All Articles Marketing Marketing Strategy Marketing agencies are talking mental health, but what are we doing about it?

Marketing agencies are talking mental health, but what are we doing about it?

The Shipyard’s Rick Milenthal details 5 steps leaders at marketing agencies can take to support the mental health of their people.

4 min read

MarketingMarketing Strategy

How marketing agencies can walk the walk for employees' mental health

Marcel Strauß / Unsplash

Four years ago, my marketing agency launched a call to action to change the conversation around mental health. No one wanted to talk about it. Now, after the pandemic has accelerated these issues, we are all talking about it. 

But I fear the talk is superficial. Like checking a box of concerns that we should all be expressing.

This is not enough. In fact, in the marketing agency business, supporting our colleagues’ mental health is not just a luxury … it is existential. 

In an industry that is known for burning through its most valuable resource — humans, especially creative ones — I appreciate the increased attention paid to the importance of mental health. But we have a long way to go before we actually value, support and serve the needs of mental health at a level akin to physical health.

From our experience, the work required to build a culture that truly walks the walk when it comes to supporting mental health is hard and requires constant attention and necessary change.

How can marketing agency leaders start walking the walk around mental health?

  1. Make sure your health care benefits support and encourage confidential counseling. And promote, promote, promote these benefits.
  2. Open up about your own vulnerabilities with your team. Make mental health a safe subject in your agency. 
  3. Be ready for where that conversation leads, both for yourself and your agency. Have the programs and policies in place to support mental health needs, whether it’s teaching managers (and yourself) how to respond to requests to offering leave and supporting those who chose to take it.
  4. Don’t avoid the tough topics of mental health. Just as employees may face scary physical health diagnoses like cancer or health disease, so too does mental health bring up issues of depression and suicide. It’s not all just about self-care, it’s about becoming the ally your employees need to get better.
  5. Be ready to change and grow. Four years ago, my agency put mental health front and center in our culture because we had to. But honestly, now I realize that we didn’t know where this conversation would lead or how it would impact our business and culture. Today, we keep at it because we know it’s important and our employee engagement surveys find that our team agrees. It’s the No. 1 topic that fuels connection at our agency.

It’s imperative to develop benefits and policies that both reflect a commitment to mental health and that can be embedded in manager and employee training. Give people a chance to take a hiatus when they need it and support the cost of therapy. But even more important, be intentional in efforts to create a culture where anyone on your team can say “I need help” when they need it. 

It’s not easy but it’s worth the work.

Our industry remains a pressure-based business that many times can be stifling to creative talent. So many times we preach endurance rather than resilience. Most of us are not always calm, nor are we filtered. It’s not an excuse.

We have to be very intentional about ourselves and our mental health — and even more intentional about protecting those who fuel our industry through their creativity.

Most of all … believe that you can do it. And your employees and clients will support it. 

Our employee surveys show that our support for mental health is the No. 1 reason for retention in our agency. And it is often cited as a “reason to believe” by our clients. 

People are the precious assets of our industry. Caring for their mental health is the fuel that can drive the success, growth and culture of any agency. Don’t ever give up.

There is nothing more important. 


Rick Milenthal is a leading entrepreneur, investor and innovator in almost every aspect of marketing. He is chairman and CEO of The Shipyard, a leading, independent marketing agency and the host of “Voices of Resilience” – a podcast focused on mental health issues. An active philanthropist, Rick is former board chair of Marburn Academy, a nationally regarded school for students with Dyslexia and ADHD, and advisor to the Ohio State University’s Neurological Institute helping to reduce suicide among young adults.

Subscribe to SmartBrief’s free newsletter to get the latest marketing news and insights direct to your inbox.