Death of a copywriter and the agency life

Note: Unspun wasn’t sure whether to name the copywriter or the agency she worked for when he first wrote this post as he wanted to respect the privacy of the late copywriter. Since then Unspun’s learned that Y&R Indonesia has publicised this on their Facebook Page so it’s all in public now. There’s a report of  it here.

Y&R’s Facebook message  reads: 

Dear Friends and Colleagues in the Advertising & Marketing community,

It is with a heavy heart and deep sadness that we have to inform you we have lost our friend, sister, and work colleague, Mita Diran, earlier this evening. Mita was a talented copywriter with a gentle smile who will always live on in our hearts.

We have been to Mita’s family residence tonight and expressed our sincere condolences on behalf of Y&R Group Indonesia. It is a great loss and we wish Mita’s family the faith and strength in each other in going through this extremely difficult time.

Tomorrow, December 16, we will close the office for the day to pay our last respects to Mita at her funeral at Jeruk Purut cemetery at 10 AM. Let us all take a day of silence tomorrow and give Mita’s family the support and prayers that they need, from the bottom of our hearts.

Sincerely, Y&R Group Indonesia

Unspun thinks this message is asking for trouble, from a crisis and issues management standpoint. Y&R is amply empathetic but in situations like this people also want to know to other things: why it happened and what are they doing about it.  Unless these two questions are address there is a high likelihood that Y&R may be facing tough time ahead as the issue blows into a crisis.

The earlier posting:

Yesterday I heard of the death of a copywriter at an international advertising agency. She was apparently working on a project for three straight days and propping herself up with energy drinks. She was still in her 20s.

I don’t know exactly what the cause of her death was. There was speculation that it was a combination of exhaustion together with the energy drinks. That seems plausible. 

This seems like an extreme case of overwork but it does expose a work culture that glorifies pulling all-nighters and doing what it takes to please clients at agencies, including acceding to unreasonable demands and deadlines. 

Hence we have the young copywriter proudly proclaiming on Twitter the day before her demise that she was on “30 hours of working and still going strooong.”

What sort of a work culture is it when people virtually work themselves to death.

That is why, when we first set up our own Public Relations firms 11 years ago we refused to call ourselves an agency. Our reasoning was that agencies do whatever they were told, they were essentially  someone’s agents. We would want to be different as we felt that we had something that the client wanted – our insights, experience and breadth of knowledge – so if we worked with them it should be an equal partnership. We wanted their money and the opportunity the could give us to do good work, they wanted our expertise and knowledge to achieve their business or corporate goals. Fair exchange. A deal between equals.

So we enshrined it into one of our values, which is that “we should not shortchange ourselves nor our clients.”

But more importantly we recognised early that we needed to abolish the agency culture of overwork and long hours. So we came up with another value: “Balance is vital.”

Throughout the years we have sought to hammer t into each new intake the importance of work-life balance. We tell them that we don’t expect them to work after normal office hours and weekends unless they have an urgent deadline to meet.

But if they had to meet too many deadlines then we needed to have a conversation because that meant that we were overworking them – in which case we needed to hire more people or spread their tasks to others – or that they are inefficient – at which case we needed to take some remedial action with their work styles.

We tell them that it is not cool in our books to work long hours and that they should get a full life outside the office if they want to become good consultants.

There were times when we lapsed in remind our consultants but by and large I think we succeeded. Ove the past 11 years this model has served us well and some of the lessons we learned was that it is also vital to teach our consultants, especially the younger ones, the value and skill of the pushback. Not all client’s whims need to be fulfilled immediately and that overt often clients are reasonable when you can give them a good reason why certain things will need more time to be completed.

Sure, there is always the psycho client who’s a control freak who wold not listen to reason. In such circumstances we sack the client because they are making all our lives miserable.  Better be happy and to have the courage to insist on happiness as the main aim of work.

If you can be relatively happy the chances of you doing good work increases and the money will follow. Life’s too short otherwise.

2 thoughts on “Death of a copywriter and the agency life

Add yours

  1. If it were up to me I would charge the agency owner with manslaughter. Nobody, especially a copywriter will create better work the longer they remain in front of a computer. It’s a shocking corporate culture that allows such missguided glorification of working hard instead of working smart. Such a tragic waste of a child.


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