Those of us in the advertising industry are aware that the job means constant pressure. Every day, we must demonstrate that we have the talent and skills necessary to solve the creative problems that come across our desks. And our work is always subject to scrutiny, approval, and the opinions of many during the entire creation and production process. This causes intense stress that can threaten our mental health.
At Círculo Creativo USA, we’ve taken the initiative and done something about it, since it’s a problem that affects us all: We’ve created a series of webinars featuring advertising creatives from different generations along with specialists in the topic to start an open, honest conversation about the problem.
After the three chats we held in the webinars and sharing opinions with colleagues from several different agencies (both Hispanic and General Market), we realized that the deterioration of mental health in our industry comes from two main causes:
A systemic problem:
The sheer volume of projects that land on our desks every day is larger than the amount of time to solve them. This imbalance raises worker stress levels and creates a never-ending snowball effect.
So how can we change our processes so there’s a more human and realistic balance between objectives and time?
A cultural problem:
Even though this industry considers creativity to be a collaborative process, there is a large number of companies with individualistic, competitive cultures. Asking for help or saying “I can’t” is seen as a weakness and efficiency failure.
How can we encourage collaboration and a method of acknowledgment that are more focused on team achievements instead of individual achievements?
How can we establish a culture that allows “asking for help” without being ignored or judged? How can we encourage the practice of empathy in agency leadership?
The following suggestions or recommendations come from these two realities:
- Set up a system in which each team has a maximum number of simultaneous projects to handle. And a backup plan in case the clients’ requirements go beyond that number.
- Create the flexibility to rotate the work teams to different projects and clients to create a balance between those who may be overloaded with work and those who have more time.
- Urgency has become the norm and the important part of many opportunities is being suffocated by urgency. Finding a balance in due dates that gives the team room to breathe, research and create in an atmosphere that doesn’t escalate daily stress levels related to time can help reduce anxiety, depression, and burnout.
- Creatives frequently say that they spend all day in meetings and then they must think of ideas on their own time. We suggest a change in the way meetings are run, whether that’s by defining the hours when meetings can be held or redesigning group communication so as to better leverage the group’s potential.
- Company leaders and directors can plant the seeds of a collaborative climate in which people feel free to ask for help and create mechanisms for times when reinforcements are needed, whether that’s with internal agency resources or external resources.
- Implement measures to promote a climate of confidence and freedom in which every member of the team has the flexibility to manage their time and energy according to the objectives and establish clear, realistic deadlines.
- When people understand what the project is and when they have to deliver it, the level of anxiety, one of the major causes of stress in our industry, goes down considerably.
- Encourage employees to pursue personal activities they are passionate about, which helps lower stress and enrich their creative perspective.
- Provide professional help for employees’ mental health, whether that’s a full-time staff position or someone external, who the employees can consult when they feel their mental health has been compromised.
- We could continue suggesting a thousand other ways to help or eliminate the problem, but each agency is unique with its own processes, resources, and ideologies.
In the end, the most important recommendation, especially for leaders, is to use EMPATHY in every decision and action to be implemented by the team.
People are the most important resource in the industry. Let’s take care of them.
Let’s remember that the main tool used in the advertising industry is the mind.
If we can maintain a good balance between daily pressure and collaborative work environments, activities that nurture creativity and personal peace of mind, our industry will be increasingly productive, creative, and surprising, with less waste and a better utilization of everyone’s potential.
Check out what they said:
Going into year two of WFH, alma was one of the first agencies to decide not to return to the office until 2022. To help everyone take the breaks they needed from the constant stream of video conference calls, we introduced Spring Fridays to all employees, ultimately extending the policy through the end of the year. And to encourage employees to truly take time for themselves, we closed “our offices” for the entire week of Thanksgiving and for half of December, while offering each employee a $200 wellness stipend.
Agency culture is better with alma. It’s the source of our success, inspiration, and motivation to not only be better for our clients, but to be better for each other.
Luis Miguel Messianu, Creative Chairman, Chief Executive Officer
At LERMA/ we connect with our team members at a personal level. If anybody has any problems related to health, family, or any type, we help and assist with whatever we can. We support them beyond a working relationship. We are people first.
Aldo Quevedo, Chief Creative Officer
Our team’s wellbeing is our priority number one. We have tried to keep our team mentally healthy and motivated by different means:
First, by leadership being constantly open and reaching out to individual employees to check how they’re doing and see if they need anything. We have had virtual townhalls regularly, where everybody can express opinions, concerns and ask questions. Flexibility has been key to preserve mental wellbeing, especially for married couples with kids who had to suddenly become teacher’s helpers and 24-hour-aday caregivers while they were working. We have tried to accommodate all those needs and be as flexible as possible, trying to make it as easy as we can for parents or caregivers.
