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  • Writer's pictureCassie Roma

2020, Year in Review: Shit-shows & Silver-linings

My wife & I welcomed in 2020 with friends. The song playing on the mini-speaker as we ushered in a new decade was “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John. And, looking back on it feels like a wildly prophetic tune to shake a hip to in the moment.

I had big goals for 2020. Big, meaty, scary, exciting, promising goals.

BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) galore, you could say.

Nearly a year on from the Rocket Man crooning us into a new year with I’m still standing/ better than I ever did/ looking like a true survivor/ feeling like a little kid, Spotify is ruling the interwebs with our #2020Wrapped playlists & top artists.

After what has been quite the rollicking ride of a trip around the sun for everyone on the planet, something as simple as looking back at our listening & streaming habits (& being able to share this with others) is bringing many of us a mixture of joy, sadness, lols, & surprise inclusions amongst what we thought would make our Top 5 Fave Songs of the year.

When 2020 started none of us could’ve foreseen the year we’ve just lived through. The changes. The losses. The moments of abject fear. The moments of absolute clarity. Everything & nothing that we expected. All of us, in it together all at once.

As the sun set on 2019 & all of the cheesy “2020 vision” & “new decade, who dis?” posts & reckons flooded our social media newsfeeds & corporate strategic documents – I can now see clearly that Mother Universe was sitting back & allowing us a small moment of dreaminess before the raging storm ahead.

One thing I knew for certain this time last year was that I would be leaving the security of corporate life in 2020. After 20 years in the game, my soul needed to rest & take stock. My mind needed big creativity, impactful stories, & more music. Come early March, I’d be rocking & rolling out on my own with a few hearty souls alongside me to launch CR&Co.

In the lead up to the new decade ticking over I spent time dedicated to planning, networking, planning trips to the USA, UK, Middle East, South America, & beyond. 2020, it seemed, would be a year of becoming a global gadabout. I had speaking gigs, workshops, executive coaching, guest lectures – the whole kit n caboodle – lined up. I was ready.

Or so I thought.

2020 had different plans to mine.

Taking all of this in, I’m sure you know where this story is heading.

Training wheels be damned.

The past year was a “hop on the bike, start pedalling, & hang on for dear life” kinda trip around the sun.

Then Came the Covid

As the year started to take shape, news about Covid-19’s path of destruction in China, Italy, & other locations overseas started becoming dire. Here in New Zealand, we kept one eye on the news & then went to concerts, festivals, & spilled into crowded offices as if we’d never be touched by the “far away” virus that was wreaking havoc thousands of miles away.

What a blessing it was to live as though everything would remain “normal.” What a dreamy time to be alive – a time when borders were still open, we could hug our parents when they visited from abroad, & we felt safe.

But then (there’s always a but then...moment, isn’t there?), heading into early March, we faced up to the truth. Or, rather, the truth passed right on through our borders & forced us all to take notice. And, to take action . Our leaders led adeptly. Humanity was put before profit. Health was placed before anything else.

And, on March 25th we locked-down as a nation.

Level 4. All in our bubbles – save for the truly heroic folks who kept us well & safe & fed.

We left home to go on long walks & for essential trips.

Some days I walked 20kms. Up before dawn. Country music in my ears. At the beginning of lockdown, most days, I cried & cried & cried as cancellation after cancellation came through. My fleeting rose-coloured view of entrepreneurship took a nose-dive. Smashed into a pavement of Covid-19 insecurity.

But, if you know me you know that once I hit the bottom I know there’s only two ways to go – straight up & sideways – & that I am a straight-up kinda gal. So, I started concentrating on the good stuff. We all held tight to the good stuff, didn’t we?

We learned to work from home. Those of us who were open to change did so & grew from it. I had a whole lot of work with clients both large & small who needed fine tuning, deep diving, & getting dirty when it came to brand storytelling, personal branding, crisis comms, & media training.

We also had bear hunts. We had sunshine.

We had a feeling of luck – lucky in our nation, lucky in our leaders, lucky in our safe communities.

So, amongst the floods of abject change that hit us in a huge tidal wave of uncertainty, we came together. We really did. As a cohort, advertising & marketing colleagues slowed down & listened to consumers. Some big brands went small from a messaging perspective. Reading the proverbial room felt like kindness in and of itself. Media companies donated ad space to communications that were meant to keep us informed about Covid-19 & how to keep each other safe. We were less saturated with junk.

Considering the roughness of the times, we did bloody well. We learned a lot.

And, we saw first-hand how when one change happens – many more changes follow quickly.

As a dual citizen (I am both a Kiwi & an American) I watched in horror as my homeland crumbled. First the virus. Then a necessary call to action around diversity, inclusion, & equity in society. The BLM protest in Auckland was one of the proudest days of my life. Seeing so many Kiwis & global citizens march to support human rights worldwide buoyed my confidence in the kindness inherent in people.

