Nurture not torture – work-life balance needed in agency work

It is saddening to hear of a promising talent succumbing to martyrdom in the eternal pursuit of maintaining business and keeping clients happy. I agree to the many posts I have read on this same incident and the collective plea of an industry to reassess its work culture. It is indeed sad that it takes deaths like this for many to realise it is time to pause, stop and make a change. 

I believe the real solution to this problem is to work towards greater transparency between clients and agencies on the work and how to work together the right way. Oftentimes the real culprit is the lack of work processes with reasonable and standard turnaround times across the stages of the work coming to life. And because of that, expectations are not managed upfront and the first to take a hit on this is the agency being treated like a factory without some clients realising that this sort of way of working together, in fact, is to their disadvantage: poor quality of thinking, poor execution, and poor results. It is a vicious, ugly cycle. And what for? For accounts that are constantly hanging by a thin line on threat of putting the business on poorly organised and unfair pitches?

And then there are bad clients. These are clients who treat the agency as a sweatshop. All in the name of submission regardless of who and how the work was done. Unfortunately most schools only teach how to be a great ad person, but rarely how to be a good client. 

The relationship between clients and agencies is critical to solving this issue. It is what spells the difference between simply having a client-supplier relationship and a true partnership between client and agency. A true partnership is one that takes care of the people on both sides of the table, and not just numbers nor egos gracing the meetings. I am still hopeful as there are still relationships out there that run on the principle of true partnership.

As a client in my past lives, I admit I have been demanding of the agencies I worked with but I also know my limit and up to what human levels I could push the work to. If in the end it is not possible anymore nor healthy for anyone, together with the agency, we stop and pause and accept the reality that it is indeed not possible. Great work after all is a two-way road. The same is true for rubbish work. 

Now being back on the agency side, I have better appreciation of our role as agency leaders. I think it is imperative that we find and make time to nurture and not torture our people – our talents, our main assets driving this business of ideas forward. Putting the business first, on the agency side, I believe, equally means putting our people first.

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