Mental health for marketers
How to deal with stresses that are unique to marketing
Each profession has its own nuances around mental health. In my 15 years of experience as a marketer, these are the ways that my job has caused me stress:
1. Being responsible for the public face of a business
2. No guarantees that your work will be successful
3. Being perceived as a disposable resource*
Are these stresses exclusive to marketing? No. Do all businesses create the same amount of stress? Also no.
But if you’ve felt the stress of pressing send on an email campaign to 10,000 customers, only to see your notifications start to ping and you realise that there’s been a mistake. You will know the panic this can cause.
Here are three ways to help your mental health if you work in marketing:
1. Build your professional support network
I’m not referring to your support network at home — which is also important — but your support network in the workplace. My worst times at work have happened when I have had no one to turn to as a sounding board.
You can have the best manager in the world, but sometimes you need an informed but uninvolved person to talk to. This could be a colleague, a mentor or a fellow business owner — someone you can trust.
Let’s take the example of the email campaign with a mistake. You’ll need to speak to your manager or client, of course. But it might be helpful if someone could help to diffuse your initial panic and help you get clarity. I like to think of this person as a “crisis buddy”. After talking things through, you’ll be in a much better position to figure out your next steps.
If you’re in-house, speak to your manager about appointing a mentor or a crisis buddy. If like me, you’re freelance, I often turn to other freelancers that I’ve met along the way when I need to vent. Business and marketing networks are a good place to find your freelance crisis buddy.
Employers need to be mindful of diversity and inclusion in this area. Issues around mental health can be unique to gender, age, sexuality, disability, race, economic background or even personality. And this can influence who you might want in your support network.
Sometimes you need someone who’s been where you are and sometimes you need the complete opposite.
As an creative extrovert, my natural crisis mode is to over-explain and over-think. I often seek out crisis buddies who are my opposite, who will help me to approach my crisis with calm and logic. Likewise, I’ve worked with introverted marketers whose reaction was to freeze, and I’ve coached them on decision-making in a crisis.
Over time you can build a support network with people that have different experiences, skills and approaches. And remember it works both ways — who could you help in a crisis?
2. Always remember the bigger picture
Things don’t always work out and this happens to all of us. Trust me when I say, it does no good for your mental health to dwell on it.
Things can and do go wrong in marketing because of the nature of our work. We deal with high-pressure events, social media, PR fall-outs. Even dealing with words means that at some point, your proof-reading will inevitably fail.
Sometimes things don’t go your way even though you have done your best and you’ve learnt from past mistakes. Your campaign has an error which is out of your control or your PR didn’t land because of a major news story. You got fired.
How do you overcome this? For me, it’s all about the bigger picture. Depending on the significance of the issue, eventually it will pass. It might take weeks, months or even years. I think about where I’ll be five years from now, when this huge issue is a faint memory. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Probably not.
If Britney can make a comeback, so can you.
The exception to this is if you have deliberately sabotaged or have done something illegal. In which case this article won’t help you 😳
3. Nurture your life outside of work
Work is not your life. Most of us need to work to pay our bills, and you can love your work and give it your all. But it’s not your life. Family, friends, trips, hobbies, relaxing on the sofa with Netflix — this is life.
Like so many people, at times I have given my life over to work. I can remember holidays where I’ve worked driving to the airport, on the plane, and in the hotel room on arrival. But I can’t remember what the work was and it definitely wasn’t worth it.
There are times when it’s worth putting in some extra effort or extra hours, but this must be an exception and not the norm. Burnout is imminent when work starts to chip away at the things that are good for your mental health. Attending a late meeting which means you miss an evening class, which leads to missing dinner. Which makes you tired the next day. And so on.
What I’m really getting at is that you can give your all to work only for them to treat you as disposable. Nothing has made that clearer than the pandemic. Freelancers have a different relationship with work and clients, but it’s also easy to go above and beyond the terms of your contract. Not only is this financially damaging, but mentally draining.
When work isn’t going well, or you lose your job, you need life more than ever. So nurture whatever makes you happy, as it’s probably going to get you through some tough times.
Try to avoid doing high profile work if your mental health is not in a good place. This is when it’s easy to make a mistake. I always think any high-profile work should be reviewed with fresh eyes after a good night’s sleep.
Check everything carefully and always have a chain of approval and proofing. Never skip this step — it’s very reassuring to know that someone else has sense-checked your work.
Talk to your colleagues about how they should give you feedback. In marketing you quickly learn that your work is a starting point. It’s going to be edited, critiqued and passed around. And people can be brutal with their feedback. Encourage the use of objective feedback about the work, rather than personal feedback about you. For example “The choice of words in this article isn’t conveying the message” lands very differently to “You’ve chosen the wrong words and this message is off”.
The stresses in marketing are also the reasons why we love it. Being responsible for the public face of a business gives you the opportunity to shape a brand. No guarantees that your work will be successful means there are no limits to what you can try. Being perceived as a disposable resource is a chance to prove otherwise.
But make sure you look after your mental health along the way.
*Being perceived as a disposable resource
There are a number of reasons which have led me to write this and I want to explain further. Throughout my career, this has been a constant narrative, whether it’s “marketing is often the first to go”, or the marketing budget being the victim of cuts by management, or having a tiny team with low salaries in comparison to the rest of the business. There are some marketers out there who perpetuate this narrative with poor work. But also many who do a great job. And this is definitely not all companies. In fact, my best employers valued good marketing.
To back this up with some stats:
Nearly one in 10 marketers (9%) have been made redundant during the coronavirus outbreak.
McKinsey report on the relationship between the C-Suite and marketers. Including this stat — 83% of global CEOs say that marketing can be a major driver of growth but 23% of CEOs do not feel that marketing is delivering on that agenda. Interesting!
What CFOs think of marketers. An old article but some interesting stats — I’d love to see an updated version of this for the 2020s.
80% of CEOs do not really trust marketers. Even older, but again some good stats.
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