Collaborating Through a Pandemic

For these copy/design duos, inspiration, trust, and talking about nothing are the keys to success

Amazon is home to copywriters and a variety of design professionals, working behind the scenes to explore compelling ways to connect with customers. Collaboration has always been essential to their success, but add a pandemic to the mix, and it becomes critical. I sat down with a few copy and design partners from across the company, and one of my own art director partners, to talk about our working relationships, creative processes, and perseverance in the face of the pandemic.


SIM & ELANA

Sim LeCompte, Copywriter and Elana Black, Sr. Art Director, are part of Amazon’s global Custom Advertising Program team—think big cobranded campaigns that engage consumers at multiple stages of the marketing funnel, creating solutions customized to advertisers' goals. The two have been collaborating on multiple endemic campaigns from consumer packaged goods (CPG) to electronics, and entertainment since Sim joined the company’s New York-based office in August, 2019.


Where do you find inspiration?

Elana: I’ve been with a local improv and sketch comedy group for years and a lot of my art direction (AD) philosophy comes from the improv comedy maxim, “If this is true, what else is true?” For example, if I have to put together a living room for a campaign character, I would ask, “If the character is like this and thinks like that, what kind of lamp would they have? What would be on their coffee table?”, etc. Through this lens, I can construct the character’s world. I get additional inspiration by watching a lot of comedy, and pre-COVID, exploring New York’s many museums and restaurants.


Sim: From a writing perspective I read a ton; I always have a book. For campaign ideas—what we do the most and the most fun part of the job—I tend to look at previous campaigns. I also spend time on sites like Activation Ideas for experiential and creative technology innovation in campaigns. Since working with Elana, I’ve incorporated the, ‘If this is true, what else is true?’ philosophy into my brainstorming process. Museums and exploring other parts of the city are also a source of inspiration; I look forward to doing that again.


“You should never be in a brainstorm that’s completely on topic.” —Elana Black


What do you look for in a creative partner?

Sim: What I look for, and it’s rare to find, is an art director partner willing to step outside of their role and get into the whole project with me—even adding writing/script ideas. To spend some time as two creatives getting really deep into ideating, where no idea is a bad idea, is extremely important to me. Elana and I definitely have that dynamic, which is incredible. We like to learn and be curious.


Elana: I like a partner who doesn’t let ego get in the way; who understands that all ideas are malleable, is able to roll with the punches and continue to do good work. Also, someone who isn’t afraid to bring different perspectives; someone who doesn’t think exactly the way I do. That’s where the best ideas come from. And someone I can not only brainstorm with, but also have coffee or a drink with, shoot the sh*t with. You should never be in a brainstorm that’s completely on topic, but allow for a rapport while working back and forth. And as often as possible, to come up with data-driven creative. The ability to embrace data isn’t something many of us creatives thought we’d be doing, but Sim and I are able to use it to provide rationale as to why the campaigns we pitch can only be done on Amazon.


On collaboration before and during a pandemic

Familiar to many creatives, Sim and Elana’s typical process includes a creative brief, brainstorming sessions, vetting ideas with all necessary internal teams (to make sure an idea can actually happen), pitching, and execution. Also familiar? Never having enough time.


While the work itself hasn’t changed since COVID, the way Sim and Elana collaborate has. Before COVID, they would kick their feet up in their creative team room and messily write ideas on the whiteboard. Some brainstorming sessions took place over coffee or happy hour.


Elana: I really like being around people. It energizes me. We’re making it work by hashing through ideas in a shared doc and on Chime, but there’s nothing as good as being in person—being able to pop over to Sim’s desk and say, “Hey! I just thought of something else.” It’s also challenging to schedule a brainstorm when you don’t know what your state of mind is going to be.


Sim: What’s missing now is the time you get to spend in person with your creative partner, having random conversations. But Elana set up weekly video conversations where, for 30 minutes, we don’t really talk about work. It helps to know what’s going on in each other’s lives, so we keep these on our calendars most weeks, and it’s been really great.


Something else we did that’s made a huge difference in remote collaboration is build a Custom Pitch Deck template on Quip and Powerpoint templates. This allows us to spend more time forming ideas and less time making decks look pretty.


Campaign launch, pandemic be damned

A testament to the power of creativity, determination and collaboration, Sim, Elana, and their team worked with a host of internal and external teams, to develop the customized Sending Joy campaign, cobranded with Lay’s, which launched November 9, 2020.


The campaign celebrates real people who bring joy to their communities through selfless acts. Captured through video, each of these “Joy Givers” becomes the recipient of gratitude via an unexpected delivery from Amazon featuring a pop-up picnic, delicious Lay’s potato chips, and a familiar face on a Fire tablet.


Elana: I’m the creative lead at Amazon for Pepsico and Frito-Lay and have been working with Sim on this project for nearly a year. It's one of the bigger, more complex campaigns our team has worked on. Because of COVID-19, everything from choosing the director and casting, to the actual shoots in Los Angeles (L.A.), was accomplished remotely. We had to figure out how to effectively communicate with everyone involved during the shoots. I would have creative chats with Sim and our CD, then relay our feedback to the producer, who would then relay it the director on set. This campaign is a great example of what our team can do.


Sim: We also set up an instant message group to chat with the client on our phones. They would text requests, such as product placement, etc., which we would then communicate to our producer. We had a whole communication system set up. There was also a lot of behind-the-scenes coordination with internal teams including Prime Delivery and Fire tablet PR, that was crucial in pulling it all together. This is my first really big campaign at Amazon, and it’s been a fascinating process.


Parting thoughts

Sim: Our team is kind of a startup in a way. We’re educating and building awareness around the type of work we do while balancing our workload and coming up with creative ideas. We pitch several times a year. It’s the most challenging job I’ve had but also the most creatively satisfying on every possible level, from being creative to actually doing strategy and research, and working with internal and external teams. And I’m really thankful to work with Elana. We motivate each other and are really good at understanding when one of us needs a break. Our whole team has done a really good job recognizing the challenges of the pandemic and supporting each other during this time. I think our mental health and personal well-being really matters to the entire company.


“We motivate each other and are really good at understanding when one of us needs a break.” —Sim LeCompte


Elana: If anything during the pandemic, there is a greater understanding of burnout and the need to take a moment, to take a breath and regroup. Sim and I trust each other in a collaborative sense—neither one of us are people who will drop the ball. We have a track record of pulling it together. Even when there are off days, I know we’re going to make something good.