The Reason You Get Stuck Creating Content (And How to Fix It)

Anybody who creates knows the moment. You’re staring at a blank canvas in Photoshop, an ominous flashing cursor in Google Docs, or simply a blindingly fresh page of paper… and you have nothing. Your feed, channel, journal, boss, or client is waiting… and simply zero is coming out.

There are artists, like the recently re-appreciated Fran Lebowitz that have legendary, decades-long writers block. There are endless listicles and self-help books about getting yourself out of a rut – go for a walk, have a cup of coffee or a snack, visit a museum, call a friend, read a book, and so on and so forth.

But the simplest and most effective solution to this age-old problem happens before any of that though. It’s a mindset shift, a revelation that can unlock your full creativity and productivity. Here it is: thinking of ideas is a different task than producing them.

Staring off into the abyss of wide-open possibility, it is a daunting feat to create something out of nothing. But given the seed of a prompt, you’re suddenly a pro. You can write, design, compose, or code your work in no time flat. Separating the two tasks, of developing concepts and then executing on them, and you make both of those things easier.

It doesn’t matter if you run an agency responsible for churning out massive content calendars, or are just somebody who wants to keep their blog remotely up to date. Set aside a little time one day to list out ten ideas for a post (or video, or podcast, or whatever other creative output you’re working on). Then save that list in your Evernote or Google Drive and go back to doing something else.

Then another day, when you need to buckle down and produce content, pop that list open. Select an idea that speaks to you, and bring it to life. Rinse and repeat.

You might get through everything on that list, but most likely you’ll pick a few winners that still stand out to you through the sober lens of time and then go about making another list as your creativity calls for it.

I find that in addition to “unstucking” you, this model also takes care of the other biggest challenge with creating and publishing any creative work: curating the good stuff. We all have a lot of ideas that that flow through our heads in any given day, and the same way that you shouldn’t post every photo you take, you shouldn’t necessarily invest the time and energy needed to execute on all of your ideas. By cleaving apart the ideating and the making, you can ruthlessly edit your efforts and only work on what is worth it.

There’s an infamous lunch meeting between Pixar leadership in 1994, where in the span of one meal they developed the concepts that became four blockbuster films. While there was certainly a lot more work that went into the creative process, that legendary session set a path for that studio to follow for over a decade. Your output might not be as grand as “Finding Nemo” or “WALL-E,” but regardless of your medium, you can use this mindset to do the most important thing in making your vision a reality: getting started.

One Small Thing: Fix Your Brain’s Clock With This App

During normal times, we already spend a lot of time looking at screens. According to Nielson, the average American adult spends nearly 11 hours a day staring a phone, tablet, computer, or television screen. Add in time for sleeping and bathing, and there really isn’t much left of the day for a lot of people.

But, as many of us have also become aware, that screen time can interfere with us getting that sleep time. Our friend Dr. David Perlmutter has a good summary of some of the research in a blog post: “blue light” from screens mimics daylight, throws our brains into a tizzy, and disturbs melatonin production. The result of staring at these screens late into the evening is less overall sleep, and lower-quality snoozes when you do get them.

There are a number of apps and devices on the market to help counter this deleterious effect, but my favorite is the simple and free f.lux. Simply install this lightweight app on your device, and your display will adapt to the time of day: cooler light in the day, warmer light in the evening.

The app is stupid easy and I love it. You plugin your zip code (or coordinates), it figures out when the sun rises and sets in your location, and it will gradually and automatically adjust your screen’s colors to be kinder to your brain. If you’re working late on some design or need true colors again for whatever reason, with a couple clicks in your menu bar you can disable the app for an hour, an evening, or for a particular app.

f.lux is available for macOS, Windows, Linux, and Android. (Apple introduced “Night Mode” for iOS a few years back, which works more or less the same on iPhone and iPad.) The app, first released in 2009, is ancient by digital standards – but because of that it is free and wonderfully lightweight in a way that few things are anymore. If you are so inclined, you can thank the developers and chip in a few bucks to support the team behind it on their site.

