Do we choose to be vulnerable? Emotional attachment and mental wellbeing in the advertising and marketing world.

Category: Agency Life

January 05, 2024 / Miles Marmo

Do we choose to be vulnerable? Emotional attachment and mental wellbeing in the advertising and marketing world.

This has turned into a yearly tradition for me as I look back on the mental gymnastics our team endured over the year. I’ve written about resigning clients and my personal journey with managing my mental health. Fortunately, I to have an incredible team that has my back and a therapist who manages my neurotic mind better than I do.

A note from a co-founder

This year challenged me more in different ways than I had been challenged before. As a strong believer in self-reflection, I thought it was worth looking at why. Here’s the conclusion I came to. Creative services are an incredibly vulnerable and mentally taxing industry.

Many have written about burnout in different industries – advertising and marketing are no different. But a quick Google of “burnout in advertising” will return a whole host of listicles and stats on talent retention and turnover and how to solve for that. But nothing surfaced for how to address the root of this.

Yes, this industry is notoriously difficult to break into. Yes, agencies are asked to do more with smaller budgets which impact workloads, profitability, and all that other buzzword jargon. Juniors and interns work 14-hour days while the corner offices are filled with dudes coming in at the 11th hour to make changes. Yes, there are a million other reasons why this industry can be incredibly toxic. And while acknowledging this is a great start, it still doesn’t really get to root of “why” burnout, alcohol and chemical dependency and other mental health issues is so rampant in advertising and marketing. However, I do have a theory – which, although not backed by scientific fact or clinical research, it has been confirmed by a small focus group of individuals within Agency Squid.

Advertising and marketing is one of the most emotionally vulnerable industries that exists. Every day you put yourself, your thoughts, and your creativity up for public scrutiny. And our lack of emotional intelligence around all involved that is a big contributing factor to our personal success and mental wellbeing.

We are creatives for hire. That creativity comes out of our education, our experiences, our personalities formed by both nature and nurture. It comes from our emotional core. No two creatives are alike. And we come together to collaborate and materialize thoughts and concepts. There’s an emotional attachment to everything we say, do, and make. Each creation is a piece of us – to be critiqued, judged, pulled apart as well as applauded and celebrated. It’s an incredible pendulum swing between the highs and lows that test us every day. And its multiple steps through that process that test our resolve.

It could be a team brainstorm when riffing and we’re throwing ideas out there. It could be presenting work to a client that has taken weeks/months to refine. Or it could be the last stage of pushing things out to the public for response. Each step, from internal work to client management, to launch, are check points that test mental fortitude. While some are better at disassociating themselves from this process, others (like me) find it harder and harder every day to do that.

It's probably obvious by now that most people don’t join the creative services world to become rich. While we’re all incredibly different, I do believe creative services is connected by a personal desire to create and to express yourself. And to do that, you put yourself in a vulnerable spot. It’s a choice. And that cost is the emotional toll that can take on each one of us who chose this path.

Often, I think we forget we’re human beings in this industry. Being a service-based business seems to dehumanize relationships and create animosity between the parties involved. It’s not always the case, but as each of us continue to be emotionally invested in the work without addressing each other, the power struggles and toxic environments will continue to persist among us.

So… What do we do with this understanding? That I’m not entirely sure of yet. Maybe that’s for next year.

I do hope this insight helps agency leaders and brand managers understand the complexities of support creatives and what it takes for them manage every day. That old adage “you never know what someone is going through” is true and maybe this insight provides a little context to the world we all live in. It’s certainly helped us adjust our internal process, set expectations with our clients, and vet new clients. It’s also made us incredibly grateful for those who understand the vulnerabilities of everyone – clients and internal teams – and share in that experience openly. It makes us all better, teammates, partners, and clients.

I love self-reflection. It makes me better. I think it makes us all better. And as this year continues to be a bit of a Pandemic hangover, I believe the continued investigation on what we all need to be successful, unique to us of course, is only going to make the industry we work in, the relationships we forge, and the work we produce better.

As always, I haven’t figured any of this out yet, but every time I put something like this out there, I have had incredible conversations that further my understanding of what we’re all going through and how to be better at navigating it.

Thanks for reading and please let’s keep the conversation going.