Digital Reigns Supreme & WFH FTW

Beyond our macro-cultural narratives built up quickly around the pandemic (ahem remember all of the brand ads about “unprecedented times” us all to be “in it together...”) we as a cohort learned fast, fell hard, & got back up again to not only survive as an industry – but to thrive.

New Zealand marketers made gutsy, smart, & kind decisions daily & put a lot of love & care into messaging & narratives. I worked with businesses across New Zealand, Australia & the USA who all realised very quickly that they needed assistance in creating truly meaningful conversations & connections with their teams & customers near & far.

When WFH (Work From Home) became a reality for everyone save essential workers I ended up spending the majority of my energy & passion on working through new tech & scaling it to be able to help clients get their creative juices flowing, going, & making an impact as new campaigns launched into social & digital mediums.

Let me tell you here & now, hand on heart, it is a whole heckuva lot easier to come together as a profession when we’re all going through the same uncertain times as humans.

I learned that it’s inherently much easier to speak to people, to teach, & make an impression when you can look your audience in the eyes & share breath. 2020’s quick right-hand-turn towards connecting meaningfully online out of necessity meant we all learned a lot about being concise in our commentary. I spent many, many weeks working with leaders on the importance of patience, planning, & value creation when hopping on any kind of webinar, Zoom, or call of any sport.

As with most people, much of my work happened on Zoom, Workplace, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams & other messaging & video call services. Whilst we became adept at using a popular channel to communicate, the winner this year from a platform perspective for me was Discord.

Traditionally a gamer’s platform, Discord offered a whole lot of bang for very little buck. So buck we did – well, the trend that is. VidCon went completely digital this year & hosted all content, chats, keynotes, & livestreams on the platform. It was (& still is) going really well.

Across the board, this year has shown all of us that digital isn’t a line-item anymore. It’s not a tack-on at the end of a campaign planning document. It’s not a second cousin to a sexy, expensive TV ad. Digital IS marketing. Digital IS advertising. Digital is how we live, learn, grow, connect, cope, & survive. If marketers aren’t doing their due diligence right now to understand how humans connect & share & purchase – then they’re falling far, far behind.

The good stuff

Anywhoozle, let’s talk some more about the good stuff. You know what I mean – the slowing down, the family time, the pivoting, the bear hunts, the Zoom roulette drinkies with friends, the cacophony of livestreams from our favourite singers/actors/writers. Regardless of profession, we sure are lucky to have been weathering the Covid-19 storm here in New Zealand.

Colenso BBDO’s team in Wellington adeptly took on the job of ensuring Kiwis knew what was happening with levels, bubbles, 1pm briefings, QR codes, & more by working closely with the government to create cohesive messaging across visual, auditory, & channel specific content creation. Hand on heart, I’ve never seen anything quite as good as their work. Funny what happens when you build for connection & compassion over winning awards, eh?

Beyond all of the warm, gooey goodness above we all found ways to celebrate each other during what was a time of both shit-shows & silver-linings. For me, some big wins were launching my businesses (CR&Co), having my TEDx Auckland talk released, & working with businesses who were & are truly changing the world for the better.

We worked hard this year. All of us. We learned as a group how to slow down to be able to make decisions faster. We held space for friends & colleagues who lost their jobs. We gave more of our expertise & time than ever before. And, in the end, we’ve come to the end of one helluva wobbly year with stronger foundations than ever. Our desperate chasing of our own tails, our clock-watching, our view of success as being “busy” all of the time has been reimagined on the whole.

Which brings me to 2021.

2021, dat you?

As we plan for a new year, my biggest hope for marketers & mere mortals alike is that we hold tight to & apply the lessons of the year just gone. Kindness, compassion, helping others, ensuring the work we put into the world is diverse & carefully created – all of this will make or break us in the year ahead.

Will we try to go back to a “normal” that left 50% of us depressed & 54% anxious? Or, will we break rules that we never had a hand in writing in the first place? As for me, I’ve always been a rule breaker. Unless I make ‘em, I’m probably gonna break ‘em. This approach to marketing has meant I’ve been able to blaze a trail to leadership & expertise in creative, content, & storytelling that being simply a spreadsheet warrior would never allow.

When we look up, look out, look beyond our own ideas the world opens up to us. Opportunities abound. Stories, strategy, & simple executions fit for moment & platform resonate. So here’s my question for all of us:

How are you going to use your role to do better for others in 2021?

My hope for all of us is that we continue to practice radical self-care & check in on each other.

I hope that, before pressing “go” on our comms, content, & media placements that we truly think about their effect on society. And, most importantly, if 2020’s taught us anything it’s that humans are more than datapoints. To cut through we create meaningful opportunities for connection.

No matter our title or JDs, we’re all paid to connect.

Go forth & succeed wildly!

I’ll be here in your corner cheering you on.

Happy Yule, y’all.


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