Now you can get back to your quarantine schedule uninterrupted:

We Gave Everybody an Oculus Quest 2 – Here are Our Notes

2020 being what 2020 was, we couldn’t hold our usual end-of-year team festivities. So, in an age when we’ve all been grounded and isolated, we decided what better team gift than a way for us to explore new worlds, get moving, and connect with loved ones – safely. The solution: gift every member of our team an Oculus Quest 2 for the holidays.

While backorders and shipping delays pushed some deliveries into the new year, our team has now all had a week or two to strap on their headsets and give them a spin. The overall first reaction is “whoa.” A number of us have explored virtual reality platforms before, and we’ve touched upon it in some of our work, but this new device from Oculus (owned by Facebook), represents the first truly immersive, accessible platform for a general audience. It’s incredible.

I polled the team today to get some of their notes and recommendations for anybody eying a headset or exploring this topic. Here’s what they had to say:

Everybody is going want to try, so be ready to share

Maybe it’s a sign that we’ve all been cooped up for too long and a virtual escape sounds extra-appealing, but as soon as you unbox your headset be prepared for everybody in your household to curiously wander over for a peek. You can’t blame them: VR is novel and exciting, and you should be prepared to share from the get-go. One of the great joys of the system is watching other people use it, so this isn’t a problem. However, adjusting the head-straps might get a little annoying if you are handing the device it back and forth constantly.

The simplest experiences can be the most immersive

I’ve been in an office or a bowling alley before, but I haven’t gone deep sea diving with sharks, so it’s a little harder to place myself there right off the bat. The more “mundane” settings of sitting in a digital living room watching Netflix, or hitting a ping-pong ball back and forth can be some of the most transportive experiences. As your session duration increases, you’ll get more familiar and more engrossed in your virtual surroundings as well, making the most exotic worlds work.

You’re gonna look silly

As mentioned before, one of the best parts of VR is watching (and laughing) along while somebody dances with a robot or ducks an assassin’s bullet. It’s just objectively silly to witness. So, if you want a little less giggling, make sure you close the blinds or shut the door before you power up.

Make sure your space if safe

You’re gonna flail around. You’re gonna take a few steps, raise and lower your arms, reach for things, and in general interact with a world that’s not there. But while you do that, make sure that the world that is there, in real reality, is safe for you to do all that gesticulating. Clean up your floor, make sure your pets and small children are safely out of the line of fire, and try to avoid falling down the stairs. All of us have reported a few close calls with walls, furniture, and furry friends.

Motion sickness is real

Maybe you love rollercoasters and never get sea sick, but some VR experiences may still do a number on you. A number of us reported a little bit of dizziness when jumping into experiences with fast movement and unclear directions, like floating around the International Space Station. You might have better luck starting simpler and then easing your way into the more intense games and apps.

It’s a great way to bond with others, both close and far away

We’ve talked already about how fun it is to watch your friends and family use the headset, but the real magic of VR is placing you in the same room as people who are far away from you in real life. An early adopter on our team first bought the device to talk with his family overseas that he couldn’t visit. Another colleague used it to play games with far-flung friends during lockdown here. We’ve even dabbled in team activities and collaboration with our newly-remote squad.

VR in 2021 is the smartphone in 2007

Overall, I get the same feeling using the Oculus Quest 2 as I did when I first toyed around with the original iPhone. It feels like a little bit of a sneak peek into the consumer technology future. I get the sense that while it may not be perfect yet, there is something to this that will be a big deal in just a little bit – like a dam is about to break and change how we use technology. Remember that it was really the iPhone 3G and accompanying App Store in 2008 that really unlocked the full potential of that platform. I wonder what the “killer app” will be in the coming months and years that enables this technology to take a similar leap.

