Remembering the year we’d all like to forget.

Let’s all think waaaaaaaaaaay back to 11 months ago (which easily feels like 11 or even 111 years ago) and remember how we were all blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. Sure, there was an election coming. A relatively mild winter here in Buffalo was giving way to the typical February blahs. Personally, I was enjoying weekly ping-pong games and planning my first trip to Europe. While in Athens, news of this “coronavirus” was starting to spread, but it felt no more alarming than SARS did in the States in the early 2000s. It would all be in the rearview in a few weeks, right?

And then Newman turned the power off inside Jurassic Park.

2020 plans

I distinctly remember being at a party on March 14 and feeling like I probably shouldn’t be. The day before, Crowley Webb informed the agency that we would be asking everyone to work from home for at least a week. Toilet paper was disappearing from store shelves. Restaurants were closing down. Questions surrounded everything. Fast-forward to today. TP is still scarce. Our favorite eateries are once again doing takeout only. But, but, but! We are far more in the know than we were when I was surrounded by inebriated St. Patrick’s Day revelers. What have we learned in this oddest of years? And how can it help us all as we move forward?


We can all work from home! Efficiently and effectively.

Like most things that start with the question of “how on earth is this going to work?” the answer to our agency going to a 100% work from home model was “let’s try it and see.” I’ll admit, I was a skeptic, and even snuck into the office from time to time to attempt to maintain some level of normalcy. But I suppose that’s where the new normal needed to be embraced. Once we accepted that now overused term of “the new normal” some of us were far better off. I know I was. My attic became my office. My card table was traded in for a proper desk, a folding chair for my office chair. Meetings on Zoom became less of a novelty and more of the way we’d now work, collaborate, and operate for the foreseeable future. For better or worse, by June, this new way of working felt completely familiar. And we as an agency were doing well – even thriving. What made that possible day after day, week after week?


IT is the s*IT.

If it weren’t for the tech we have in place and the folks who keep it humming, we might as well be back in 1920. It’s so much more than video conferencing accounts and protected passwords. We need constant, instant access to our servers. We need hardware and software updates. We need all those shared Google docs, sheets, and calendars. We need our IT department, and boy, have they delivered. Hats off to John Fletcher and Joe Fell for their tireless work keeping us all online and functional 24/7 (more on this later).


Black Lives Matter.

The tragic events this year involving George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the midst of quarantining gave us all a unique opportunity we don’t always have – time to really sit and think. To quietly concentrate and contemplate who each of us wants to be individually and what that makes us all as a nation. And while I won’t get into every last detail of what we as an agency discussed, debated, and proposed, one thing became painfully obvious – we must play a role in the fight against systemic racism. It’s not enough to not be a racist. We must be actively antiracist if we’re ever going to impact true change in our neighborhoods, communities, and country.

How do we achieve this? Talking. Learning. Listening. Our Diversity and Inclusion Committee has given us a variety of opportunities over the past few months to really understand the current state of our country, how we got here, and ways we can move forward. We all took part in READI sessions, hosted by Buffalo Prep which continued our initial conversations and sparked new ones. We reaffirmed our commitment to diverse hiring practices. We know this is a long, hard road that involves a lot of work, but our collective future is so worth it.


Clinical research is taking center stage.

While Crowley Webb has long known the power of clinical research and what it means for the creation of new medicines (I mean, we do have our own patient recruitment division) today the term “clinical trials” seems to be on every other news cast and even commonplace in your mom’s vocabulary. That’s because the world quickly learned that the only way to get past this disease is via new vaccines and treatments. And those only happen with, yep, clinical research. This heightened awareness bodes well not just for the fight against the pandemic, but for medical innovation in general. So here’s to those giving of their time and energy in what might be the worthiest of causes.


We all need boundaries.

I often lamented in the first few weeks that working from home efficiently and meeting our ever-present client needs in this new environment created the perfect storm of people feeling like they needed to be on at all hours. Access to email around the clock is nothing new, but the urge to check and respond for fear of falling behind was a growing trend. So we had to remind people that our office hours (even though we’re not in the office) are still 8:30–5. Sure, emergencies (using this term in the loosest sense) are going to happen and we may work longer here and there. After all, we are an ad agency in the business of serving clients. But, we all need to take time for ourselves and our families and turn off. Not everything needs to be reacted to that minute. Dinners are still important. As are weekends. And vacations! Mental health is nothing to be ignored, especially at a time like this. And rest is a critical component of this.


I love Zoom.

By now, I’m sure we’ve all experienced multiple meeting platforms and I’m sure each and every one of us has a preference. Zoom is mine hands down. It can accommodate super-large groups – and even allow you to see EVERYONE on screen at once. Glitches seem minimal, and the recording function is pretty great, whether you’re doing an interview, conducting an agencywide meeting, or even performing on a weekly basis to keep everyone’s spirits up.


Yes, Jim Hettich and I do these (almost) every week. And Ellen edits. Bless her.


Zoom may be tops in my opinion, but others we use in certain instances are fine. Here’s my ranking of those I’ve had experience with.

  1. Zoom
  2. Microsoft Teams
  3. Cisco Webex
  4. GoToMeeting
  5. FaceTime
  6. Screaming at the wall
  7. Thinking real hard and hoping people receive your telepathic communication
  8. Not using anything
  9. Google Meet


Pro tip: People know when you’re not paying attention in these virtual meetings.

We all multitask. As I write this, I’m watching the news, listening to music, talking to my mom, and eating half a pizza. But when you’re doing it in a meeting you’re supposed to be playing an active role in, people know it. So swipe to those subsequent screens sparingly. Oh, and if you text someone in the same meeting as you, smirk, and then they smirk (the digital-age version of passing notes in class) people know. So you should know.


No one knows what 2021 will bring.

While vaccines and new treatments are on the way (thank you, clinical research!), there’s no telling how or when they’ll be widely available. There is a light at the end of this tunnel, but it’s hard to tell how far away it really is. Until then, we should be prepared to keep doing what we’re doing. Because:


No one knows what being back will even look like.

Will it be safe to have half the office back? Can we gather in the kitchen for coffee? Do we all need to eat lunch in our offices? While we do have more answers than we did back in March, some questions will linger far into 2021. And this is all part of that new normal – not fully knowing.


RIP our fancy in-person holiday party.

One of our most beloved agency events (if not the most beloved) is obviously not going off this month as typically planned. Like almost everything, our annual gathering is going virtual – complete with Secret Santa gifts, the usual announcements and recognitions, and cocktail demonstrations. And sure, we could hem and haw and lament how much better the party would be if we were in person. Or we could appreciate that we’re still having this special event, albeit remotely. We’re still sharing gifts, smiles, and well-wishes. We’re still toasting a year with a large and growing group of special people who are all part of a very special company that’s stronger than ever heading into the second half of its 35th year in existence. So, yes, we’re all pretty lucky. And you’re damn right this year’s holiday party will be one of the most memorable. At least as memorable as our virtual Cinco de Crowley party that we’ve vowed never to speak of again. This is the last time, I promise.


I’ll leave you with this. This year has taught us a lot. About business. About ourselves. About society. And hopefully this is what we take away from these last 12 months – we learned and we can be better. In so many ways big and small. 2016 didn’t do that. Who even remembers that loser year?


All the best to you and yours from Crowley Webb and Praxis. Let’s have an amazing 2021.


And all hail the most popular terms and phrases of 2020:

  • Pivot
  • Unprecedented
  • New normal
  • Social distance
  • Shoot I forgot my mask!
  • Can everyone see my screen?
  • Am I on mute?
  • I thought I was on mute
  • I was muted
  • You’re on mute