The role of a joint agency-client charter in mental wellbeing


Mental health and the PR industry

The numbers in the PRCA’s mental wellbeing report in October 2020 made for grim reading: nine out of ten PR professionals reported struggling with their mental health.

With little improvement from the previous year, the report also showed that few were willing to take time off to reset, citing work pressures and poor work-life balance.

And, while more PR professionals were willing to talk about their mental health than before, too many were staying quiet and not seeking the help they needed.

There was a sense of unease at our senior management meeting as we digested the findings.

Since the onset of the pandemic, knowing that those vital face-to-face meetings and water cooler moments were no longer possible, we’d moved to protect our people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Daily check-ins, virtual happy hours, Teams quizzes and drop-in tea breaks were all helping to retain the great sense of community we’ve worked hard to nurture at FleishmanHillard but clearly weren’t going far enough.

We knew some of our own people were close to burnout. In some cases, the boundaries between work and home were quite obviously blurred.

A tearful account manager admitted that she feared her client expected her to be available 24/7 while another confessed that the laptop remained open in his kitchen at all times, just in case.

It didn’t surprise me. I’d heard too many stories, inside the business and beyond, where account teams were being driven to the brink. The causes varied: unrealistic client expectations, senior management overpromising, unrelenting workloads. Or, in some cases, all of the above.

As we reflected on the many pressures facing our people, we considered our purpose as an agency: to deliver consistently excellent work for our clients. Laudable for sure but not without its challenges.

There was, we thought at first, little we could do about the stresses and strains of working in communications. It’s always been a high stakes industry and rarely a 9-5 role. However, as we considered it further, we realised that there was something else we could do, starting with our client relationships.

A collaborative and respectful partnership

We’re fortunate to have some of the best clients around. Many have been with us for several years and others are new to the FleishmanHillard family. Like any good relationship, we know that it takes time to build trust, honesty and respect. We know too that relationships need to be nurtured on both sides.

That’s what sparked the idea of an agency-client charter. Supporting our own staff was well and good. But if we didn’t expect our clients to commit to our staff, our efforts were essentially half-baked.

Not to be confused with a contract, our goal was a clear and accessible document that would set out our commitment to our clients, while also capturing what we expect from them. We’ve done that and more: detailing our ways of working, our promise of the finest teams in the land, and our pledge to always deliver work we can be proud of.

Equally important were our expectations of our clients. It’s why the charter covers the ingredients of a collaborative and respectful partnership: ensuring we have the information and resources we need to do our best work, providing honest feedback, and being mindful of our team members’ personal lives and commitments. After all, we all work better when we’re treated properly and appreciated.

We also recognised the importance of crafting our charter through a lens of diversity and inclusion.

Our culture of diversity, equity and inclusion

As an agency, we’ve long fostered a culture of DE&I. Indeed, Alfred Fleishman, one of our founders, was committed to bringing underrepresented groups together for dialogue and community. His influence endures to this day, contributing to our ambition to be the most inclusive agency in the industry.

A lofty goal but we know the very best work culture is one where everyone, with diverse experiences, perspectives and skillsets, can contribute their full potential.

It’s no exaggeration to say that DE&I is a passion for us. So, we ask our clients to be more reflective on how they communicate and to consider the role they can play in making their own workplaces more diverse and inclusive.

We know we don’t always get it right ourselves, so we also ask them to challenge us on our DE&I achievements and to hold us accountable to what we have pledged.

Ultimately, our agency-client charter is about respect and kindness, so intrinsic to meaningful and solid relationships, both within our agency and with those with whom we work.

We’ve been encouraged by how it’s been received. Has it improved the wellbeing of our teams? It’s too early to say but, as one account executive told me, ‘knowing that the senior team has your back makes all the difference’.

Learn more about our commitment to DE&I and the steps we have taken here.

Ali Gee, deputy CEO, senior partner and D&I lead

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  • Ali Gee

    Ali Gee has more than 20 years’ experience agency side and in-house leading global campaigns for some of the biggest corporate and consumer brands. As deputy CEO she provides senior counsel to clients and builds integrated teams to help them...

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