We’ve done some early work that has touched VR, especially in the travel and tourism space, but we’ve never had the luxury of a device this accessible. It’s certainly going to be exciting to explore.

Giving Virtual Thanks This Holiday Season

Thanksgiving just kicked off a holiday season that is likely bringing an onslaught of mixed emotions this year. Being physically isolated from friends and loved ones during a holiday about giving thanks is certainly a strange dynamic.

In a year of grief, loss, and heartache, it’s almost more important than ever to find those anchors that keep us rooted in gratitude and thanks. The guiding light on the darkest days, if you will.

For many, technology has provided a coping mechanism of sorts. Being able to stay socially connected to loved ones through platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Meets has cultivated connection despite being physically distant. And in a year of drastic uncertainty, technology has become one thing we can rely on.

We’ve seen so many stories emerge in the news about many workplaces transitioning to a fully remote operation. Office spaces and water cooler conversations have gone to the wayside. Now, we take work meetings from the couch with pets in our laps (and sometimes making appearances on Zoom). At Natives, we’ve seen great success in our transition.

As a Natives newbie, I’m thankful for the technology that has allowed me to seamlessly join the Natives team this Fall, despite not being able to meet any of the Natives team in person until very recently. Pre-pandemic it was rare to start a new job without meeting a single co-worker. But, in 2020, this is the new normal.

At Natives, we’re especially thankful to our clients for putting their faith and trust in us. Our desire to propel your brands forward is what keeps us moving, and we simply couldn’t do it without you.

How to Improve Weak Content Copy

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, and simply writing good content isn’t enough to grab and hold your reader’s attention. Audiences need a reason to start reading, and keep reading your content. In a crowded digital marketing environment, it can be a challenge to distinguish your content from another writer’s.

As original as copywriters strive to be, the harsh reality is that one blog post tends to have far too much in common with other blog posts in a certain area of expertise. What will make yourself stand out is if you can demonstrate that you have a particular voice, perspective, or opinion that can’t be produced from anywhere other than your own pen.

Even the strongest writers have weaknesses and their fair share of duds. Here are four common sins and how to address each one.

1. Your Writing Is Forgettable

In other words, your blog post could be written by virtually anyone, which is a liability if you want to establish your voice as a unique brand, distinct from the millions of other voices in the endless sea of digital content. If you can be forgotten in less than thirty seconds, then your writing won’t be imprinted in the minds of readers seeking resources or opinions, now and in the future.

Clichéd language is easily ignored, so the fundamental question is whether or not you can show your readers a fresh, original perspective. This can be achieved by providing individualized, specific, and practical content that educates and informs. Avoid using generalized language, and try not to be vague.

After all, readers are drawn to your content because of your unique opinion, so be sure to have one and articulate it well. Do your research in advance, and know your facts thoroughly before sharing your opinions, especially if they might generate controversy. Of course, don’t be afraid of a little contention. If presented effectively, a debatable viewpoint can be an excellent conversation starter.

2. Your Writing Is Unoriginal

If you find your writing riddled with trite phrases and overused ideas, it’s probably lacking creativity and purpose. And if someone else (let alone hundreds, if not thousands) of other people have said it before, it’s definitely unoriginal. Overusing commonplace sayings doesn’t exactly position you as a distinct voice or brand, and while clichés might be easy , they can prevent you from best articulating your true message.

Instead, convey your ideas clearly by using detailed, specific, and evocative language. Be unconventional with phrasing, experiment with sentence structure, and innovate with diction. Platitudes don’t necessarily have to be deleted completely, but rather can be reformulated to preserve their original meaning without sounding stale. Maybe creativity killed the cat, but it can resurrect insipid writing – and rouse readers whose attention is drifting.

3. Your Writing Is Unintentional

Start by asking yourself this straightforward, but absolutely imperative question: what’s the point? If you’re unable to offer a compelling response, then pause and spend a moment to reflect about your purpose for writing. Uncertainty about your intention is an apparent sign that you should spend more time in the brainstorming stage.

