A look back at 2021: A year that at best felt like an intermission.

Mr. Low’s musings (rantings?) do not reflect the musings of Crowley Webb, the Low family, or anyone else for that matter.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we really, truly can’t be prepared for anything. Take me, for example. I was flying high in February of 2020 – literally, from Toronto to Greece. When suddenly, I came back down to Earth – literally, in Toronto again – to deal with living (“living”) life in a pandemic. What we were told would be a period of two weeks or so to “flatten the curve” proliferated into a year-long scrawl of breadmaking and binge-watching. We wore gloves and face coverings in the summer, and modern medicine was politicized to the point of exasperation. But it all ended one fateful Thursday night when the clock struck 12 and some of us (most of us?) rang in a new calendar year not surrounded by dozens of friends and family hopped up on cheap champagne, but rather only our nearest and dearest, and wasn’t it kind of great?

I must say, there may have been something to 2020’s downsizing of holidays and miscellaneous celebrations.

But enough about 2020. (Unless, of course, you’d like to relive it.) You came to relive the magic that was the year in waiting: 2021. So let’s relive, shall we?

Nothing to see here. Just some folks trying to destroy democracy. Move along.

Not a week into the year that was supposed to bring us so much change and good fortune (A vaccine was coming! The Buffalo Bills were headed back to the playoffs!), civility was brought to a screeching halt by a small (large) army of angry protestors who descended upon DC. Now, I won’t recant all the dirty details that made January 6, 2021, so horrific. You saw it, you lived it, you gasped, you cried. (I mean, that’s what Wikipedia is for anyway.) But I will just say that this was the swift kick in the pants to remind us all that we really, truly can’t be prepared for anything. Here we are, fresh off what was one of the nicest New Year’s Eves of all time, and suddenly our neighbors are scaling the walls of the Capitol. People are looting the offices of our government like it’s Black Friday. Few saw this coming and fewer still will ever forget the images. To me, sitting home in the dark watching the news coverage bleed into the late-night talk shows that quickly flipped their scripts, this felt very much like a 9/11 moment. One that would bring sweeping change beyond just the numbers signifying a date that we can’t shake from our collective memory. But it may be too early to tell. I hope it’s too early to tell.

We drove in to celebrate WNY’s finest work.

What better way to celebrate one of the strangest years ever in WNY advertising than have some actual celebrities (and some “celebrities”) host our annual award show? At a drive-in.?! In March! Outside! Cold weather aside (and it was cold with a capital “F”), this show was awesome. And I’m not just saying it because CW was in charge of planning and running it this past year.

Play a fun game and guess each masked person. (Hint: I’m the handsome lad hoisting the Coors Delight.) Not pictured: about 100 cowbells no one wanted to use.

This marked the first time so many of us were in person – and with so many new faces, we were seeing some for the first time ever, even if they were safely behind masks. So, what started as a show to celebrate stellar work, ended up being a night we celebrated each other. And that human contact we’d been longing for about a year (yes, the last time we were together was the 2020 ADDYs). Hugs never felt so good. And almost overshadowed our Best of Show win. Almost. The hugs celebrating that win won the night.

CW introduces Chroma.

As diversity and inclusion become increasingly important across workforces in every industry, I couldn’t be prouder that CW’s effort began long before the tragedy of George Floyd’s murder and the political and social unrest that followed. Crowley Webb has long noticed a great disparity when it comes to people of color in advertising and marketing not only in our agency and community, but across the country. So a few years ago, we took action and formed a D&I committee to tackle this and other issues in and outside our agency. We gave ourselves goals big and small, and have been crossing them off the growing list ever since.

One of our most ambitious initiatives was born out of the idea to help black- and minority-owned small businesses survive in this fragile climate. Feeling we could do more than simply patronize these restaurants and shops (we are in marketing, aren’t we??), we created Chroma, which has us committing to 100 hours of marcom help to an eligible business each quarter.

So far we’ve helped Khari’s Café and Lighthouse Center, and we’re just about to start working with WNY Mobile OPS. This has been a truly rewarding effort for us and even more meaningful to show our dedication to D&I and love for our hometown.

The moment we’ve all be waiting for: THE vaccine.

