In my long working life of 40+ years in advertising agencies(and continuing), I had the opportunity of witnessing numerous cases of brilliant minds burning out due to excessive intellectual and creative stress. Don’t misunderstand the term ‘creative’. Creative minds and lateral thinking capabilities don’t reside only in the ‘creative people’ of an agency. Anyone who can dare to think differently, laterally and productively in diverse disciplines, be it in Brand Planning and Strategy, Media, Digital, Finance, HR (besides of course the ‘creative’), I would call such tribe as the intellectual assets of the agency.
But unfortunately such talented professionals are not easy to come by and I have seen the 90:10 (80:20 is the best case scenario) formula very prevelant in most agencies. 10% of the brightest thinking minds do 90% of the thinking for the agency’s 100% of the key brands, be it in evolving potent strategic directions, coming out with strong &disruptive ideas and executing these in clutter breaking communication.
So the brunt of the thinking load and coming out with breakthrough ideas day in day out and for a multitude of product categories as diverse as condoms to banking and insurance rests with ‘the 10% tribe’ with expectations building up to higher levels with each passing day. Alternately if one is handling a few active brands in a Group, coming out with breakthrough ideas on the same brand/s pretty regularly is by itself a daunting task. This puts a lot of pressure on the minds of the talent pool and many of them, particularly from the younger lot, tend to slow down or even shut off. These symptoms need to be observed by the superiors with hawk-eye and unless intervened and handled maturely, the minds may go astray and never recover. These are the first symptoms of the possible Burnout Syndrome and here the Company’s senior management and the HR team have a huge role to prevent such incidents. This is a serious ailment that affects many agencies across the world where young, promising creative minds often step into oblivion, not realising that they still have bright enough minds which only need inspiration and rejuvenation.
Such bright talents, if not attended to early enough,have different ways to vent their stress owing to the inability to excel every-day (that’s the ‘expectation’ from them),lack of mental freedom due to pressure to perform consistently, fear of failure and self-esteem can often lead to bouts of alcoholism, anger,abusiveness & aggression, reckless lifestyles and even complete ‘withdrawal’ that are counterproductive for the individual and the organisation. I have also witnessed a lot of cases that have severely affected the health of the individual with rising BP,sleeplessness & fatigue, bouts of asthma, diabetes and severe depression. Quite a few bright talents have just given upplum advertising jobs or are doing something on their own or pursuing their passions.
The irony is that it’s more the brighter and thinking minds (the 10% tribe) that have gone astray due to higher expectations from them and the constant stress of not achieving that on every occasion. All these have resulted in Burnouts which can be permanent that many sensitive minds are unable to handle themselves. This needs understanding, empathy, counsel & guidance, proper direction and above mental security from superiors to re-ignite their minds and bring them back on track. Not an easy task in in a bitterly competitive advertising world!
The advertising & communication industry for the last five years or more has been passing through a major metamorphosis as it is transitioning& transforming from the traditional agency mode to the era of ‘Digital First’ thinking. Knowledgeable clients are challenging agencies to ‘Think Digital, Act Digital’and most large organisations &brands are not looking or considering agencies& groups that are not upto their expectations as experts in digital communication.
This has thrown up new challenges to the advertising agencies of all shapes and sizes to unlearn, re-orient, re-train, re-hire& re-position as digitally savvy and present themselves as the ‘new breed’ even though the agency may have a 50 year heritage. The mature creative gurus of the conventional era are either re-engineering themselves or fading out. This is a daunting challenge to a large number of bright pre-millennials in creative& brand strategy who are now focussing to address the digital communication challenges and think originally for this medium asthe rules of the game are quite different. A lot of them are feeling the heat and may sooner or later have a Burnout and fade away.
The pre-millennial media planners too are being challenged today as many of them at senior levels are expected to analyse, compare, strategize and present the most impactful and cost effective media vehicle combinations that can also comprise the OTT and other Digital forms of media as well as Search Engine optimisation, lead generation, e-commerce as potential candidates for selection. If one doesn’t have quality digital understanding or Digital Wings in the agency or partners from outside, the task becomes even more daunting.
For the older generation creative professionals there is also a lot of pressure from bottom where young, bright creative aspirants are preferring &being groomed for digital creative specialisation and being post millennials belonging to the smart phone generation, they are able to think digitally and act digitally. So the space is shrinking for the conventional advertising professionals unless you are digitally savvy, be it in brand servicing, creative or media.
And this is resulting in a huge catharsis in the advertising &communication industry. And the attrition levels are increasing by the day for those who are not catching up fast enough.
Authored Article by Tapas Gupta – Founder & MD BEI Confluence Communication Ltd. Formerly President & CEO of a McCann-Erickson agency