Industry Bodies Call on Advertising and Marketing Leaders to Protect Employees’ Mental Wellbeing and Creativity

A coalition of industry bodies including Crown Commercial Service, NABS, the IPA, the Alliance of Independent Agencies, the Advertising Association, ISBA, and Social & Local CIC are calling on the industry to pledge commitment to mental wellbeing and creativity by signing up to the Brilliant Creative Minds Code of Conduct.

The Brilliant Creative Minds Code of Conduct has been launched to stamp out behaviors that impact employee wellbeing and diminish creativity in the advertising and communications industry.

The Code was developed by the industry coalition through a robust process of intelligence gathering. This included in-depth interviews with senior leaders across the client, agency, and procurement worlds including Government Communications Service; Stephanie Parry, Marketing and Procurement Lead at Crown Commercial Service; Tom Knox, Executive Partner at MullenLowe Group; Adam Skinner, COO at OmniGOV Manning Gottlieb OMD; and, Jane Asscher, CEO at 23Red.

The aim of the new Code is to protect creativity by eradicating practices in procurement, commissioning and agency cultures that compromise mental health and wellbeing, for example, long hours culture and fear of job loss in agencies; excessive tender requirements and procurement processes; and unrealistic client timescales and demands.

The Brilliant Creative Minds partners are now calling on agencies, clients, and procurement professionals to sign up to the Code and commit to embedding its principles into their workplace cultures.

Stephanie Drakes, Managing Partner of Social & Local, the agency which initiated, funds, and manages Brilliant Creative Minds said:


Poor mental wellbeing is the enemy of creativity in our industry and our goal is to eradicate practices that cause unnecessary and dangerous levels of stress in agency environments. To meet our aim, Brilliant Creative Minds uniquely brings together three interdependent parts of the industry to work as one: client, agency, and procurement.

We’d like the industry to sign up to it and commit to embedding its principles within organizations to create an industry where negative workplace stress is reduced, talent is retained and the UK protects its pole position in the world for creativity as clients, once again, get the best out of their agencies.

Nicky Harris, Director of Strategy and Development at NABS said:

Mental health and wellbeing have never been more critical than they are now. As an industry, our people are our greatest asset and if we fail to look after them, they will fail to thrive. The Brilliant Creative Minds Code of Conduct captures eight high-level principles. These actively promote and support creativity in a healthy and positive way, right across the industry. If these can be embedded in our collective industry culture, then we can protect the very thing that drives us forward – employee wellbeing and creativity.

Jane Asscher, CEO of 23Red and part of the BCM Pioneering group said:

As an industry we make our living from communicating and we need to turn that expertise inwards and collaborate on mental health and wellbeing. Brilliant Creative Minds recognizes that the triumvirate of client, agency, and procurement holds the power to implement change and allow creativity to thrive. We’ve listened to the issues holding our people back and stifling their output; this new code of conduct will help protect our talent and their world-class ideas

Sign up to the Brilliant Creative Minds Code of Conduct here.


A Few Stories From Our Brilliant Creative Mind Contributors

We were pitching to a well-known Company in the North of England. There was a lot of pressure to get there on time. The train was cancelled and because of that we were an hour late. The client went completely ballistic and suggested we should have come up night before. He then preceded to make us wait until the end of the day in the lobby before allowing us to make our pitch. The team felt stressed all day and terribly upset and bullied. The whole episode had a major mental negative impact on the creative team. I still go cold thinking about this.

I realized a few years ago that myself and many of my colleagues habitually suffered from low-level stress and that this was somehow the norm. Sometimes this was and is a good thing, and sometimes it tips over into something unhealthy – with symptoms including insomnia, irrational anger, an inability to focus, and self-medication, generally with alcohol. As I’ve got older I’ve learned how to understand the signs, and how to manage them. Most of this has been self-taught. If I could have talked about it more openly in the early part of my career I think that would have helped not just me, but those around me.

It’s unacceptable that in 2020, the price to pay for working in our industry is often long-term damage to people’s mental health. Frequently, procurement processes that are designed to ensure fairness and appropriate use of public funds have (mostly unintentional) negative consequences; consequences that make them unethical in practice and cause enormous stress.

Unreasonably short deadlines, constantly shifting timelines, and ‘sham’ pitches where agencies are invited to bid to ‘make up the numbers’ are just three examples of unethical practices that are very common and devastating to morale – especially in small & micro agencies. We accept that we’ll win some & we’ll lose some, but the playing field is too frequently built on a steep slope – with a cliff at the bottom! Playing on that kind of pitch for any length of time is bound to affect mental well-being so I welcome Brilliant Creative Minds & hope it will lead to real & lasting change.

Pitching is always an intense experience but I often believe that clients who have never been part of the delivery are ignorant of the sheer scale of work involved. Late nights, weekends in the office and multiple departments and levels of resources involved become stressful. If a client could allow two weeks for a written response followed by 3 weeks for the pitch presentation we would all be able to keep work to working hours. The pitch presentation is often a significant evolution of the initial response and allowing 3 working days (which has recently happened). It’s crazy.

Similarly, the senior team within agencies can add to the stress – there have been instances when I have worked on non-working days (both during the week as I’m part-time and weekends) when I have been expected to work for free – no payment or time off in lieu. This is both unfair and unethical and is stress-inducing in itself and damages goodwill.


Brilliant Creative Minds aims to stamp out behaviors that impact employee wellbeing and diminish creativity in the communications industry. By bringing together senior leaders from the client, agency, and procurement worlds the goal is a new Code of Conduct that eradicates practices that compromise mental health and wellbeing. The ambition is a diverse industry where people can freely develop their creative capability in an enriching work environment.

To help inform the development of the Code, Brilliant Creative Minds is looking for stories of good and bad practices from across the industry. Please visit Brilliant Creative Minds to share your views.

About The Brilliant Creative Minds Code of Conduct

  • The Brilliant Creative Minds Code of Conduct aims to promote creativity by protecting employee mental health and wellbeing in the advertising and communications industry.
  • The Code of Conduct was developed by a coalition of industry bodies including Crown Commercial Service, NABS, the IPA, Social & Local CIC, the Alliance of Independent Agencies, ISBA, and the Advertising Association, with input from industry pioneers – senior leaders from the client, agency, and procurement worlds.
  • No one player has full control. But together they can protect employee wellbeing and promote precious creative ability.
  • Sign up to the Brilliant Creative Minds Code of Conduct here.