posted January 29, 2018

Time for a rebrand: mental health

Amy Anderson

Depending on who you ask, agency life is all fun and games. There are ping pong tables, kegerators, puppy dogs and snacks on snacks. But ask somebody in the industry, and you might hear another story. Yes, there are enormous perks. Yes, ad folk are hella fortunate. Work in advertising is fun, rewarding and creative. But it’s also incredibly stressful.

From an outsider’s perspective, this must seem absurd. How can it possibly be stressful to brainstorm silly video ideas over a bowl of free ice cream?

Well, let’s just take a look at some numbers. According to The Guardian, 23 percent of creative and media sector workers are overly stressed most of the time. Sixty-five percent of workers said they felt so stressed they were unable to cope. A whopping 84 percent say demands have risen on them over the past year. Oh yeah, and one in seven work at least 55 hours per week.

Across the internet, you’ll find lists outlining most stressful jobs—with ad execs alongside EMTs and GPs. You’ll also find headlines like “Is it possible to work in advertising and still have a life?” When you work at an ad agency, you deal with client demands, tight timelines and a general cut-throat attitude (well, unless you work at Dagger). Oh, and don’t even think about turning off your phone. Saturday, shmaturday—ad emergencies don’t stop for bottomless mimosas.  

So, what can we do to make advertising a little less stressful?

Let’s talk about it.

Mental health issues are a huge epidemic in advertising. So why don’t we talk about it? Over half of workers the NABS surveyed were worried stress would be seen as a sign of weakness—even though senior staff didn’t see it as such. Talking about mental health doesn’t just help us feel better—it helps us create an open dialogue that supports help. As Michelle Obama said, “It’s time to tell everyone who’s dealing with a mental health issue that they’re not alone, and that getting support and treatment isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.”

Not so sure? Let’s look at some individuals who have battled mental health issues: Martin Luther King. Beyoncé. Abraham Lincoln. Kendrick Lamar. Gandhi. ‘Nuff said.

Let’s take care of ourselves.

It’s a no brainer that eating well, exercising and resting leads to better health—physically and mentally. Taking care of your mind, body and soul will help you reduce stress, better concentrate and become more productive. But outside of staying healthy, it’s also important to stay up-to-date with regular check-ups. Why not consider seeing a therapist, just for a check-in? After all, you do it for your body, teeth and eyeballs.

Let’s keep learning.

The best way to learn is by taking notes from those around you. So, how are other advertisers keeping calm? Imago Ogilvy Creative Director Igor Mladinović said it best:

“Let’s admit to ourselves that we’re not discovering a cure for AIDS, nor do we deal with quantum physics. People would live perfectly normal without us. As far as I know, the world has never collapsed because a campaign was delayed for a week or because an actor in the ad wore a shirt instead of a t-shirt. It usually turns out that some complex-troubled brand manager felt an apparent moment of self-importance, and wrote some nasty e-mails to his agency, and that’s all.

So my recipe for fighting stress is that I do the job honestly and the best I know at all times, with the people I believe in. And to have a good time while doing it, because we know that after all, it’s all one micro spot on the map of the universe.”

Let’s support each other.

Did you know that every three months someone with depression has 11.5 days of reduced productivity and 4.8 days of missed work? That leads to $193 billion lost due to mental illness across the U.S. in just one year. When it comes down to it, the best defense against stress is each other. When we create a supportive environment, we can kick stress to the curb (or at least some of it) and focus on doing our best work. So make your employees and coworkers feel safe scheduling that therapy session every few weeks. After all, it’s in the agency’s best interest.

As advertisers, we know how to put just about anything in the spotlight. So let’s do ourselves a favor. If we can get the world talking about fried chicken-flavored nail polish, we can do the same for mental health.