Also, to promote communication and interaction, almost immediately after starting to work from home, we organized virtual events and fun stuff like virtual happy hours in the afternoons, virtual cooking classes at lunchtime to promote taking time to eat and disconnect at least for an hour.
We have also been doing virtual cafecito breaks, a 15- or 20-minute Teams chat between three team members that may not work together directly that often, or new employees that have not been in the office physically yet.
Elías Weinstock, EVP Chief Creative Officer
At Ogilvy we’ll be doing our part to make mental health care a reality and a priority for all our people across our network with a global initiative called “Reach Out and Recharge.” The aim is to encourage employees to reach out to others for help or to provide support to others, and to provide time for our people to recharge in whatever way they choose.
Chany D’Amelio, VP Creative Services
Celebrating mental health in our industry and shining a light on it is a wonderful thing to do… Healthy, happy creatives do great work – this has always been our view at the agency. At Dieste we are very focused on personal and professional growth, wellbeing and happiness. We provide weekly, scheduled all-agency training and development sessions designed to build individual skills, improve the knowledge, and help them stay ahead of the various changes in the industry. These sessions positively affect the productivity and confidence of our creatives and other employees. We also provide other cultural events and group lunch sessions to help build teamwork and camaraderie.
There are also many other things that we do like provide Cannes creative resources, fun tools for exploration and other resources that provide the sandbox or playground that creatives yearn for for creative exploration and inspiration.
These are just a few of the things that we’re doing – there are many more…
Tony Dieste, Executive Chairman, Founder
So, there are few things we’ve been doing.
This is obvious but we fully embraced taking mental health days to make sure that people are maintaining a great attitude and take time to rest.
Our CEO bought everyone in the agency a 1-year subscription to the Calm app.
When major tragedies occur that affect the multicultural segment, for example the George Floyd protests, we took a full day to discuss how to work and move forward in this environment together and made sure we had support. 94% of our staff is diverse so you can imagine it was tough to see all that was going on and still make sure we met deadlines. It’s impossible. We must take time to make sure that our mental health is okay. We also created an employee resource group to help expose our employees to other cultures and values as part of our learning.
José Suaste, Executive Creative Director
Orci has always been committed to supporting our team, but as we all know living and working through a pandemic put a different kind of pressure on all of us, so we put several things in place to support our team’s mental health. One of the most important things from our perspective is being open about this issue and ensuring people know that we are a safe space where people can bring their full selves to work. It is important that the team feels it is more than lip service, we truly believe in having a balance.
During the first months of the pandemic, we had a no-meeting rule during our lunch hour so that everyone could take a much-needed break from their computers (and Zoom!). When we are in the office, we have done massage days. But one of the most significant things we have implemented is a program called HeartMath.
The HeartMath system empowers people to self-regulate their emotions and behaviors to reduce stress, increase resilience, and unlock their natural intuitive guidance for making more effective choices. This enables people to break through to greater levels of personal balance, creativity, insight, and health. It has been a wonderful tool to support mental health and strengthen many aspects of our collaboration and creativity. Born out of the training and support that we provide through the system, the team is now voluntarily getting together once or twice a week to do 15 minutes of mindfulness/meditation/breathing, which has proven to be extremely helpful to our team.
Marina Filippelli, CEO
Like most agencies, we are nowhere near perfect when it comes to fostering the perfect environment for mental health. Obviously, a solid foundation is generous PTO, fair compensation, flex schedules, an agency gym and/or gym reimbursement.
We try our best to give creatives purpose and a sense of accomplishment at the individual level. Our humble POV is that when you do work for paying clients and have something good to show for it, se olvida todo lo malo.
Here are a few guides/measures we hope are working for us.
Switch up which creative directs each project, despite level, to foster individual ownership and growth. Give everyone opportunities to present their work.
Promote risk taking and failing vs. micromanaging every creative step.
More hours spent brainstorming doesn’t necessarily equate to better work. Shorter turnarounds reduce anxiety. Brainstorming for breadth and not depth of work can be mentally taxing. Quality, not quantity. Too many creatives on a project does not give a sense of ownership. Internal healthy competition is a good workout for the brain.
Again, these things may be right or wrong, but they seem to help us for now.
Jon Jaimes, Executive Creative Director
I am personally proud and honored to work in an industry with agencies who show their commitment to this cause. And again, invite you to show your support too. Write us and let us know what your leadership team is doing!
Special thanks to Virgilio Flores and Javier Osorio for planning and creating our weninars.
President at Círculo Creativo USA
Group Creative Director, LERMA/