Whether you ended up with Pfizer, Moderna (the clinical trial for which our Praxis division proudly helped recruit for back in 2020!!), or J&J, this treatment was (is) so ubiquitous, the definite article will suffice alone here. So many of us scrambled to land appointments for our parents. We refreshed browsers like people possessed until we knew our folks were securely booked. Then the age limit was lowered, and we did similar for ourselves. Then, what at first seemed like as popular as a Black Friday deal on a 65-inch 4K Ultra HD TV (second Black Friday reference!) quickly became a John Denver’s Greatest Hits cassette tape inside the gas station convenience store. Yes, supply quickly outweighed demand and this magic bullet we’d been waiting so long for to end this pathetic pandemic turned out to be not so magical after all. Turns out, it only really, truly works if we all get on board. Masks remain and high infection rates do too. But those of us who have the vaccine are staying out of hospitals as the threat of serious illness is minimal at best. And those who chose not to get it, are, what, rolling the dice? Ruining it for the rest of us? Politicizing science? Waiting to see if we who have it die so they can take our cars, candy, video games, and stuff? RUINING IT FOR THE REST OF US? All of the above?

So, maybe the vaccine isn’t really magic. It’s just wonderful science, based on diligent research and facts. Which is way more powerful than magic. Now, if we could just get people to believe in it.

Sports came back!

YES! We could now sit shoulder to shoulder, brandishing tasty beers in plastic cups to wash down even tastier tubed-meat product between intervals of rising to our feet to show support for whatever team won our heart when we were 12. Yes. Watching sports in person came back with a vengeance. Just in time for my beloved Yankees to show the oddsmakers what’s what and completely underperform. Just in time for the Buffalo Bills to kind of do the same? And just in time for the Sabres to be exactly as everyone thought they might be days, weeks, and months before they hit the ice. But hey, once the Toronto Blue Jays packed up and left, our AAA Buffalo Bisons played a handful of games here on their way to winning the Northeast Division Championship. In a Minor League season that had no true playoffs because I don’t really know why. SPORTS!

Losing a legend.

There’s not much more to say here that wasn’t already covered by our CEO this past August when Crowley Webb founding father, John Webb, passed away. John lived an amazingly full and happy life. I mean, he STARTED CW when most people his age would be downshifting. But, it obviously still stings all the same (it always will) and signifies the end of an era and the beginning of another.

John wasn’t the kind of man to dwell on these sorts of things, so we won’t either. Let’s just say his legacy lives on in this agency he built with Joe Crowley, and we should all be so lucky to live 96 full years with a résumé half as impressive as John’s. Now let’s all do a shot of Jack in John Webb’s honor.

Crowley Webb turned 35.

What were you doing back in 1986? Well, if you were among the younger 52% of our workforce, you were dreaming of being born. You were lying in the ether, comfortably, thinking to yourself, “Someday, I’ll be a human who has a job at that nice ad agency that’s about to be founded.” If you were John Webb or Joe Crowley, you were about to found said ad agency.

That’s right, 35 years ago, John and Joe left the security of their jobs at another agency to start their own with little more than their ideals, one client, and a payphone on Chippewa which served as their first office. And this past year, we celebrated with a 3.5-mile (35 miles would have been a DISASTER) run around our neighborhood.

Dubbed the Long Run and held in October so the runners could run in cooler temps (it was 80 degrees at 5pm the evening of the race!), we gathered with clients and old friends in our very own Local86 to share memories and laughs. And to toast what has truly made our run possible – the amazing people who are part of our history, and those helping us plow forward into the next 35. It was a special night with some especially expensive balloons. You have no idea how much air and rubber made into an arch really costs until you do.

Look at those extravagant balloons!

Annnnnnd we’re back!

Just in time for the Omicron variant, Crowley Webbers flooded back to our beloved Sweeney Building at 268 Main Street in a hybrid fashion. And almost shockingly, it was in some ways more confusing and unsettling than was everyone heading out the door in unison back in March of 2020. For one thing (seemingly to everyone’s surprise), one’s legs cannot carry one from conference room to conference room anywhere near as fast as one can click from one Zoom meeting to the next. And working out the kinks of hybrid meetings sometimes has us all back on Zoom even if we’re just feet from one another. But hey, it’s good to be masked-face-to-masked-face again. And to smell everyone’s lunch again. And to share bathrooms again. And where was I going with this? I love being in the office, I swear.

A world record was broken.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the record-breaking hockey game that aimed to raise a million dollars for cancer research. Well, this organization has been near and dear to the Crowley Webb heart since we first named and branded it in the summer of 2016. Since the initial 11 days, it’s evolved to be an annual community event, with hundreds of teams taking part in a nonstop game each summer. And then about a year ago, it was decided it was about time to break the record for the world’s longest hockey game yet again. Outside at Riverworks. In November. Brrrr.

At 6am on November 14, the puck was dropped on the first of more than 250 shifts in the quest to set another Guinness World Record. In WNY. And raise another couple million dollars (to date, they’ve raised more than $7 million total) for cancer. Let that all sink in.

