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How to Stay Creative in 2021

January 22nd, 2021

Let’s face it. Creativity has taken a bit of a hit ever since the pandemic started. Working from home, virtual brainstorms – it all takes its toll on our artistic minds and spirits. But with a new year comes the chance for a new start. So I’ve asked members of our creative team at Bozell to share with me how they reignite their creative flames. And here’s what they had to say.

1. “Travel as much as possible. And don’t forget to take pics.” – Kerrey Lubbe, Senior Copywriter

I guess I’ll start with me. I’ve been a copywriter for nearly 15 years now, and I’d be lying to you if I said I never hit creative blocks. But the one thing I love to do to spark my imagination is travel. I know, I know. It’s a pandemic. Traveling is hard to do right now. But when you get the chance – even if it’s just to a nearby city – the benefits are huge. I think back on my last trip to London. Looking at the graffiti, the posters, the ads (if European ads don’t spark creativity, I don’t know what will), the different ways they phrase things. It’s inspiration around every turn. So my advice? Go anywhere and everywhere. Take it all in. And take pictures, too! Because they sure come in handy when you’re looking for inspiration. … Oh, and if you’re not comfortable actually traveling yet (and I don’t blame you), keep in mind that there are plenty of virtual travel experiences available these days. In fact, check out this Thriller article with plenty of options – from the coasts of Northern Ireland to the Great Wall of China!

2. “Learn from the greats, sit down with diverse authors, and look at odd art.” – John Vogel, Senior Copywriter

My fellow copywriter, John, offered some suggestions that are much more obtainable from the safety of your own home. First, he suggests learning from the greats. His go-to sites are Communication Arts and Muse by Clio – both digital homes to inspiring creative stories, design, art and photography. He also suggests watching the moves of top-tier brands. His favorite right now? KFC. “Half of what KFC does doesn’t fit traditional advertising,” said John. And he’s totally right. Does anyone remember when KFC had a chicken shortage in the U.K. and followed it up with their “FCK” I’m Sorry ad? And how about more recently when they addressed their 64-year-old slogan and made it more COVID-friendly? Great stuff. … In addition to that, John also recommends the book The Best American Nonrequired Reading for “a series that always delivers the original and unexpected.” And, according to him, This is Colossal is “a continual feed of visual goodness.”

3. “Take in what makes you happy. And find things that offer insights and explanation.” – Justin Henriksen, Manager of Digital Experience

Here’s the thing about Justin. He doesn’t just look for things that inspire him. He looks for things that make him happy. And that’s key when it comes to staying excited about working in a creative industry. One of his favs is Muzli Mag on Medium. “I love the visual eye candy,” he said. “Sometimes it’s intellectual and stimulating on a cerebral level, but for the most part, it makes me happy.” From there, Justin also suggests finding inspiration in books. When pressed, he recommended two. First, Per Mollerup’s Marks of Excellence, which covers every aspect of the trademark – its history, development, style, classification and relevance in today’s world. The second, Alina Wheeler’s Designing Brand Identity. For Justin, both of these books offer “a wealth of process knowledge and inspirational thought-starters for any project. They call on you to be strategic and thoughtful and consider every detail of what you’re crafting.”

4. “Make sure you’re accessing all of your senses.” – Jim Minge, Manager of Content Development

For many of us, creativity is difficult to conjure up when sitting at a desk. And that’s definitely the case for Jim. When writer’s block sets in, he steps away from the pen, the notebook, the laptop, and he finds simple ways to tickle the senses. … Hmm, that’s what she said? Nope. That’s what Jim said. … “If I can tickle my senses – like taste a snack and smell a fresh-brewed cup of coffee; see and touch the outdoors; hear another human’s voice or the splash of a fish breaching the water’s surface – it often triggers inspiration in me.” It’s so simple and obvious, yet it’s something we seem to overlook and underestimate. Particularly when we’re busy. So next time you find yourself at a creative stand-still, stand up. Smell, taste, touch, listen, look. Find a new activity or space that will awaken each and every sense. And then reach for the pen. (PS: This is not a photo of Jim smelling a fresh cup of coffee. Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels.)

5. “Take a walk. And be inspired by other creatives.” – Breanna Marsh, Designer

There are two ways Breanna stays inspired. The first, like Jim, is to step away when she lacks creative motivation. For Breanna, when she’s “in a slump” or “feeling stuck,” all it takes is a quick walk around the block to clear her head and reboot. Even when she’s really busy, she walks around the house a little – just to get the blood pumping and to get her mind off the problem at hand. Then, when she makes her way back to her laptop, she looks to other creatives for inspiration. Her favorite creative community sites are Dribbble.com and Behance.com – both chock-full of graphic design work and campaigns created by some of the best in the world. On top of that, Breanna keeps her finger on the creative pulse by using this Chrome extension that serves up a lot of design articles and examples.

