As the COVID-19 outbreak became more and more serious, companies learned a valuable lesson: the difference between success and failure is creativity. People in creative industries have seen their work undervalued for decades. Artists, photographers, writers and more are expected to work “for exposure” or have their rates severely undercut.
One surprising example comes from Apple. With the company’s size and valuation at US$2 trillion—making it the world’s most highly valued company—you’d think artists who perform at Apple stores would not just be compensated, but paid well. That’s not always the case. At least some artists who’ve performed at Apple stores didn’t see a dime for their work.
If a company like Apple believes creative work shouldn’t be appropriately compensated, then we need to sit down and have a talk as a workforce—especially since large companies like Apple rely on their creative employees to not just push innovation, but survive in a post-COVID world.
Creativity saw a big spike during COVID-19.
In March, as people searched for entertainment during lockdown, creativity flourished. We saw it on social media—specifically, the app TikTok—where people took their creative ideas to various outlets to share their content.
With nowhere to go and a limited amount of things to do, quarantine unveiled creativity some may have never explored before. If you’re an entrepreneur who has been forced to rework company structure due to COVID-19, chances are you would not have been able to succeed without creativity. Facing a never-seen-before challenge, business owners have had to expand their resources for creative inspiration. Collaboration is now necessary, and brainstorming meetings look much different than they did barely a year ago.
As a leader challenged by this new way of working, utilize your creativity by identifying where to fill in the gaps. Recognize each team member’s strengths and weaknesses. When you deeply understand your employees’ skills, you can structure roles so one person’s strength can fill in for another’s weakness. By operating with a team mindset, it’s often easier and often quicker to overcome hurdles. Additionally, encourage professional development to expand skill sets and if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance through a mentor or by hiring a contract consultant.
Creatives are the ones who are keeping brands afloat.
Within a month’s time, creativity has not only become highly valuable, but a way to survive. When COVID-19 began spreading across the United States, businesses needed to think creatively in a short amount of time.
Reworking the day-to-day is one thing, but brands had to reevaluate how they are now presenting themselves. We are in a global pandemic, and priorities are much different than they were only a few months ago. People have started to hold brands at an even higher standard. According to an Edelman report, 71 percent of people say they will lose trust in a brand forever if they believe the brand puts profit over people.
With increasing expectations being put on brands to make the right decisions, creative thinking and problem solving is no longer a luxury—especially when it comes with a brand’s content and messaging. In the same report, 84 percent of people said they “want brand advertising to focus on how brands help people cope with pandemic-related life challenges” and 85 percent said they want brands to use their power to educate.
Knowing consumer expectations, it’s crucial that brand content and messaging be carefully thought through with experts. Content and messaging isn’t often thought to be the creative caliber as visual design or arts, however, these specialists are exactly the kind of creatives businesses need at this moment.
Finding the right kind of creative for you.
With the U.S. facing a soaring unemployment rate, it isn’t hard to find someone who fits your creative needs. Like businesses, individuals are scurrying to find new ways to market themselves, and highlight their skills. Below are some steps to take before connecting with a creative expert on a project.
Identify your needs. Unless you know exactly what needs to be filled, you’ll have difficulty connecting with the right person for the job. Take time to write down any gaps, projects that need an extra boost, key company culture traits and your to-be employee’s ideal working style. When you’ve exhausted everything you can think of, bring the list to your team for an outside perspective. Collaboration is an important part of this process, as you’ll want to look at your company’s gaps from every angle.
Ask for referrals. Your employees know the company’s needs best. Ask them if they have recommendations for the role. You are more likely to connect with a good fit through referrals, since your employees know the candidate’s working style and think it would mesh well with the team.
Be clear in your job description. If you are not able to find a candidate through referrals, you’ll need to put together a very clear job description. Be upfront with everything the job entails so you’re only attracting talent that is deeply invested in the role.
Choose a candidate that can confidently meet your needs. Now is not the time to take chances. You may hit it off with a candidate, but if you’re not confident their skills can fill all that’s needed in the role, you need to move on. It’s tough – especially if you form a good connection – but keep in touch, as there may be another role this person can fill.
Valuing creative work in a post-COVID-19 world.
Let’s be clear: COVID-19 isn’t going to solve any financial or professional hardships for creatives, at least right away. What people are realizing, however, is that creatives have a high value.
What business owners need to realize is there is a price for creative work—and it should be paid consistently and fairly. One reason creatives are exploited is because it’s assumed they are doing it out of passion and not a means to make a living. Not only are creative jobs more likely to be underpaid globally, but creatives are often expected to do work without pay.
A 2019 Duke study backs this up, too. In it, researchers found that “people find it more acceptable for managers to ask passionate workers to work extra hours without additional pay, sacrifice sleep and family time, and take on demeaning tasks outside of their job descriptions.”
This kind of thinking is, to be frank, not appropriate. It not only prevents a person from making a living wage, but it sends a message that creative work is not “work,” when it is actually a key reason behind why many brands are succeeding compared to others.
Right now, creativity is king and if you want your brand to not just survive, but thrive in a post-COVID world, you will need to invest (fairly) in creative experts.
>>>The writer is Founder, CEO of Assemble and an Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP