4A’s and Made of Millions Call on Agency Employees to Start Conversations About Mental Health

'Dear Manager’ campaign addresses a pervasive problem in the industry

Advocacy nonprofit Made of Millions is teaming up with the 4A’s for Mental Health Awareness Month to address an issue that’s particularly prevalent in advertising.

The two groups launched the “Dear Manager” campaign, aiming to start a conversation around mental health in advertising.

The “pace and pressure of the advertising industry” and agencies’ tendency to “operate leanly” leave it particularly susceptible, however, 4A’s evp, talent engagement and inclusion, Simon Fenwick, told Adweek.

“Entry and midlevel employees are often doing the work of two or more people and have managers that haven’t received proper training to deal with those stresses,” Fenwick said. “As a result, they feel unsupported and unwilling to speak up about how they’re feeling. This culture of overworking also leads to guilt around taking true vacation time or even leaving the office while others are working late. Even when client demands are tough, it falls on the industry to create a better work-life balance and an emotionally healthy [environment].”

The effort, which includes a series of OOH ads and digital elements in which employees address their mental issues, calls on agency employees to start conversations with their managers about their mental health needs and what goes into supporting workplace mental health.

“We’re building a people-led movement to reform workplace mental health,” Made of Millions co-founder Aaron Harvey, who is also a principal at New York agency Ready Set Rocket, told Adweek. “The days of consultants targeting HR groups are over. Real change will require employee demand and executive response. ‘Dear Manager’ brings the conversation to the employee level, while our workplace mental health guide, ‘Beautiful Brains,’ makes it actionable for HR.”

While agencies have made progress around other issues, such as inclusion, few have focused on mental health, which should be a priority, Fenwick said.

“They should provide policies that allow people to speak their truth without putting their job at risk,” he said. “This will allow employees to be open about their challenges and give the employer an opportunity to accommodate their needs. Agencies should also look at building wellness programs that allow employees to take time to look after their physical and mental health.”

He added, “People need to know it is OK to be vulnerable and that having mental health issues doesn’t mean someone can’t do their job or fulfill their duties.”

The best place to start, Fenwick said, is with “open, honest, unbiased conversations” followed by “education and understanding.”

4A’s and Made of Millions will follow “Dear Manager” with “Nominate a CEO,” in which industry leaders will be called on to publicly share their personal mental health stories and nominate fellow agency leaders to do the same.

“We’re hoping the campaign levels the playing field between employees and executives, normalizes the conversation about mental health and leads to fundamental policy and culture reform,” Harvey said, adding that the campaign will “evolve through strategic partnerships, storytelling, workshopping and education and training modules, laying the road map to stronger policy and inclusive culture.”

@ErikDOster erik.oster@adweek.com Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.