A committee of industry leaders and mental health champions within agencies is now focused on developing the first phase of a mental health and wellbeing charter.
Since the project began, the group has reviewed existing charters and frameworks to understand what would be the most useful model for the PR and communications industry.
The committee has discussed major issues that can have an impact on the mental health and wellbeing of people in the industry, including their own experiences and observations as senior leaders of colleagues.
There is also work in progress looking at how best to engage with the wider industry to ensure a good cross section of representation from people of all backgrounds, seniority and types of organisation.
The aim of the project, which is being co-ordinated by Head Office and supported by the PRCA, CIPR and PRWeek, is to create a charter "by the industry, for the industry" to help PR professionals thrive – not just survive – at work.
In a later phase of the project, the aim will be to galvanise long-term, meaningful change by setting a standard that holds organisations accountable for their actions on mental health and provides individuals with best practice guidelines.
The project is now focused on these next steps:
Creating the first phase/version of the charter, which will culminate in best practice guidelines and commitments that provide an understanding of what should be in place to answer some of the most fundamental needs of the industry when it comes to supporting mental health and wellbeing. This aims to give organisations guidance and direction to address what should be in place as a starting point and we're currently considering commitments across three areas; organisational culture, industry culture and supporting individuals.
Ensure the charter is practical and about sharing best practice.
Reach out to the wider industry in due course to help better understand their experiences.
Continue to ensure this sits alongside other industry initiatives and activity relating to mental health and wellbeing.
Amy McKeown, a mental health and wellbeing consultant who is helping to lead and shape the project, told PRWeek: “It’s very exciting to be involved in a project to create a unique and bespoke mental health and wellbeing charter tailored to the nuances and pressures of working in PR.
“It's great (and rare) to see a whole industry come together to challenge itself as to where it is around mental health, hold itself accountable and discuss what behaviours need to be changed. The last few months have seen a lot of progress, with senior leaders from across the industry working hard to agree what the charter could look like, how it could be structured and what commitments it should contain.
“We are at a very exciting stage where we will be talking to a variety of diverse employee groups to ensure that the charter impacts the things that affects their mental health to create something that we hope will make PR a more mentally healthy place to work.”
What committee members think
PRWeek approached industry leaders who have either been part of the PR Mental Health and Wellbeing committee or closely followed the progress of the charter to share their views on the project.
Edelman’s head of connections strategy, Howard Gregory, told PRWeek he would like to see the charter stretch agencies and drive genuine change.
He said that while it should not be an onerous process, he would like to “ensure the charter group lives and is additive to progress as well as being a standard so that the charter drives cultural as well as logistical progress.
“It would be great to dial up the normalisation of open dialogue as part of the charter and the change it drives. I think charter members should aspire to having businesses where whatever issues are at play, the discussion of mental health is an accepted normal part of the day. We’re not there as a society, and therefore that will inevitably be mirrored in businesses right now,” he added.
Another area Gregory would like to see challenged is “getting to a point where members of the charter are emboldened to own industry change".
“It would be very cool if our work here drives change around industry-accepted behaviours that I think we all realise are disrespectful of people doing their best, and incompatible with maintaining positive mental health. Some agencies are really comfortable with this kind of change already; but industry change comes through consistency,” he added.
Sustainable, not a ‘tick-box’ exercise
Rachel Royall, founder and managing director of Blue Lozenge and chair of the CIPR Health committee, said the charter has to be sustainable – not "tick-boxy" – and charter members should be part of the wider industry movement to tackle mental health, including the industry's Heard Mentality campaign.
She added: “I want to see the charter drive genuine investment from organisations into the wellbeing of their teams. So the outcome for me would be for the charter to make the case for investment in mental health and wellbeing so we can start to see the organisations that have the mental health chart outperforming the ones that don't. It would make a more profitable, more diverse and more inclusive profession.”
Blurred co-founder and chief executive Nik Govier – whose consultancy was named Mental Health Champion at PRWeek’s Best Places to Work awards this year – said the project was “really coming together” and that she would like to ensure it remains aspirational and challenging for agencies to receive charter accreditation.
“What's really crucial is getting that balance between it being hard enough that it means something, but also attainable enough that enough people do it,” she said. “It then becomes a charter when you can question why an agency isn’t doing it and it raises the standards across the industry.
“This needs to be something for people who genuinely are trying to rewrite some of the rules that have been in place in this industry for generations, which have just ended up creating a hotbed of stress.”
Govier and Royall said it was also important the charter explores best practices for in-house professionals and the various relationships between the PR and comms ecosystem, including interactions between agencies, clients, suppliers and other stakeholders.
Although much of the initial focus has been on addressing the mental health of staff in agencies, the project aims to explore the broader industry as it develops.
Listen to: PRWeek's podcast that explored how agencies were managing mental health during COVID.