Directionless writing is devoid of the focus to captivate readers’ attention, and readers will tune out if they believe you don’t have anything meaningful to say. So always begin with the end in mind before you put down that first word.

Introspection and honest self-evaluation are critical tools while ideating to address those overarching, yet often difficult questions which may demand intensive time and reflection to answer. If you’re feeling stuck, challenge yourself with bigger questions, such as critically asking why, not just what or how, you’re writing. Determine what message you want your post to convey, what takeaways your content can offer readers, and how your writing will impact audiences. As much as possible, imbue every word with purpose, as each post you write should contribute to your overarching goal or content strategy.

It’s up to you to ensure that readers make it to the end goal. You’re the one holding the compass, not them. With this in mind, steer your readers in the right direction and continually guide them until they arrive at the destination.

4. Your Writing Is Inconsistent

Writing an exemplary blog post shouldn’t just be a one time accomplishment. If your goal is to consistently generate content at a regular pace to establish yourself as a memorable, reliable source in the long run, you must make a concrete plan, such as a monthly editorial content calendar, that you can reference and stick to.

The truth is that you won’t always feel particularly inspired. Even the most seasoned bloggers will periodically endure grueling bouts of writer’s block, but nevertheless, the show must go on. If you’re stuck, read other posts or books, take a walk, or do a simple brain dump. Because if you’re a professional, you still need to produce content on good days and bad – rain or shine.

Planning in advance will give you the momentum to maintain your stamina and the focus to consistently produce outstanding content in the long run. This way, you won’t produce content in fits and starts before quitting once you hit a bump in the road. To ensure consistency, set goals for your content development plan before putting pen to paper, and create a realistic schedule with actionable, achievable tasks.

9 Lessons from 9 Years

This month, we celebrate the 9th “birthday” of Digital Natives Group. Normally this is cause for a party and some celebratory meals, but 2020 is anything but normal.

Instead, looking back I wanted to distill nine of the most valuable lessons that we’ve learned in these past nine years. Each year has brought new successes and challenges, and we’re grateful to have picked a few things up along the way. Thank you to all of our friends that have helped us learn these lessons and get to today – here’s to the next one!

1. Clients want two things: results, and to enjoy the experience

Nobody goes into business to do bad work. But some people do good work for bad reasons. We have never done any project that is just focused on winning fame or an award. Our own goal in every project is to achieve the client’s goal, which is often revenue, reach, or something else, but never once has it been for the work to win us a piece of hardware.

In a slight paradox though, clients do actually also care about something else far from the bottom line: do they enjoy working with us? In any successful agency relationship, you spent a lot of time with each other through both the thick and thin, and it helps immeasurably to be in the trenches with somebody you actually enjoy spending that time with. And when your clients see you as a friend and a partner, you get more trust and therefore more freedom to do great work.

2. I’ve never regretted meeting new people

This is lesson is especially poignant now, six months into a period of seeing very few people in general, let alone new ones. In general, I’ve found it’s always been worth it to take the meeting, go to the event, or reach out for advice. You certainly get some duds, but throughout this journey, I’ve met some fascinating and incredible people in the places I’d least expect. To this day 90% of our new business leads come in through referrals, and it’s often the loose connections that make things happen.

3. Most things don’t matter that much… then some little things change everything

I’ll admit it, we could take or leave most of the things we’ve done to build our own brand and presence over the years. There are side projects we spent hundreds of hours on that barely made a blip, and then there are things we turned around in less than a day that got us boatloads of attention.

To the lesson above, most of the networking-type meetings I’ve been to were nice but not particularly fruitful. But then I responded to an old friend’s Facebook post one day and that set off a chain reaction of projects and referrals that make up a sizable chunk of our business.