6. “Create a mood board and let the big idea come to you.” – Kyle Theobald, Motion Designer

We’re an impatient lot, we creatives. To a fault sometimes. (But it sure does help when we need to hit a tight deadline, right? I digress.) For Kyle, he has mastered the art of patience. And his secret weapon is the mood board. When tackling a new animation project, Kyle takes to Pinterest to look up various elements and collect a handful of references. Then he puts them all together and stares at his Frankenstein until it comes to life. And it always does. … Literally. Cause he creates animation.

7. “Absorb anything and everything non-industry-related” – Heather McCain, Senior Art Director

Our creatives have shared a lot of their go-to creative sites and favorite industry readings, but Heather’s advice is the complete opposite. For her, the best way to be inspired is to take in what’s happening outside the creative/advertising/branding/artsy-fartsy world. “I feel like I find the most inspiration when I’m far away from our industry,” she said. And that includes binging TV shows (right now, it’s The Flight Attendant on HBO), reading non-advertising books (her current fav being “What Unites Us” by Dan Rather), listening to NPR and music (usually hip hop or rap because she stands when she works and is always bouncing around), or scrolling through Instagram or Twitter (trust, this girl loves her some Twitter). And while these outlets spark timely and relevant ideas for her client work, she also finds it inspires her beyond that. “Just soaking up other information, news, visuals, clever things people say or do on Twitter – all that ‘stuff’ is a motivator for me to do more, better. It’s like a recharge for my brain.”

8. “Don’t just be creative for your clients. Create for yourself.” – Dessi Price, Senior Art Director

In this industry, it’s easy to get burnt out creatively when literally everything you do is done within a pressure-cooker of deadlines, client feedback and riddling self-doubt. But Dessi’s way of keeping positive is by doing personal creative projects. She follows different artists, photographers, painters, hand-lettering and tactile artists, as well as food stylists. And she uses the inspiration she finds to create her own masterpieces. And she does it for no one but herself. “I explore different mediums than the ones I usually work with in the hopes of coming up with new and unexpected ways to convey ideas.” And that she does. Take a look at some of her recent creations, including a winning fan-made commercial she made for Doritos’ #crashfromhome competition.

9. “Stay up on current industry campaigns and keep up with the latest technologies.” – Dan Cooper, Creative Director

If you want to know what’s going on in the advertising industry, Dan’s your man. He’s constantly browsing AdWeek and AdAge to stay up to date with the latest ads and marketing efforts. But in addition to that, Dan taps into some unexpected sources, as well. “Surprisingly, I read a lot of tech blogs like The Verge and Gizmodo, as they often document ideas that cross over from tech to artistry.” He also occasionally looks at the Aww Awards—a site that features a different website or interactive endeavor each day. “It’s always good to see how brands are pushing the boundaries of creativity digitally,” Dan said. But his most interesting source of inspiration is video games. “Through unique art direction and innovative scoring and sound design, this often-overlooked source of inspiration is one of my favorite ways to both unwind and stumble upon new ideas.” … Guess it’s true. You really can find inspiration in everything you do. 

10. “Stop trying to find the idea. That could be what’s wearing you out.” – Tim Young, Creative Director

Last, but certainly not least, is Tim. The interesting thing about Tim is that all of his sources of inspiration seem to be a compilation of everyone’s on the creative team. Like Jim and Breanna, he suggests: “Do something else. The point is to get away from the problem and let your brain reset.” (Though he did specifically suggest that even playing with LEGOs or doing the dishes will suffice. So keep that in mind.) And like much of the team, he looks to Instagram, other advertising campaigns, creative sites and online sources (Nerdwriter is a fav), and lots of books to find inspiration. … In particular, he loves The Advertising Concept Book because “we’re so used to looking at the final product, and this book reverse engineers some of the best ads/campaigns.” … But what stuck with me the most from Tim’s suggestions was this solid piece of advice: “We get so frustrated trying to come up with THE idea. Sometimes all we need to do is turn a different tap on and let the absurdity fly. You’d be surprised how that freedom can often lead to an actual good idea amongst the ridiculousness.” Truer words have never been spoken. And I think it’s the best way to wrap up this blog post …

The overall takeaway is this: No man is an island. (Pretty sure Alf said that.) 2021 may have us more isolated than usual, and feeling less inspired than ever, but that definitely doesn’t mean creativity is dead. Take the advice you just read. Look to others for inspiration. Open your mind, eyes and ears. Let it be the reboot you need. And let it (hopefully) remind you how much you truly love this crazy, exciting, exhausting, wonderful world of advertising.

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If you’ve got other suggestions on how we can stay inspired in 2021, we’d love to hear it. Please comment below. And thank you in advance on behalf of your fellow creatives.

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