Running a creative business is hard. And doing this in the time of COVID-19 is like herding tigers. But in a non Tiger King way.
2020. The new “roaring” 20s.
What a unique time to be a small business owner working in the field of production. In any other year, I would be somewhere directing a shoot, or wrapping-up Upfront, or doing anything other than what I am doing now. Which is berating my kids on whether they have done their Zoom classroom calls or even bothered to get dressed today or maybe possibly ate brownies for breakfast. But Here we are. 2020. The roaring 20’s, which kind of feels like about now one hundred years ago. We have all had to look to 1918 for relevant comparisons these days and that alone feels crazy.
Coronavirus: the pandemic setting precedents.
I have lived through pandemics, AIDS being the worst of them (Gen X grew up scared to death of sex, that is a fact). And then there was 9/11. I was mere miles away from the Pentagon that morning and then worked that whole night because I was the only Discovery Channel producer from our department at a post house that day. I had to quickly pivot from creating a poppy Daytime stunt for the Christopher Lowell Show to pulling together footage for Discovery News. Talk about a complete 180. But through all of the crazy in this world, I have never had to shutter my doors, set my full team up remotely and get my groceries in gloves and a home sewn face mask. I have never before simultaneously juggled the roles of mother, teacher, director, business owner, accountant some days and lawyer on others like I am doing today. I miss my friends. I miss traveling for work. I miss directing. And I really miss going next door to Denizens and grabbing a beer after work.
Memes, social challenges, and…incessant baking? Trends are limitless.
But like I always do, I’m looking for a way to survive and get through this- company intact. To grow and evolve and use all this “time” (you hear me fellow ladies with kids at home) to reflect and figure out how I can be stronger when we emerge from the fog. But first, can we talk about the trends? The hoarding, the incessant baking and bread making, the funny pet memes, and the challenges; post your senior picture, your push up challenge (did this), a production shot of you in the field, your pet as if they were your co-worker (also did this … cause pets are gonna get us through this mess). We are equally as desperate to connect as we are bored with the same old #AloneTogether social media show. I miss all your vacation and travel photos. And I could selfishly go for some swanky food pics from a Michelin star sushi restaurant right now. Oooh, this sounds like a challenge.
When stockpiling makes sense. (Hint: It’s never for toilet paper)
Stockpiling is another one. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and flour are worth more than my car. This natural instinct to hoard is working really well for some, including Netflix. Their strategy of shelving hundreds of hours of content is paying out in spades. Love is Blind might possibly be the show that defines a new generation of touchless/ sightless dating. Before the pandemic, I was training for my first ever ½ marathon. Now, I am still training for a race I will likely never run while binge watching this treasure trove of reality goodness from my socially distanced treadmill in the basement. I feel like this one had an “open in case of pandemic” warning. And it’s killing it.
Movie theaters shutdown as platform launches take off.
Another trend. Breaking old rules and making new ones. Universal will be releasing Trolls World Tour, their first ever movie to skip a traditional theatrical release and go straight to streaming. Disney+ just hit 50 million subscribers and launched their “FX on Hulu” hub in March, their biggest overhaul of the streaming service since it acquired control over both FX’s content and a majority ownership of Hulu. According to guru Lee Hunt, Hulu was the most promoted streaming service in March. And HBO is weeks away from launching the much anticipated HBO MAX. These giants are not just breaking the mold …they are breaking it like they know they’ll never use it ever again. And as I write this, AMC theaters are headed towards filing for bankruptcy. There may be no putting this genie back in the bottle, friends.
Coronavirus=creative adaptability and causal marketing.
Another trend, increased promo time on linear TV. As advertisers drop out of ad supported networks, average promo time was up in March. According to Lee Hunt, nearly every network produced a coronavirus centric brand messaging to fill the gaps. CBS dedicated 12% of their primetime promo inventory to #InThisTogether, Discovery committed 13% to talent-led #StayHome and Nickelodeon used 11% for the #WashYourHands and #KidsTogether. NBC partnered with the CDC in a new The More You Know campaign (Remember those! Perfect time to kick that sentiment back into gear) creating almost two dozen spots in English & Spanish working with their on air talent who filmed themselves at home.
But I have to say, as a viewer stuck at home, I would rather see promos for upcoming shows or at bare minimum directed to an app I can subscribe to in order to binge at my leisure. I want options. Or maybe control?
Some brands have gone one step further than the talent at home spots by partnering with foundations and charitable organizations for higher concept and bigger budget campaigns. We all have shed a few tears (while chopping onions of course) to Facebook’s, “We’re never lost if we can find each other,” pushing to a COVID-19 support group. NIKE’s “Play for the World” reinforces the importance of social distancing by stating that “we may not be playing together … but today … we’re playing for 7.8 billion people.” Budweiser, partnering with the AmericanRed Cross, shifted its sports investments to the front lines by using stadiums to host blood drives claiming, “this season, we’re all on one team.” And Miller Lite’s “taps are off, but tips are needed” pledged the first $1million to a virtual tip jar in support of out of work bartenders.
As a consumer, I appreciate it. I am happy that some of these bigger brands are putting their money where their mouth is instead of hiding behind a mask. I very much appreciate the spirit in which these marketers are trying “adaptive creativity.” Because there is no playbook, no set rules, no historical knowledge for us to pull upon during these “unprecedented times.” And speaking of these times, it’s my opinion that the time for “we’re in this together” is dwindling. My good friend and colleague, Nancie McDonnell Ruder, of Noetic provided some nice context about fear versus curiosity and how these things are polar opposites in our brain. Fear is our go-to right now. Fair enough. But if we live here in this victim-centric place that we perceive keeps us safe, we are limiting ourselves and our creativity by succumbing to anxiety. We are paralyzed. However, when we push ourselves above this line, we are living in curiosity. And if we are strong enough and brave enough to dig into our curiosity, we will find ways to improve our situation. I believe that is where we need to be right now. Embracing that life long learner mentality to bring about some real change. We’re all kind of winging it, I get that. Having been a scrappy underdog all my life, I feel okay about this. But where do we go from here? What now for a small company like mine? What can I do now to seize this moment of global pause and adapt AlterEgo in a meaningful and curious way that will help my team and my clients today and well into 2021. That is my ultimate goal. Because folks, the show must go on. Stay tuned next week for …