4. Looks make a difference

As a designer by trade, I’m biased here. But making sure that everything we do (both internally and externally) has a certain level of visual polish has helped deliver the premium experience that our clients expect and deserve. And while it is certainly true that good design can paper over some deficiencies in content, the inverse is the more powerful truth: bad design can make waste of your good ideas and efforts before they ever have a chance.

5. We have a responsibility to others

We harbor no illusions that we’ve done any of this on our own. Everybody on our team is supported by not just those of us in the tent, but by a large network of support. This network is both the obvious, like our accountants, lawyers, advisers, cleaning crew, and the like, and also everybody that we rely on in our extended community, from the first-responders and public servants who keep us healthy and safe to the teachers that made us who we are. This mindset has informed us since day one, and we continue to try to give back each and every day.

6. Document everything

There are two reasons to keep detailed records. First, you want to do better work, cover your butt, be able to answer questions, and make it easier to add new employees. Second, we’ve had an absolute blast looking back at what we’ve done through the years and seeing how we’ve grown. Old inside jokes come back up, long-ago projects inspire new ideas, and we can even see how we’ve aged over a near-decade. Put a shoe-box in your closet and fill it up with all those knick-knacks and mementos, you’ll appreciate it later.

7. You’re never fully educated

If you think that you’re done learning when you receive your cap and gown, you are quite literally setting yourself up to be a dummy. This applies to everything in life, but double for our industry, where what we did in the spring is often out of date by the fall. To that end, we’ve long encouraged our team to take lessons, attend conferences and seminars, follow the news, and read/watch/listen to everything they can (if somebody wants a book, any book, we order it for them). This is an industry where half the time we’re selling our brains – we should do everything we can to make them as full as possible.

8. Things are what you make of them

Over nine years, there are certainly are bad days. Somebody might be angry because of this, or frustrated because of that. Business can be slow, and people can get tired. But there are things that happen to you, and then there is how you deal with things. In the words of Captain Kirk, “I don’t believe in a no win scenario.” There is always an upside, there is always a solution, and no matter what there is always tomorrow.

9. Don’t work with jerks

Life is too short, our time is too precious, and our reputation too important to work with people who suck. Every year, we’ve turned down clients that would hurt our morale or our morals. And probably every year we’ve parted ways with clients who weren’t aligned in how we want to do business. The work we do on this earth is a reflection of who we are, and we want to continually do that in a direction that reflects better upon us.

5 Things I Tell My Students Every Year

With another fall semester starting this week, albeit a less-than-normal one, a new cohort of students are starting their college careers, or just plain getting ready to start their actual careers. Over the past 6 years, I’ve had the joy of teaching hundreds of students in my digital marketing class at Baruch College. My class is a “4000 level” course, which means that it’s almost exclusively filled with seniors, which in turn means that I’ve often had the scary responsibility of being the last class that many of my students take before walking out the door for good.

Throughout each semester, I try to always impart a few core concepts that I believe are useful to these bright and energetic students just starting out. As a new year starts in a weird, mostly virtual way, I figured let’s share them here.

1. The career opportunities are (still) in digital

Walk into any typical marketing agency, large or small and take a look at the different department directors. In most slots, you’ll find a grizzled 20+ year industry veteran with war stories of climbing up the ladder. When you get to the directors of digital, mobile, or social it’s a different story – they are 28 or 32 years old, polished but still fresh-faced.

Digital is the one vertical where it’s an almost-intrinsic benefit to be young. For better or worse, agencies will trot you out in front of clients saying “look, we have young people who get it, you should hire us!” Social and mobile being such relatively new fields, these young leaders help the agency look hip and with-it, but it also means that there are less people lined-up ahead of you to get the next promotion.

2. The business opportunities are in the unsexy places

I may eat these words, but the world doesn’t really need another photo app or social network. But it does need better software for medical imaging, or regulatory compliance, or managing housing inspections.

