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Is Your Agency Killing You?
I’ve been in the agency world most of my 20-year career in marketing. It’s an environment I love and, as a consultant now, often miss. But mental health in agencies is also a serious concern.
There’s something about the buzzing environment of a creative marketing shop, staffed with smart, energetic and brave people, that makes for a great place to work.
It’s a horrible cliché, but I’ve made some lifelong friends from my time at Pleon and Ketchum in London and also at my marcoms agency, Klaxon.
I had a fantastic time running Klaxon. We worked on some great clients including Shell, lastminute.com, Vodafone and Google. Not bad for a small indy shop.
We worked on some crappy clients too. You know the ones. Those with a dull product and a CEO who is as inspiring as an episode of Brookside. Or the clients that never pay their invoices – despite repeatedly assuring you they will. W*nkers!
Anyway, when I became an agency owner, I started to understand the business of marketing too.
It’s different when you’re a staffer at a large agency. Your focus is on getting the job done – happy clients, motivated team, hitting performance targets – and you don’t worry about the mechanics of the business. Things like:
- What’s my cash flow looking like?
- Can I hit payroll this month?
- Am I attracting the right talent?
- Is my pipeline big enough?
- When are my year end accounts due?
The list goes on. And that’s all above and beyond the job of keeping your clients happy, your team engaged and hitting your performance targets.
That’s why it’s easy as an agency owner to feel overwhelmed or find yourself stressed out beyond the healthy. It’s when your mental health, as well as your physical health, starts suffering.
You might not even realise it. I didn’t. I thought I was doing well.
But my wife knew otherwise. I was following my own advice for new account handlers of keeping calm on the outside, even if you’re in turmoil on the inside. Confidence is king.
It’s only when I found myself talking to a doctor who had a camera where you really don’t want one, that it dawned on me. His enquiries focussed on how busy I was at work and not how I was feeling.
I was busy boasting how well we were doing and how busy the agency was… he was politely implying this might be the problem.
Thankfully, that was a problem that was pretty easy to fix. Fewer clients, no employees, less risk, lower overheads. Bye bye agency, hello consultancy. Sayōnara camera.
Anyway, enough of my medical history. (I hope you didn’t visualise the camera bit there). Let’s get back to thinking about whether your agency is killing you.
How do you know if you’re stressed out? What are the signs?
It’s not always obvious but here are some pointers. Some easy to spot, others not:
Either you aren’t getting any because your mind is still dealing with your workload, or no matter how much sleep you get, you still feel tired.
You have so many tasks on your plate that you can’t focus on one job at a time and do it well.
You’re working on invoicing, while your mind is trying to figure out why a Google Ads campaign hasn’t delivered any leads yet.
All the while you’re wondering if you can make it to little Peter’s Karate grading tonight.
3. Weight gain.
You’re always eating and drinking. When the booze trolley rolls around on Friday, you’re first in the line. That sandwich tray left over in the meeting room – the one that always has your favourite prawn number – you’re hoovering it up the moment the meeting has ended.
Before you know it, you’ve gained 10 kilos and find yourself puffing taking the stairs to the first floor. Your fitness has fallen through the floor. Touch your toes? No chance!
Oh, it could be weight loss too. Not everyone eats when they’re tired and hungry; some of us don’t eat at all.
4. You’re sick.
You know the cough you’ve had for three months and can’t seem to shake?
Or perhaps you get every cold going around and assume it’s because your kids are like little petri dishes, magnets for every bug at school.
The agency workload and lifestyle can lead to depression. I’ve seen it in my team and others. The challenge of mental health in agencies is no joke.
I’m not talking full-on black dog here, but little things like always feeling tired (see point 1), or not being able to concentrate (point 2) or even just feeling a bit, you know, bollocks.
Now you know some of the signs of mental health in agencies or any walk of life in fairness. The most important question is, what can you do about it?
The first thing to say is, don’t worry. You’re not alone. I’d bet my house that every agency owner or senior leader has been there. And guess what, that’s part of the solution.
Find your way into a tribe of experienced agency owners like Agency Squared and find your salvation. Peers who can relate and empathise, and then help you to find your A game again.
It might just be hidden beneath those black bags under your eyes somewhere. Don’t worry; you can get it back.
Beyond community, take some time out. For goodness sake, Mr or Mrs Agency Owner, take a f*cking holiday and leave your iPhone at home. And if you’re having any of the physical symptoms above, go and see a doctor too. Yes, even if you’re a bloke!
Lastly, if you really need to talk, the Samaritans are an incredible resource. If you really just need to talk to someone at 3 am, they will always pick up – in the UK the number is 116 123.