Unbalancing the ad industry
Can you have a great job and a great life in the ad industry? Maybe, Mark thinks. By Herman Manson. Reprinted from Mark magazine.
Advertising is pretty dumb for an industry that thrives on the creativity and diversity of lots of smart people, particularly when it comes to nurturing its own. Just mention “work/life balance”, a term which describes a balance between an individual’s work and personal life, and many ad agency execs fall silent. Momentarily that is, until they stumble across a “sell” soon enough.
Is working in the ad industry or at marketing agencies an awful job? Not at all. But few are playing it smart when it comes to the well-being of their employees even though the benefits of healthy living is well documented and work/life balance is far from being a new idea.
Tracy*, a young creative in Cape Town, worked in advertising for three years. At her first agency, life consisted of working overtime followed by drinks with colleagues at the bar. Taking lunch breaks was frowned upon, and if she left the building at 5.30pm she was accused of working half-days. “I burnt myself out, had a nervous breakdown and ended up in a clinic for two months,” she says. Her new employer, Ogilvy Cape Town, is an altogether different experience says Tracy, and she feels looked after.
Mark Deuze, author of Media Work, argues in an interview with website Influx Insight, “The problem is that media workers are a special breed of people – they tend to be more interested in getting their own creative voice across and receiving peer acknowledgement than securing benefits or a steady pay check. That makes them more vulnerable to exploitation (of labour), and the consolidation of agencies certainly can be understood in this context.”
What he is saying is that you are now working harder for less reward than ever. That means more stress and less time for family. It can’t be healthy.
While few agencies have formalised work/life balance policies, there is innovation in this sector. Y&R, for example, closes the agency at 2.30pm every Friday afternoon and invite speakers, artists and businesspeople in to teach staff (note: not just creatives) and keep the agency on the cutting edge of communication.
According to Mediaedge:cia’s Chief Talent Officer in the US, Laura Agostini, her company is establishing policies to support employees during the current economic crisis by offering access to a 24-hour Employee Support Programme that covers support on everything from mental health to elder care to tax advice. It has also implemented a flexi-time policy, a concierge service to collect dry cleaning, pet care through discounted dog walkers and much more. “Finding the right work/life balance is not just an employee issue, but an employer one too,” says Agostini.
Vladimir Jones, the oldest agency in Colorado, has gone as far as adopting its positioning to “An agency of exciting minds”. Company president Meredith Vaughan says work/life balance is “not just a way to prevent burnout in our often intense industry, but rather a way to truly foster creativity and innovation”. The firm allows employees time off for outside interests, whether it is training for a marathon or playing in a bluegrass band.
The secret, as Vladimir Jones and a selection of other agencies have discovered, is that it’s often the interesting things people do outside the office that fuels the interesting things they do inside.
* Name has been changed.
Herman Manson is the editor of Mark and blogs at marklives.com