I get it, everybody wants to go out and make a cool app and marry the supermodel (quite literally the Snapchat story). But if you want to make money – and make a real difference – you have to dig just a little bit deeper. The world is full of terrible user experiences and outdated software. Use your entrepreneurial superpowers for good and solve the tough problems in healthcare, government, education, and industry. You’ll be surprised how much money is floating around looking for solutions in the “unsexy” industries.

3. Borrow other people’s brains

Despite what you may think at 21 years old, you don’t know everything. You don’t even know all the things you don’t know. At this stage, with compounding decades of a career and life ahead of you, you will most benefit from “borrowing the brains” of others.

How do you do this? Mostly read, and mostly books. The more you absorb from others that came before you, the better your own brain works to solve the problems that you’ll encounter in the years ahead. There’s nothing truly new under the sun, so pick up a biography, or a well-researched non-fiction book, or even a classic novel to give yourself a head start.

4. Value simplicity

People are busy. To have any success, you have to be able to communicate clearly and concisely – and this applies to all arenas.

Despite your rich and colorful inner life, to most people you are one thing, be it “the website guy” or the “TED speaker” or the “brain expert” or whatever. As you go about meeting people in this world, make sure that whatever that small remnant you are known as is helping, not hurting you.

5. Do the hard things first

It’s tempting to look at the big list of items on your day’s agenda, or even your life’s bucket list and start with the low-hanging fruit. You might be tempted to get a few wins under your belt before tackling the big hairy monster. I’ve always found this to be wrong.

If you start with what’s easy, you often never get to what’s hard (and what matters). You get tired, or you run out of time, or you get distracted. Before you know it the hard thing has become an even bigger and even hairier monster looming at the end of your checklist.

If instead you decide to slay the beast at the start, you’ll often realize that it really wasn’t that bad. And when it’s done, you’ve built up your “doing” muscle and everything else that comes next is a cakewalk.

How Inclusive Marketing Can Build Empathy

You’ve probably heard before that great brands thrive from particular qualities, such as empathy. This isn’t a particularly new concept in marketing – and for a good reason. Aside from the numbers and metrics, we believe that empathy should remain pivotal to the development of marketing campaigns because it naturally forges the path for authentic human connection. Imbuing empathy into your content that isn’t too forced or inauthentic can strike just the right chord with your audiences.

Now more than before, customers expect businesses to consider the emotional investment of their purchases. Rather than making solely transactional, detached decisions, customers are increasingly looking to build personal relationships with the companies they choose to buy from. This is why knowing your customers well and connecting with them on a human level becomes critical when approaching content from an empathetic stance. Especially now that we’re living and working in a world that’s increasingly, and suddenly, “digital only,” the importance of making human-to-human bonds can’t be ignored.

Essentially, empathy can be gained by engaging with your audiences and listening to their stories. Like any human relationship, a meaningful connection is created and strengthened by embarking on a shared journey with your audiences. As marketers, we should be careful not to focus on merely building buy-my-stuff relationships, but rather authentic connections based on mutual understanding. Which, perhaps, is easier said than done.

Tailor Your Strategy To Your Audience

People change, audiences always evolve. Marketers need to stay well-attuned to the ebbs and flows of these constant undulations, and staying open-minded to nuances in personal beliefs or cultural identities is imperative to have any sort of dialogue with your audiences. Modifying your strategy to evolve with these changes can keep you from crafting content that is tone-deaf, insensitive, or simply out-of-fit with the current social sentiment.

As you decide to adjust your strategy, ask yourself these essential questions: How have your audiences’ priorities, viewpoints, or preferences changed? What are the new challenges they’re experiencing on a regular basis? What types of content do your audiences want to consume and on what topics?

To learn what your audiences can’t stop talking about, use tools such as social media listening and community management. Analyze the performance of specific posts to determine which topics are generating the most buzz, reactions, and even push-back from your audiences. Discover what topics will get the conversation started, and fuel the momentum by tailoring content to address your audience’s specific questions and preferences.

