A few years back, I had a memorable encounter at a client event in Sydney. A woman approached me to chat about my business, Manning & Co (M&C). She shared that she too had owned a similar business and had been relieved to get out of it at the 10-year mark. In her experience, she said, most agency business owners get burnout sooner or later due to the harsh demands of the industry.
A friend who ran a successful PR company shared something similar.
M&C turned 14 earlier this year, and over these 14 years, I have seen a significant change in the industry. When I first started M&C, digital marketing hadn’t taken off yet. Our projects were largely focused on media, content, branding and integrated marketing; Twitter was just starting to make its presence felt.
Fast-forward to the present: fees haven’t increased with the times despite inflation, and companies now expect support across the entire marketing spectrum – i.e. more services included in their monthly fees. Additionally, the spectrum seems to have gotten wider over the years!
One of my staff members commented recently about friends having to work sometimes to 2 am to meet client deadlines at other agencies, and he asked why we aren’t expected to do that at M&C. I explained that we have a different ethos; while we will go above and beyond to service our clients, deliver timely and top-quality work, and work late if needed, a line must be drawn and boundaries put in place.
Having worked across several countries, what’s stood out is the terrible pressure that many companies in Asia put on their agencies, partners, and suppliers. It is relentless. It is 24/7. Customer service almost emphasises “serving”, with the agency expected to take orders at all costs (or else).
On top of these demands, margins are being squeezed while costs are increasing, the talent war rages on, Covid continues to impact the workforce, and client demands are increasing in scope and complexity.
Over the years, it has become clearer why that fellow businesswoman said what she did back then. It is equally clear that the current situation can’t continue for businesses in the marketing services industry.
That’s why at M&C we have introduced several initiatives and changes recently – including a company-wide day to recharge and reset. We have chosen World Mental Health Day (10 October) as we understand the significance of work-life balance and emotional and mental well-being to the overall quality of life and sustainable business practices.
Moving forward M&C will be wireless and unplugged every year on World Mental Health Day.
We believe that we must look after our mental and emotional health and well-being. Facing increasing and relentless pressure on all sides, it is paramount that people in our industry have the opportunity to recharge and reset. We stand for this as a company.
Further, there is a message for companies that partner with firms like mine. Be mindful of the pressures you put on your partners and try and understand what is reasonable and what is not. It’s normal to ask for timely delivery and high quality from your partners, but if you go beyond the limits of reason, some agencies may choose to walk away.
Going forward, we will continue to drive our business and buck the trend of many private agencies closing the door after a decade. But to do this in a sustainable, successful way, we must look after ourselves and remind our existing and future clients that we are humans too.
We challenge all businesses this World Mental Health Day to prioritise mental health and wellbeing – after all, it is a priority for all globally.
For more information on WHO’s World Mental Health Day, click here.