By all accounts this was a dumpster fire of a year. Advertising is hard during a normal year. Then 2020 proved it could get even harder. So how did we end up having one of the best creative years in our network’s history? We followed these five simple steps.

Step 1: Scream at the top of your lungs  you’re in a dumpster fire. We accepted the fact that this year was going to be horrible. We cried together, we screamed together, we worried together and we all got used to being vulnerable together. Vulnerability, a word not often championed in advertising. We’re often taught to muscle through it. But that only works on short sprints. And this was anything but a short sprint. Vulnerability is the great equalizer. We’re all human, we all get scared, and when we’re all truly vulnerable we actually get better at listening. We’re able to listen with compassion, kindness and find ourselves open to possibilities we may have been too stubborn to listen to in normal times.

Step 2: Find something fire retardant to shelter under. We decided that we were going to survive this. One of the easiest things to do when panic ensues is to run around like a chicken with your head cut off. But if you want to survive, you have to take a beat and really take stock of your situation. We had to think about long-term survival and started looking at our network differently. We made some really, really, really hard decisions. We got burnt on some limbs we never wished to expose to the flame. This is the most painful of the steps by far and we now have some scars to show for it. But if these decisions hadn’t been made the entire organism would have burnt to a crisp.

Step 3: Look for objects that get better when applied directly to high heat. We looked for opportunity in the midst of chaos. I am a firm believer that chaos is the birthplace for creativity. In a normal year, we’re hit by chaos in fits and bursts. This year chaos was a constant. The constant chaos trained us to look for moments of cultural value exchange. In an unpredictable world, things have zero value only moments before suddenly becoming priceless and vice versa. The trick was identifying which was which.

Step 4: Heat the objects that get better when applied directly to high heat. We took advantage of the opportunity. Advertising gets boring when everyone is exploring the same well-trodden territories. There was nothing well-trodden about this year. In a lot of ways, it was like the wild west for creativity. There were no rules, no best practices and creativity flourished. We were forced to find more resilient, insightful, enjoyable and breakthrough ideas. Ideas that could flex to a constantly flexing world. We found those ideas connected brands to consumers in a moment when we were all desperate for connection.  

Step 5: Enjoy the fruits of your labor – but be careful they’re hot. We celebrated the wins and acknowledged the burnout. The fruits of our labor came at a cost this year. Without any rules there aren’t any shortcuts. That’s what makes chaos so fertile for creativity. But that creativity also requires an incredible amount of energy to generate. So, while our product was more creative than ever, our energy expended was also greater than ever. Our creative product is so often the reward for all our hard work but 2020 feels different. It requires a different type of acknowledgement. A truly heartfelt thank you to everyone around the global DDB family for truly stepping up and together learning how to successfully sit in a dumpster fire.