PR bosses: you're failing grieving staff

The moment a mass-shooting happens in the US, the Republicans and National Rifle Association flood the Democrats with this line: "It is not the time to talk about reform, it's a time to grieve."

And so a battle commences. When is the right time to talk about tragedy? How dare the Democrats aim to gain political points when blood is still being mopped up? Quite frankly, I can't think of a better time to talk about guns.

So when this weekend's horrendous news about Caroline Flack broke, I was slack-jawed at the online commentary.

Love Island returns after death of Caroline Flack with Samaritans ident

For every person sharing the "be kind" post, there was another – and let's give them their rightful name – gobshite, giving a lengthy diatribe on how it was all the fault of the media, or the CPS, or the Twitterverse. Within an hour, there was a race to the bottom in who can point the angriest finger at the biggest target.

Internet tittle-tattle being conflated with fact is the stuff of nightmares. The pack mentality of being the loudest voice, rather than the most appropriate, took over.

Even writing this, I feel like I am simply jumping on the bandwagon.

So – if you'll excuse the crass segue to our industry – here are my 'agency creds' on this matter.

Two years ago this week my brother, Matthew, took his own life. He was 35. His life was a confusing mish-mash of mental-health problems that were exacerbated by the growing pains we go through at various stages of our life.

The day I got the call I was freelancing in a job and, as my brain tried to play catch-up with the reality of it all, I found myself panicking over pay cheques. Could I afford to be off work to grieve this?

I'm in my 30s, have a decent professional standing, am earning alright money, but… how much could I set against being out of work? And if I take time off, in effect getting off the carousel, will I ever get back on it?

I left that freelance gig immediately, took a week off, then started work in a full-time role that was so incredibly wrong for me, if I looked up at the sky the clouds would spell out: "WTF are you doing, Adams?"

I explained to my new boss that if I casually burst into tears/flames, it was because I was picturing my dead brother sat in a car with a bag over his head. I was told that it may be easier for me to work in a private meeting room and try not to upset the team, as they'd not had "consistent leadership for a while". Instead of walking out, I nodded: "Of course, don't worry, I'll be fine." And I pretended I was.

Four months into the role, I had a full out-of-body paralysis breakdown. I ran to my designated meeting room, clutching my chest, assuming I would be found, by the cleaner, slumped lifelessly in a chair.

I went to the big boss, who said to take the afternoon off; but could he get that briefing note before I go… and if I could dial in for the group call at 5pm, it would be appreciated. Like a mug, I did both those things.

The next morning, my legs wouldn't move. I felt hobbled. My husband, whose wrath for my boss was at fever pitch, rolled me down the hill to the doctor's, where I was signed off indefinitely.

You know the worst bit about all this happening? Having to call your boss and explain.

If your house is on fire, you call someone to put it out. When your brain is ablaze, it's you that has to put it out, clear up the mess and still make sure that Sunday for Monday sell-in lands. (New biz idea: cakes delivered to bosses with 'Soz, I'm mental and will be off for a bit' piped in pink icing on top.)

Where am I going with all of this?

Our job is bizarre. We are expected to not only present infallible ideas to clients, but also be these perfect specimens who can control our minds as much as a media narrative. And, regardless of what life chucks at us, to ensure that we are always on our A-game.

If you're thinking I am angry about this: you're bloody right I am.

So what can we do? Frankly, we need to stop being dicks. We need to watch out for each other. To listen – and I mean really listen. We need to say 'no' more than ever – not just for ourselves, but on behalf of others.

PRs: for the love of coverage, be kind to each other. Please.

Rowan Adams is director of communications at 72Point

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