Julian Douglas talks about how to abolish industry burnout


Agency News

Published by

Craig Mapleston



Total and utter industry burnout is one way to describe it. The last two years have had a huge impact on all of us, so what is the direct impact it has had on the creative, marketing and advertising industry and what could the fallout be? There’s talk of course about The Great Resignation, a syndrome many of us fear for our teams, as we collectively deal with the intense working environment we’ve been subjected to since the start of the pandemic. 

VCCP’s International CEO and Vice-Chairman Julian (Dougie) Douglas, presented his view on one way to abolish this burnout, in his keynote talk at the Campaign Asia Leading Change conference in Singapore. He approached the subject with reference to The ‘Pitch Positive Pledge’, an initiative spearheaded in the UK by the IPA* to consolidate on an approach that will lead to improved mental health and overall better outcomes for everyone.

Why do we believe there is an industry mental health problem?

The UK All In Census in 2021** revealed that 39.7% of respondents suffer from stress and 11.7% have a mental health condition such as depression. With NABS, the wellbeing charity for the UK advertising and media industry, reporting that mental health concerns now account for a quarter of all calls to the helpline.

As a response leaders are throwing their energy into tactics such as flexible work and unlimited holiday. But the issue, as Dougie called out, is that “while hugely important and worthwhile, these efforts are focused on the symptoms rather than the root causes.” 

The pitch process was recognised as the most intense experience in an agency and advertiser’s world, causing huge amounts of stress. And yet the stats suggest that we continue to push this process wildly to extremes causing a great deal of burnout.

He continued, “In this day and age we should not be seeing pitch reviews where 162 agencies compete and end with 108 agencies*** added to rosters so that they can then once again pitch for projects as and when they come up” 

Neither client nor agency team can or should be expected to allocate resources to this wasteful process. 

In this day and age we should not be seeing pitch reviews where 162 agencies compete and end with 108 agencies

So, according to Dougie, what’s the solution to this crisis?

Tackling the pitch process head on. 

The Pitch Positive Pledge is a charter for agencies and clients alike that aims to guide industry leaders towards a new way of working that will drive out the burnout caused by excessive pitching and inefficient pitch processes. 

Pitch work is one of the staples of creativity, and it should never be excluded entirely, as it allows new ideas to rise and flourish. However the number and intensity of unnecessary pitches taking place has accelerated and this leads to a huge amount of potentially unnecessary work from all involved. 

Let’s look at the key Pledge principles

  1. Pitching can be brilliant for people when managed positively 
  2. Positive pitching can mean less wastage, fewer costs and greater work
  3. Ensure a pitch is required every time, don’t waste human or financial resources or create undue pressure
  4. Commit to clarity and integrity from both sides, with a positive resolution, win or lose

This Pledge is relevant to both agencies and clients as we all need to pull together to lead industry change. 

There are already 145 companies signed up in the UK, including Unilever, Samsung, Heineken and HSBC. VCCP Singapore would love to see the movement pick up momentum across APAC so that our industry can work together for a brighter future. 

By adhering to these processes, we can begin to drive change, prevent burnout and support our people to thrive in this wonderful, creative and fulfilling industry. We may even avoid The Great Resignation and instead start The Great Resolution.

Dougie concluded his talk with this, “To abolish industry burnout, stop to think about your colleagues, your clients, your suppliers. Be intentional. Be accountable. Be responsible.”

Are you ready to pledge your allegiance? Click [here] to find out more about how you can get involved in the Pitch Positive Pledge and together let’s lead change for the better.

*The IPA is the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. Incorporated by a Royal Charter, the IPA is the trade body and professional institute for agencies and individuals working in the UK’s advertising, media and marketing communications industries. 

 **The All In Census in 2021 was UK advertising's first and biggest industry-wide survey created by the Advertising Association, IPA, ISBA and Kantar. Gathering data from over 16,000 advertising and marketing professionals

***The Singapore Whole of Government creative tender that concluded in April 2022