Does this January feel lighter?

—After two Januaries darkened by the dread of COVID, Fuse Create’s Stephen Brown is ready for a new year that feels more like the good old days, when the biggest challenge was fighting for great ideas, not fighting the pandemic—

I awoke yesterday, Jan. 3, with the realization I would have to shower before noon and attempt to put on real pants around my holiday waist. Ten days off is always appreciated—especially after an incredibly busy past year—but it’s true what they say about all good things ending, and I was soon back on my laptop, commencing the sluggish but important steps of starting a new year.

I figured a Happy New Year email to the team would be a solid start; however, words did not come easily. So I went for a walk in the cool January rain with the purpose of reflecting what my New Year message should say.

I walked north toward Bloor on my usual meandering path through the West-Queen-West neighbourhood. It didn’t take long for the fresh air to deliver, and the true meaning of this new 2023 came into view. Basically, I feel lighter this year.

The past two holiday breaks, like their respective years, were tough for me, as I know they were for many. Last year at this time, just as we thought we were coming out of Covid, the Omicron wave hit—and any hopes for a positive start to the year were replaced by that familiar ever-present undercurrent of suppressed panic and concern.

I remember faking my way through positivity (always show you’re upbeat… don’t show concern) at the beginning of 2022. While I didn’t think the Omicron wave was going to be terrible, I was just exhausted by the isolation, the unknown, and the unpredictable. And then the freedom convoy hit…  the Russians invaded Ukraine… hospitals were at capacity… everyone was angry, scared and exhausted.

Our agency did well through the pandemic (growth and strategic changes realized) but none of it was without a lot of global noise and agitation beyond our control. I just wanted things to be normal—whatever normal means in advertising.

Thankfully, this holiday season was different. Normal different. My family, despite both my father and my husband’s father passing away in 2022, were able to gather in person and actually see our expressions, our smiles and the occasional eye rolls (mainly directed at me).

We entertained friends without having to crank up the Solo Stove in our backyard. We even went to a matinée at an actual movie theatre. I slept. Read books. Watched a lot of BritBox mysteries (lord, I’ve lost my edge).

And the same goes with our incredible industry. Advertising and marketing is stronger, and has survived despite all those ominous predictions from just a few years ago. We continue to navigate a constantly changing omni-channel media landscape.

We’ve pivoted, adjusted, and reinvented how we staff, structure and run our agencies to align with the changing market. And no, the consulting firms are not eating our lunch. Strategy, creativity and innovation in the advertising and media space is as important today as it ever has been, and we are the right partners to deliver.

I know the pandemic isn’t totally over, but it’s clear we’re winning (thank you science). The world is still fraught with chaos—war in Ukraine, our southern neighbour’s politics, and this looming economic instability to name just three—and while events will come and go, I assume the craziness will never change.

Yet, I for one, feel we’re actually about to start a typical advertising year—even if that comes with a recession—where the biggest issues we’re going to have to contend with are unreasonable timelines and budgets, irritating client group-think feedback on our concepts, and trying to manage the entire creative team wanting to take the same weeks off in August.

I can handle that crazy. I even welcome it over the emotional turmoil of a global pandemic. If the only stressors of 2023 are fighting to make a concept stronger, then bring on that battle.

So that’s my message for 2023. Bring on the creative craziness. Let’s start to extricate ourselves from the heaviness of a pandemic that impacted us all in ways we’re still coming to terms with. It’s a fresh new year, let’s actually make it one. Let’s just create greatness.

Stephen Brown is co-founder and CEO of Toronto-based creative agency Fuse Create.