A little personalization can go a long way, boosting your campaign’s performance–and perhaps more importantly, giving you the opportunity to forge lasting connections with your audiences, who will notice that the content is more relevant.

The Importance of Empathy in Inclusive Marketing

Empathetic marketing is especially critical during emotionally turbulent times. While they may not convey it, audiences want their needs, pains, and beliefs to be fully acknowledged and understood, especially amidst mass confusion or turmoil.

Systemic racism is an ongoing pandemic, even described as a public health crisis by medical professionals. As digital marketers, we can be unaware of the role we have in shifting the currents of the global conversation. We have the unique capability to facilitate conversations of learning and unlearning, asking and reconsidering, planning and eventually acting. Now is the time to listen to what our audiences are saying (and even hear what they don’t say), knowing that starting challenging conversations is almost always better than not speaking at all.

As those who help shape the voice of others, we can contribute to a culture of inclusion in our field by representing diverse viewpoints and choosing to be inclusive of less visible voices to evade the “danger of the single story”. As progressive marketers, our goal is to create content that will resonate with all audiences and break down barriers that divide, rather than unite.

Developing genuinely inclusive, diverse content that leaves a lasting impression might require more foresight and sensitivity, as it’s the result of forming a deeper, more personal connection with your audience. This definition from Salesforce hits the mark brilliantly: “Inclusive marketing can elevate the stories and voices of people that have been typically marginalized or underrepresented, deepen connections with customers, and even influence positive social change.”

To put it succinctly, marketers, we can do better. Our campaigns carry more weight than we think, so please do not underestimate the impact of your platforms and the influence that they can have on your audience’s lives.

We can always work towards developing content that’s purposefully inclusive of the diverse voices of underrepresented audiences, such as those who have been traditionally excluded and seldom heard in your profession. Without taking deliberate action, we only exacerbate the problem.

We’re hoping that this is a conversation that doesn’t end in a matter of days, weeks, or even years. Our dedication to increasing inclusion and diversity is hardly only relevant in the present moment. Rather, we can make it our prerogative to continually sustain the conversation until the global crisis of systemic racism is finally resolved – for good.

What We’ve Done to Fight COVID-Burnout

It’s been 153 days since my last in-person business meeting on March 12. Like most people at the time, we thought this all might be over in a few weeks, and then we’ll be back at it by the time things warmed up. And like most people, we underestimated it.

In the past five months, the world has changed, and on a micro-level our own lives have changed with it. We’ve had to think about how to run an agency and keep our team healthy and humming during this seismic shift. Here’s a few of the things we’ve done to keep us going – for however long this might be.

Extra Time Off

Especially in the dark and confusing weeks at the beginning of this crisis, people were stressed. For us, and for the biggest agencies in the world, business had slowed, finances were hazy, and we were all scrambling to keep the ship afloat and moving in the right direction. It was not a great time to take a vacation day.

And that’s what happened: nobody took vacation days. People were exhausted and fried, but weren’t even thinking about dipping into their PTO. So, we added time off to the calendar. First this was a couple impromptu dates, then we formalized with with extra time over the Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day weekends, and an extension of Summer Fridays to cover an extra month. All told, these dates have already added up to nearly two full weeks of extra time off for our team.

But what about productivity and deadlines? We’ve maybe never been more productive. Our team is more energized and more focused, and we’re continually exploring ways to adjust the calendar further. We’ve always believed that great marketing is about connecting to humanity and culture, and the more time we can empower our team to do that, the better they are.

Hardware and Home

With the sudden change of setting, many of us quickly realized that our WFH setups were sub-optimal. As the days crept by, the back pain and headaches crept in. To help make everybody healthier and more comfortable, we individually worked with all of our teammates to make sure they had a work environment that works for them. Sometimes this meant we ordered new stands, monitors, cameras, and peripherals, and for other employees that meant taking their standing desk and chair home from the office. People got copies of client materials mailed to them, and we even troubleshooted a few finicky home wi-fi networks.

