With many feeling claustrophobic and anxious as the coronavirus lockdown continues throughout the globe, Havas New York chief creative officer Harry Bernstein – known as Harry Bee by many – has found reasons to be positive, highlighting how creativity can help lift people up.
“When you’re dealing with a situation that has no map, we need to create the map – and the map is created through creativity,” Bernstein tells The Drum. “I believe in the power of creativity. That’s why I took this career and now…creativity is needed more than ever.”
Creativity comes in many forms for Bernstein, lately. One is staying connected while remaining apart. Havas has created a virtual community with its workers. The team connects on Zoom meetings and virtual fireside chats while setting up production studios at workers’ homes.
“Me and our team at Havas have been really focused on what is happening, and what is happening is working from home,” he says. Havas NY’s chief executive, Laura Maness, recently commented to Bernstein: “Over the past five years all these companies have been in-housing all their creative. Now, everyone’s in-homing.” That means that every business that brought creative in-house is now wondering how to get work done, while Havas is successfully building in-home studios.
Havas is still cranking away at business, doing post-production work from home on current projects and projecting work on its six-month calendar. But in the short term, it means looking at different ways to produce things without a full crew and supporting creative ideas through consumer insight and social listening, plus being in service of clients’ messaging, especially at a time when the message is most important.
“You want to be service in this time, not prey upon fear or take advantage of someone in this situation,” notes Bernstein. For instance, Havas works with New York power company Con Edison, and beyond the ad work the agency does, the team also helps with messaging, using a mix of strategic, cultural and consumer insight to keep people informed.
The agency is seeing other ways to build campaigns during this time, leaning on its internal creative studio, Annex 88, and continuing to create through existing footage and assets, leveraging influencers and even building things in 3D, since the agency has that capacity.
Bernstein said the agency is ready to expand its influencer reach through TikTok campaigns, which it’s in the process of building.
TikTok’s irreverent place in social
“We were starting to embrace the TikTok community (before the coronavirus), which is flourishing and growing at home. If everyone’s at home, either dancing or telling stories or doing life hacks, it’ll be easy to incorporate products. And also it helps to show how the products will live when people are under these circumstances. It kind of plays together,” he says.
The main things Bernstein likes about TikTok over other social channels is its sense of fun.
“It’s just irreverent and fun. Twitter is a powerful tool, but sometimes it’s so heavy. (You say) OK, I’m going into Twitter, better be ready for what’s going to come down my pipe…it’s a wild ride. Sometimes, you look at Twitter for a half hour and then you cardboard all your windows and hide in your closet,” he jokes.
He thinks Instagram has a role of being a portfolio of people’s lives and showing where and how they’re working, while LinkedIn’s role is to deliver business information and best practices.
“Then TikTok is this irreverent, lighthearted, fun, music-driven, culture-driven tool that just is like an anomaly. The birth of it is people dancing at home. The tone right now is refreshing sometimes,” says Bernstein.
He notes the popular meme that quickly grew around the song called Corona Time, which is based on the beer but has taken on a new meaning, especially for younger generations.
“In some other channels it might be seen as crap, but in the irreverent world of TikTok it’s just fun,” he notes, saying that TikTok can help people feel creative, energized and optimistic in the face of all that’s going on.
A creative work-life balance
Bernstein says that Havas has always tried to create a solid work-life balance, but now it’s making sure people stay connected to that ethic. The agency is taking its offline programs online, consisting of its wellness programs of yoga and meditation, plus family time art classes and inspirational chats.
Bernstein is hosting one of those chats Thursday (3 April), a creative conversation with Zach Lieberman, an artist and educator based in New York City who creates artwork with code with a focus on building experimental drawing and animation tools, including augmented reality, which will be streamed on Instagram Live on the Havas NY feed for anyone to see.
Its yoga and meditation programs are also available to anyone on Instagram Live as well, and Bernstein says the sessions have grown from 50 employees to getting over 1,000 views.
“We’re not only focused on our own community now, but the world at large, that’s been really well received. People have been texting me and DM-ing me and being like, ‘thank you, we need this’. If someone wants to meditate or do yoga, there’s a million other options. I’m just trying to make it as easy as possible and also make an excuse for people to put it in their in their day. I just think it’s really important…just making sure you’re giving people breaks,” he says.
Build in creativity and remain positive
Bernstein believes it’s important that people build in ways to be creative to these social distancing, stay-at-home days. Whether that’s building Lego kits with your kids – something Bernstein does with his two children – to taking time to meditate and think, or adding augmented reality to your projects, any time away from usual tasks may help.
“If you’re confined to a space, as much as you love and appreciate your space, that can be redundant, so the ability to augment that reality (is important),” he says, suggesting the augmented Zoom backdrops, Facebook AR and other ways to alter reality.
He states that creatives he knows are working on other ways to engage people during this time, helping spark creativity and positivity in others.
“I think true creativity has an optimism to it. Our job is to solve problems in a creative way. So now we have this huge problem,” but there are creative people working to solve problems in the creative space, whereas people in other industries like finance might see the sky as falling.
“There’s always going to be fears, always going to be concern about the future. But I think the pure creative part has a natural optimism to it,” he adds, saying that the creative marketing industry is used to disruption and that’s sometimes what it needs, especially as it works to help pull people out of their current malaise.
What happens when we’re allowed to return to normal? When we can come back to the office and don’t need to in-home our work? Aside from missing being with his kids all day, Bernstein thinks we’ll return with a greater connection to our coworkers.
“I really think it will bring a new freedom because we’ve done it at such scale now. It will give the ability to have more (people) work from home and free up some of the office life. There might be a new kind of attitude towards a work from home kind of scenario that we’ve been dancing with for five years and, and the value of it,” he says.
The ongoing online chats and everyone being in this major challenge together builds new bonds among coworkers, Bernstein believes. “I do feel like I’m feeling a stronger bond with my team, to be honest…a new level. When you’re tackling these real challenges, and you make it through together and you have some successes, there is there is a newfound connection, so I’m hoping for a grander, larger human connection…it just brings you back to basic.”