take on these learning’s, have a fighting spirit and use my creative thinking to go far, while helping people, profit and the planet along the way.  A huge thank you to all the presenters and panelists at AdWeek and best wishes to Helen Gorman as she undertakes more rounds of chemotherapy.  

Right, I’m off for a bike ride before watching the Roman Kemp documentary and figuring out some new challenges to keep my creative juices flowing.