Keeping Community

We always had a Monday morning staff meeting, but as we added new employees and remote work continued on, we looked at the calendar and put two other culture-building events on the schedule. First, we instituted an “Enrichment Potluck” for a half-hour every Wednesday morning, where one member of the team holds court and teaches something to the rest of the crew, then nominates the next host. On Fridays, we put a 4PM recess hour on the schedule to host some games, watch videos, or just celebrate the end of the week. I’ll be candid that the Friday event has slipped a few times with days off and busy schedules, but it’s nice to still have that milestone on the schedule for when we can get together.

Audio Only

At the beginning of this, everything became a video call. Of course our meetings all became Zooms, but oddly so did most phone calls. If you’re at your computer all day, it’s easy to just click that button and see your client or colleague on the screen.

But Zoom fatigue is real, and when you combine those meetings with happy hours, birthday parties, and baby showers, it was just a lot. So, for many internal (and some external) conversations, we switched to video-off by default. We’ve found this to be significantly less mentally taxing, and it allows for more variety in the workday than sitting in your one perfectly-angled video chat setup.

Asynchronous, A-OK

If there is one defining characteristic of the world we’re in now, it’s that less is happening all together. When we’re not gathering in an office or at an event, we realize that a lot things can be done at not-the-same-time. We’ve long had clients, contractors, and employees in varying timezones, but this shift pushed that envelope further. To accommodate for either different longitudes or different home responsibilities, we’ve become more flexible about the “when” within any given day. Some people are starting and ending earlier, some later. We’ve nudged a few items on our team schedule to better accommodate these shifts, and we’ve embraced the opportunity to get “deep work” done without distraction when we can.

 


 

We don’t know what the next 5 months will hold, but we’re sure that things will continue to change. These adjustments have helped us curb burnout so far, but they are not perfect yet – and we’re going to continue fine-tuning our operations as we learn more. Like a great project, this is an iterative journey.

You Don’t Own Your Social Accounts – You Rent Them

The best time to ever be a digital marketer was the first half of the last decade. For a few glorious years, we were given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to affordably grow massive audiences on social media that you could then communicate with for the unbeatable price of free dollars and free cents.

We used this magical moment to launch some great brands and amazing projects, but then the slide started. Facebook announced that businesses could expect organic reach to dip… and then dip some more… and then eventually they just came right out and more or less “sorry suckers, assume it’s zero.” Now all these massive pages that we built would be locked away, speaking to nobody.

That is, unless you paid the gatekeepers. Facebook goes public, and they need some revenue. Who better to get that revenue from than the brands that just ponied up to build large platforms for themselves on the network. So, we’ve arrived at today’s landscape: great content can still win, but it’s a lot more likely that you’ll need to shell out just to get your message heard.

This is the best example of how the followings you build on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or wherever are not actually “owned” audiences. They’re “rented.”

Like a rental car or apartment, you get to use these tools more or less as you see fit – but within the parameters of an agreement. You have to pay to keep access, and you don’t have any control over the future of that asset.

Facebook changed how reach worked and it cost marketers money. Tomorrow, Twitter might decide it doesn’t want to include any links to the Apple App Store. Next week, LinkedIn could say that you can only post videos that include call-outs to their jobs platform. Hell, next month Pinterest could announce that it won’t publish any images that include the color green.

At the end of the day, the audiences you build on these platforms are beholden to the policies and priorities of the companies that run them. This is not to say that it’s never worth it to invest in these tools – we’ve been tremendously successful in doing so for dozens and dozens of clients over the years. But it is worth remembering when you’re developing your strategy.

The truly owned audiences are your email list, website, SMS list, physical mailing list, or other tool where you and you alone decide how you interact. Consider buying over renting, and prioritizing at least one of these channels over just your social media accounts.