I really debated writing this blog post. The earthquake in Japan happened a little more than a week ago. I think my husband wrapped it up best when he said “I see pictures from Japan, and I expect to see Godzilla. It’s just that surreal.” It’s hard to wrap your head around everything the Japanese people are going through. In the end, I decided that this situation was too important not to discuss — disaster strikes and, as creatives, we have the opportunity to make a difference. So let’s talk about it.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to make a difference with my work for the last 8 years (and still going). I’ve dealt with countless situations where something happens, and I have to react immediately with some sort of campaign or ad. In my opinion, the two main issues facing any creative in a crisis are —

Short turnaround time.

Obviously in a crisis, you need to turnaround creative NOW. There may not be time to set up a photo shoot or hire an illustrator. Crisis demands high impact creative immediately, but you may not have many resources.

High emotion.

Modern communication means we’re all witnesses to crisis as it happens. You’re no longer just someone who heard about the crisis. You experienced the crisis. As a creative, you’re in a position to make a difference, but you have to be able to quickly process what happened in order to do it effectively.

The following five tips aren’t lip service. They’re exactly what I do when faced with a crisis creative situation.

1. Start with your call to action.

What do you want the audience to do? Are they donating money? Are they giving blood? Are they bringing something specific to a drive? Be concise and to the point. When lives are literally on the line, you don’t want anything ambiguous. Be blunt.

2. Your call to action IS your strategy statement.

In communication, everything either works towards communicating your message or against it. Nothing is neutral. Everything should go back to that call to action. Don’t be afraid to be brutal. If it doesn’t help communicate your call to action, cut it. This isn’t about winning awards. It’s about spurring people to action.

3. Gage your emotion.

The more recent the disaster, the less emotion overall needs to be in your ad. When a disaster is recent, emotions are raw. You don’t need an emotional sledgehammer to get people to feel something. The earthquake in Japan is recent enough that just seeing the Japanese flag is enough to make your heart ache. We’re still in the midst of this crisis. By contrast, 9/11 was almost 10 years ago. (Hard to believe.) We need to remind people what they felt on that day. There’s room to show more emotional pictures. Ask yourself, is your audience still experiencing this crisis or are they remembering it?

4. Keep it at arms length.

I know this sounds counter intuitive, but it’s important. As much as you may want to become completely emotionally involved, don’t. It’s the fastest way to a creative choke. Go back to your call to action. That’s the only thing you’re trying to accomplish, period. I’ve witnessed firsthand creatives that have wrapped themselves up emotionally in a piece only to hit the wall. If you’re trying to raise money, then just raise money. Don’t go down the road of “this must be the piece that causes the entire world to wake up and take action.” No piece of creative can do that. It’s impossible. Focus on the task at hand. You’re a part of the solution, not THE solution.

5. Do whatever it takes to sell the creative.

Meet with your account executive. Walk them through the creative. Get on the phone with your account executive and the client if that’s what it takes to get the work approved and out the door. Even if you’re the most antisocial creative on the planet, this is for a cause. Go out of your way to fight for the creative.

Creatives aren’t on the front lines of a crisis. We don’t evacuate people, treat wounds, build shelters or hand out food and water. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a critical role to play. We’re in the unique position to communicate to a large number of people and spur them to action. This can have a huge impact and absolutely save lives. If you find yourself faced with creating in the midst of a crisis, take a moment. Close your office door. Find an empty conference room or at worst find an empty restroom. Experience the emotions you need to experience. Then get to work. Make a difference, and make us proud.


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