‘Under pressure to perform’: Marketers reflect on the strain of working amid Covid

So often the cheerleaders for an organisation, marketers are being encouraged to speak out rather than feel isolated when suffering problems with their wellbeing.

Generic Stress ImageThe challenges of Covid, both professional and personal, have magnified concerns around work-related stress and burnout. That said, there remains a sense that the marketing function should always be the happy place, abuzz with energy, ideas and optimism.

But, what happens when a marketer isn’t quite in the right mood, is having a bad day, bad week, or is suffering from a deeper wellbeing issue? Are there unfair expectations and added pressures?

Now based in Australia, Lucy is a marketing manager who describes herself as a positive person with an analytical mind. She explains the role can bring extra responsibilities that at times weigh a little heavy, particularly when it comes to having to cheerlead for a company that may be stuttering through a tough time.

“I’m probably perceived to be quite an upbeat person, quite bubbly,” she says. “In places where I’ve worked, marketing is often seen as the solution to problems that are beyond marketing. You have to constantly go in and want to help achieve their objectives. You’re seen as someone who has to fix things, but also to take them on a journey.”

Of course, situations like that are also a reason why so many people join the industry. That level of involvement and being at the centre of an organisation can be a hugely attractive proposition for any ambitious marketer.

There has to be a support network in place, however. Marketers have to know the rest of the company has their back, something that hasn’t always been apparent for many within in the industry under lockdown.

You shouldn’t be within your own silent space all the time, but equally you can get overwhelmed with all this technology.

Visha Naul, Pinterest

London-based Mary-Anne is another senior marketer who has experienced wellbeing difficulties, particularly over the past 18 months.

“I don’t think I’m unique in having problems. I consider myself incredibly resilient, but last year was difficult, really difficult,” she says.

“I do wonder if the prevalence in mental health difficulty is maybe in the industry, because generally creative people need other people around to bounce ideas off. I’ve definitely felt that, it’s one of the things I’ve struggled with over the past year.”

The problems of creative brainstorming over Zoom and Teams have been well-documented. Attempts to substitute the joys of lively, stimulating conversation, with all of its nuances, often fall frustratingly foul of tech limitations. As a result, many have felt a sense of disconnect, a damaging state of affairs for both individuals and organisations.

It’s something that a brand like Pinterest, one that prides itself on having an inspirational appeal, is very conscious of. Supporting employees and keeping them engaged has been the focus for initiatives like wellbeing apps, online yoga classes and ‘Pintentions’, company-wide shutdowns that give staff some extra ‘me-time’.

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Pinterest director of business marketing Visha Naul says a balance needs to be found and warns against over-connecting.

“You shouldn’t be within your own silent space all the time, but equally you can get overwhelmed with all this technology. You have to build this network of people that you want to go to for advice,” she advises.

Support can come externally from fellow marketers, as much as from within an organisation. Perhaps even more so.

“A lot of marketers and agency people have been opening conversations with ‘It’s hard right now, isn’t it? What are you doing?’” Naul adds.

“That sharing, that sense that you’re not on your own, is really important. When you’re not in the office, interacting and getting a sense of what other teams are up to, where they are with a campaign or whatever, you can be in your own head.”

Opening a dialogue

At travel company TUI, group brand and content director Toby Horry has had to deal with the strains of cancellations, refunding vast quantities of money and personally helping with the repatriation of hundreds of stranded holidaymakers.

Thinking about the past year, he agrees with Naul’s point about establishing an external network.

“I find in my job that I spend a lot of time with a lot of different people,” he says. “The danger is that everything becomes extremely task-focused.”

With little opportunity for socialising, or even quick chats at industry events, any meeting tends to be all about the job and not so much about the person.

As Naul explains, that social aspect is a big part of the job and it’s something that we’ve all been missing.

“Being with people is one of the rewards of work,” she says. “It’s why we’re in this industry, to work with really creatively-minded people and you need to be in a culture where you can thrive off that. It’s about collaboration, but also about fun. We need to bring that back.”

Not everyone can be in a good mood all the time and not everyone can be happy all of the time. And now that’s seen as OK.

Toby Horry, TUI

At the time of writing, Australia remains under lockdown and the country could well be tightening, rather than loosening, its social restrictions. That’s meant Lucy has to continue working within a limited, virtual framework. With the help of her employer she’s adapted well to the circumstances, but not before overcoming various wellbeing challenges.

“It began to feel like you were living in your work and it was really difficult to switch off. I’d be working all hours of the evening, I’d be at the computer eating breakfast and then suddenly it’s time for bed,” she says. “I didn’t go out for four days, I felt under pressure to be performing.”

Naul, who’s been at Pinterest for a year and has yet to meet her team in person, sympathises with Lucy’s plight.

“There are so many changes that we’ve had to go through, so many transitions, calling off campaigns at the last minute, it encourages you to think more, to talk more,” she says. “We’ve really had to throw out the marketing playbook, all the training, and re-evaluate what people feel and think right now.”

Certainly, Horry believes now is the time for more open dialogue and understanding of issues around wellbeing, as well as the impact on marketers and creatives in general.

TUI has been working with Let’s Reset, an organisation that creates wellbeing and resilience programmes for businesses. This work has helped Horry establish the right conditions to start wider conversations with colleagues about their mental health.

“Where things have evolved now is that not everyone can be in a good mood all the time and not everyone can be happy all of the time. And now that’s seen as OK and having permission to have those conversations is a really positive thing,” he says.

“There is always that pressure for creative and senior people to set the mood, but it’s important that you can show yourself to be fallible. You can show yourself to have the same emotions that everyone has.”