With May being Mental Health Month, we are doing a series of Q&As with industry professionals who are taking action around this issue for the industry. As we know, the PR is facing a mental health crisis. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the latest figures from the Public Relations and Communications Association and research company Opinium showed that a shocking 89% of practitioners have struggled with mental wellbeing.

In this Q&A, we speak to Jo-ann Robertson, partner & CEO of Ketchum London, who has been active in addressing this issue. She has more than 15 years experience working at strategic communications agencies and prior to this worked as a journalist and in politics. 

Q&As in this series: Leslie Campisi | Jo-Ann Robertson | Barbara Bates | Leslie Garcia

Aarti Shah: Working in PR in nearly always on the most stressful jobs lists. What are some unexpected ways that PR can be stressful?

Jo-ann Robertson: The media never sleeps, there can be an expectation to socialize after work, and clients are demanding. This can result in a 24/7 mentality. PR will never be a 9 to 5 job, and so ensuring people are supported and empowered to work flexibly is critical. 

AaS: I’ve seen PR agencies take mental health more seriously than ever. Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has created new stressors, has it also helped relieve some others?

JR: I think the fact people don't need to commute means there is more time for self-care such as exercise, meditation, reading or just sitting quietly with a nice cup of tea. Not commuting has also meant for me as a working mum that I get to spend more time with my kids and husband, which has been such a joy (although obviously can be stressful in its own ways at times!). At Ketchum, we’ve been offering virtual wellbeing sessions to employees to encourage them to prioritize self-care during the workday, which isn’t so easy to do when in an office environment. 

AaS: What should the PR industry change to better address mental health?

The demands in our industry aren't going anywhere, so we need to give everyone personalized support to manage the integration of work and life. Where people feel supported and trusted they are better able to flex their time and style depending on their priorities. Having a culture which allows people to talk openly and confidently about the pressure they are under and their mental health, as well as having no fear in asking for help, is absolutely critical. 

AaS: What differences do you notice in how different genders, generations or other groups approach and handle mental health issues?

JR: Mental health was stigmatized for a very long time and talking about it was seen as a weakness. It has been incredible over the past few years to see this move forward and for the younger generations to be more empowered to talk openly and confidently about their mental health- this has improved the workplace for all generations. At Ketchum, we’ve trained colleagues at all levels, ages and genders on mental health to ensure this becomes embedded in our culture. 

AaS: At PRovoke19, a major theme was ‘bringing your authentic self to work.’ What does this look like? And what are the reasons/risks that hold people back? 

JR: If you have to change who you are as you walk in to your place of work you are never going to perform at your best. Finding somewhere where you can truly be yourself, maximize your strengths and be honest about what you are working on is where you will truly thrive. Over the years there has been stereotypes of what is expected in the workplace and from a leader and this has led to many people faking it. Cultivating a safe work environment where people feel happy to express who they are means that every idea gets raised, explored and scrutinized through many lenses. In my experience when colleagues are truly able to be themselves in this type of workplace, they produce some of the best work of their lives.

Q&As in this series: Leslie Campisi Jo-Ann Robertson | Barbara Bates