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'Today' Reinforces Creative Engagement

What does today look like to you?

That's precisely the question we asked the 250 team members of Erwin-Penland, including copywriters and art directors, media planners and buyers, PR specialists and Web developers, finance and human resources professionals, for a program we called The Today Project.

Through visual interpretation, we asked the team to tell us how they view Today. It's an exercise that reinforces one of our core tenets -- that creative thinking is the responsibility of everyone in the agency. The Today Project also generated rich insights by building on The Tomorrow Project, an exercise we did in 2009 which asked the team to interpret their thoughts on the future.

The Tomorrow Project was created during a time when the keyword was "change"; we saw realization of current challenges combined with an anticipation of positive outcomes. The Today Project allowed us to explore whether people felt the same hope today. And by doing so, to understand what their response means to marketing at large.

With the Today Project, we asked people not to anticipate what could be, but to look in the moment and tell us what they saw. The responses included everything from an image of Tiger Woods in a trash can and a 3D gift sculpture, to images based in realism showing global tragedies like the earthquake in Haiti and weariness of a war against terror.

They provided a unique, deeply personal view of what is currently happening in the world and how people are feeling about it. Collectively, the responses conveyed an overall feeling of weariness about today's reality. The immediacy of today's circumstances is hard to come to terms with, and it showed in the tone of the work.

This year's submissions made it very clear that there has been a value shift since last year. People are feeling more at risk, and are intimately impacted by events around the world. The results shed light on the expectations of today's consumers and produced other, perhaps more meaningful, outcomes for an organization whose currency is ideas, and whose inventory is people.

As a planner, these insights prove invaluable to informing the work we create for our clients and, as an exercise in creative thinking, give organizations ideas on how best to create dialogue internally and externally. Here's how:

Engage Actively: Our industry is one that actively engages in thinking creatively. By taking part in an exercise like The Today Project, we force teams to think beyond the project at hand -- and some to think entirely different than they are accustomed -- to think about how life, work, the economy, politics, cultural events are affecting their view on the world.

Inspire Discussion: By making it a company initiative and sharing the final results, you can create a dialogue across teams and departments that introduce new perspectives and offer the opportunity to inspire team members through the act of sharing their ideas and mentoring others.

Foster Culture: Asking employees what they think, regardless of the subject matter, is one way for companies to show they care. Not only does it create discussion, but it also demonstrates you care about what they have to say.

Take the Pulse: Team members are not just employees. They are also consumers. So when they say they are weary of what is going on the world, you can bet that other consumers - most likely consumers of your brand -- are feeling the same way. Use their insights to gleam new ways of thinking about your message, your interactions with peers and use it to further discussion outside of the office.

The Today Project is just one example of how companies and brands can engage, unite and foster relationships that inspire better communications. We may not all see the world through rose-colored glasses, but we can use our multi-faceted perspectives to create new ways of doing business.

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