I was proud to volunteer for a couple of overnight shifts and in case you didn’t know, it’s cold outside in WNY this time of year. And an hour is way longer than you think. Go ahead. Sit for an hour before reading the next sentence. You didn’t do it, did you? But anyway, that’s how the shifts went. An hour on the ice, 10 minutes off as the ice was resurfaced. And on and on and on and on. Some guys did four shifts in a row before resting, some six. But not one of the 40 players left during those 11 days. I did have the opportunity to go home after my time volunteering. I warmed up, slept terribly, and was miserable each of the following days. While over at Riverworks, those players were still playing. I went away for a couple days and they were still there. I made it a point to be there as the final horn sounded on the final shift, signifying the game was over and the record was broken. And it continued to dawn on me that they were still there the whole time I was off living my life. This was true dedication, true honor that I didn’t fully understand until spending some extended time at the game this year. And it was remarkable. Because cancer is just as relentless.

I need to go throw a blanket on quick.

Look at us grow.

We keep looking back to March of 2020 as the benchmark in time, and for good reason. BC, we could call it. Wait, that’s taken. Anyway, when we left that month, Crowley Webb was 83 people strong and ready as ever to take on the world. Then the S hit the F. Except, it really didn’t for our agency.

Not only did we not suffer any significant loss of business the last 21 months, we gained a bunch. And 83 has ballooned to 125. That’s a nearly 50% increase for you math nerds. Plus, life happens, so there was also some turnover mixed in. All in all, we’ve had about 50 people who had never worked a minute inside our walls at 268 Main Street. So you can imagine how exciting all this feels to be back with new faces, more faces, smiling faces (albeit sometimes behind masks). Because, at Crowley Webb, that’s what we’ve always been all about. Amazingly talented, dedicated, hardworking people. And most we get to see on a weekly basis, which is just, you know.

I need to grab my hankie.

Recognizing some incredible people.

The growth and evolution of our agency makes it a given that our leadership group evolve as well. And just last month we were thrilled to announce that we added five new vice presidents – folks who’ve gone above and beyond to demonstrate unique talent, determination, passion, and that special brand of CW work ethic.

Jessica Carroll has been promoted to vice president, media director. Andrea Gallagher has been promoted to vice president, public relations. Cuyler Hettich has been promoted to vice president, account service. Nicole Lawniczak has been promoted to vice president, account service. And rounding out the group is Liz Mattingly, who has been promoted to vice president, creative director.

These are five extremely special people who live our brand each day and make those around them better at their jobs. Our future looks all the more bright with them our team. Congrats, pals.

So, now what?

As we head into the holiday season in earnest (although that extra-early Hannukah is already behind us), the questions about 2022 will continue to linger. When will the variants stop? (Good luck with this one.) When will misinformation machine quiet itself? (Never.) Will we ever return to life as it was pre-COVID? (Likely not.) Will the Bills make the playoffs? (Eh?) Which, again, feeds into my feeling that this year is but a stopover between the mess that was 2020 and whatever 2022 might be. But, isn’t that always the case? When do we ever have a solid handle on the year to come come December? We don’t. We can’t predict the future (save for Biff Tannen), so we’re always going to have questions. And all we can really do to quell the feelings of uneasiness that come with trying to brace for the unknown is to do what’s familiar and makes you feel good.

For us, that was adopting a family through Child and Family Services to make sure they had a proper Christmas. This is something we’ve done year after year, without fail. Even last year when we were leery to have Christmas dinner with anyone we didn’t live with, we threw on our masks and delivered Christmas cheer in the cold December rain. So we did it again in 2021. And we’ll do it again next year and the year after that. Because we can and because we should. How’s that for some predictability?

Here’s hoping you and yours have a healthy and safe 2022. Until then, enjoy a silly list.

Things I’ll miss about the December Holiday Party (though we have one coming in January. Or March?).

  • Getting my hair did for the evening.
  • The anxiety of parking.
  • The anxiety of showing up late and trying to find a table with open seats.
  • Other miscellaneous anxieties.
  • Jeff playing the dinner bells to get us to take our seats.
  • Joey and Mary Kate winking for the camera.
  • Manhattans.
  • Beef Wellington hors d’oeuvres.
  • BEEF.
  • HORS.
  • Singing with Hettich.
  • Practicing with Hettich.
  • Manhattans.
  • Wearing a bowtie and getting away with it.
  • The DJ.
  • Just kidding.
  • Manhattans.
  • Taking credit for all the secret Santa gifts opened near me.
  • Posing for all the pictures.
  • The merriment.
  • Manhattans.
  • Eddie Brady’s afterward for more merriment.