Death of an Ogilvy Philippines Employee Sparks Renewed Debate Over Work-Life Balance at Agencies

Brand strategist purportedly worked overtime with pneumonia

Colleagues blamed overwork in part for Mark Dehesa’s death. Ogilvy Manila
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

A young brand strategist with Ogilvy & Mather Philippines died last weekend after purportedly working overtime while suffering from pneumonia.

Mark David Dehesa spent less than a year with the PR division of Ogilvy’s Manila office. He’d previously worked in accounts with Publicis, JWT and BBDO. His death on Sunday has already stoked the debate about work-life balance at agencies and overwork, a particularly contentious topic in Asia.

“It is with great sadness that we confirm the sudden passing of our colleague Mark Dehesa from complications leading to pneumonia on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017,” said Ogilvy Philippines CEO Elly Puyat in a statement. “Mark was a much loved and important member of our family in the Philippines, and our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family and friends at this very difficult time.”

The agency declined to elaborate further, calling the details of Dehesa’s death “a private matter.”

According to a former colleague, Dehesa worked through the early hours of the morning last Friday to prepare for a meeting then stayed in the office until late that evening before asking to be driven to the hospital, where he later died.

“Clients always ask for something good,” Ogilvy copywriter Jeff Stelton wrote in a Facebook post after learning of the employee’s death. “We do it almost to the point of martyrdom; sacrificing our time with our families, dates with our loved ones, but most importantly, our health.”

Stelton, who had worked with Dehesa in the past, continued: “But with the untimely passing of yet another young colleague, I feel like it’s time we say ‘no’ to this unnecessary martyrdom. It’s time to say no to getting up for a 9 a.m. presentation when you finished work at 4 in the morning.”

He then called on both clients and agencies to “be reasonable” and “take care of your people.” He later edited the post to clarify that he did not intend to imply that “[Dehesa’s] untimely passing was solely due to being overworked by any agency.” Stelton declined to comment further when contacted by Adweek.

Others in the industry have expressed similar sentiments on Facebook, with one former colleague writing, “Goodbye Mark. The people who’ve known you and worked with you will miss you. Hopefully, your death will lead the advertising and communication, production and marketing industries to reflect on how the demands of work impact on our #physicalhealth and #mentalhealth, which always takes a backseat when fulfilling punishing deadlines.”

The overwork phenomenon, known as “karoshi” in Japan, made news around the world in December when Tadashi Ishii abruptly resigned as CEO of Dentsu, the world’s fifth largest agency holding company. The announcement came only days after federal authorities recommended filing charges over the 2015 suicide of a young account manager who wrote social media posts about abusive bosses and claimed to have logged more than 100 hours of overtime in a single month.

It was not the first sudden death in the advertising industry to make headlines. In December 2013, a 24-year-old copywriter at Y&R Indonesia collapsed, fell into a coma and later died after tweeting, “30 hours of working and still going strooong.”

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.