Improv to Move Brands Forward

The onset of Covid-19 required immediate, reactive response. Organizations improvised new ways of working, faced unthinkable challenges, and battled daily fire drills. They pushed the boundaries of what was possible through sheer necessity, and likely, with the help of adrenaline.


“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger—but recognize the opportunity.”
John F. Kennedy 

The focus has been—and continues to be—survival. But now we’re entering a new phase of crisis management; the slow and steady aftermath. Whether we are fully out of the woods with respect to the pandemic is still uncertain. But as the country slowly reopens, brands will require endurance, creativity and responsible leadership.


Improv to Move Brands Forward 

For the past five years, clarkmcdowall has been collaborating with improvisers: professionals who have studied and practice the form of improvisation extensively. Throughout our improv communications workshops, we’ve learned lessons that are instrumental to our everyday work practices.

Today, we’re sharing a few practical tools and anecdotes—many from our improv training—to help inspire brands and the leaders behind them forward.


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Every brand is finding themselves in new conditions with unclear consequences. This is not dissimilar to Improvised performance. In fact, the principles of Improv can serve as a creative jumping off point for brand leaders, as they navigate a path forward.

Our Principles

We believe in the importance of both divergent and convergent thinking—leveraging both sides of the brain to land on creatively strong outcomes and action steps.

Divergent thinking is about inviting a spirit of play; being open, encouraging participation and ideating ideas of all shapes and sizes. From Improv, we’ve learned three key principles to help foster this form of thinking.

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Building a strong base amongst your team is the first and most important step from which to ideate. In Improv, this is called “agreeing to the base reality.” By bringing your team along and developing a sense of co-ownership, brand leaders can create an opportunity for open dialogue with diverse points of view.

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Encourage thinking beyond what’s possible. Open up the challenge for creative and imaginative play. By seeking the unexpected, brands may inspire new ways of thinking that unlock fresh ideas.

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Building together requires brand leaders to listen actively and contribute to ideas—always adding, never subtracting. Resisting the impulse to say “no” leads to fully formed ideas, rather than half-baked ideas. See everything through and you never know what you’ll find! 

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After building relationships and trust through creative exercises, it’s time to be convergent, critically evaluating the path forward based on real-time knowledge of the circumstances at play,

Today, that will likely require a reassessment of priorities, KPIs and other business goals. From Improv, we’ve learned two essential principles to achieve convergent thinking:

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In Improv, it’s impossible to plan ahead. The best outcomes are not forced but discovered serendipitously; Observe what’s in front of you. Process how the landscape has changed and consumers and employees have evolved. The most productive response is one that takes place in real time.

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A well-known rule of improv is take care of your audience and make them feel comfortable. To take care of them, we need to first understand their point of view and expectations.

For brands, it’s critical to understand your consumer’s mindset, needs and expectations. Empathy leads to action and  your consumer’s comfort should be your priority. Make them feel connected to the story you’re trying to tell.

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