Preference Choice Publication

the7stars on a compassionate and thoughtful approach to mental health

Mobile Marketing - Member Content

Mobile-first advertising company TabMo works with some of the world's biggest brands to help them engage their audiences across mobile devices. Its DSP, Hawk, automates the process of buying mobile inventory and provides access to mobile data sources, geo-targeting technology and advanced mobile tracking solutions. TabMo provides creative support to ensure brands are communicating with their customers as effectively as possible. Through Hawk, advertisers can also activate digital out of home, connected TV and audio campaigns to further enhance their mobile advertising activity.

As part of our Mobile Spotlight series, here, and to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week which is currently taking place, here we talk to Amesh Ahir, audio visual account manager and Patricia Qadir, account manager, at the7stars, an agency that has been instrumental in bringing mental health issues to the foreground in the advertising sector. Always important, this topic feels more relevant than ever as the world grapples with the effects of a global pandemic.

Most people will be familiar with the7stars, but can you give us a bit of background about the agency and how it has evolved, along with your role there?

Amesh Ahir: Established in 2005, we have become the largest independent UK media agency in the UK, winning both Campaign and Media Week’s Agency of the Year three times in the last five years, as well as being recognised by the FT as one of the 1,000 fastest growing companies in Europe. We now have 218 employees, with a 56 per cent female, 44 per cent male split and a BAME percentage of 19 per cent.

Since joining the TV team as a graduate in 2015, I have become an account manager across a variety of different clients.

As well as client work, along with Patricia, I am heavily involved with the health and wellbeing team – aka ‘Boost’ – and in the last year, we have both been very vocal on challenging traditional perceptions about mental health. We’ve both told our personal stories on how we have been affected, and an objective for the team is to make mental health one of the agency’s pillars.

What are the key factors that contribute to the agency’s award success?

Patricia Qadir: The mental health issue has gained significant traction over the past few years, moving from being a taboo topic to something that is acknowledged as a widespread problem. Tackling it requires open and honest discussion and proactive campaigning. As an agency, we take this responsibility very seriously; it is critical that everyone who works here feels supported. Winning the awards is a by-product of this focus.

Ultimately it’s about staff wellbeing, and creating a supportive environment in which people are encouraged to be open if they are struggling mentally. I have personal experience of how important this is; a few years ago my own mental health struggles started to impact negatively on my work, and led to me taking time off for depression. the7stars was 100 per cent supportive, allowing me the time off I needed to recover; I feel proud and privileged to work here.

Having experienced the benefits of working for a company where mental and physical health get equal billing, I also wanted to smooth the path for other people who might be feeling overwhelmed. Working with Amesh, we have helped to set up various mental health initiatives, all with the underlying support of the agency, thanks to its ethos that if a team member wants to create something that will benefit other people, there are no barriers to making it happen. This means initiatives become more purposeful, personal, and rooted in real need.

Looking after everyone’s mental health is obviously a core part of the culture at the7stars. What are the practical steps the agency has taken to put it so firmly on the agenda?

PQ: The most powerful aspect of our campaign has been helping everyone in the office to understand the benefits of positive mental health – breaking down the stigma that still surrounds it due to decades of negative stories has been really important. We celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week each year, and various members of the internal team are inspirational on the topic.

This is supplemented with external speakers, including Simon Gunning, the CEO of charity CALM; Claire Sanderson, the editor of Women’s Health; Abby Carvosso, the managing director of Bauer Media, which actively promotes better mental health; and ex-professional rugby player, Kearnan Myall, who has been candid about his own struggles.

Additionally, Boost created Safe Space, a group that catches up off site every few months for non-judgemental chats about life in general – the pressures, the good, the bad and everything else!

For daily support, we’ve recently introduced the Calm Space, a tech-free room in the agency, where employees can come for a break and get some breathing space or practice mindfulness.

We also have a Mental Health First Aiders scheme; people that, having undergone the training programme, are equipped to offer initial support to members of staff that are struggling, whether in the early stages of mental health issues, or with problems that have developed to a crisis level. We currently have eight mental health first aiders, with an additional eight employees (including our CEO, Jenny), in training.

This is supplemented with initiatives including daily fresh fruit deliveries and a monthly option for employees to bring their dog to the office; treating people as people demonstrates the agency’s commitment to the human element of the workplace.

AA: Employees have access to many external platforms aimed at enhancing their own mental health and wellbeing. Vitality (our main healthcare provider) helps both physically and mentally; it offers discount on meditation apps such as Headspace, as well as its Big White Wall – a confidential platform that is monitored 24 hours a day by trained professionals that provides access to articles and (privately) connects people experiencing similar mental issues.

Westfield Health gives us all access to a 24-hour employee assistance advice line, with trained counsellors that offer confidential guidance on anything from stress, debt, bereavement, anxiety and depression. There is also an option to have face-to-face counselling sessions or CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). And we have free gym memberships with a choice of five different gyms, as well as a monthly drop-in clinic with a financial advisor.

Why are these wellbeing and mental health initiatives so important, particularly in today’s day and age?

AA: Mental health has been a problem for years, but today’s ‘always-on’ digital age, and the pressure of social media have exacerbated it. Our Boost team encourages people to treat their mental and physical health with equal importance, and take up as many of the initiatives outlined above as they need.

This is critical at any time of course, but as the Coronavirus forces us all into lockdown, and potentially isolation, we already have an infrastructure that supports everyone’s mental health needs, and a default ethos that lets employees know it’s ‘okay not to be okay’. That has been hugely helpful during these difficult times.

In addition, as employees face the potentially daunting task of working from home on their own, we have added initiatives such as the daily email, with content including home workouts, video links to Yoga Nidra relaxation sessions, and introductions to people’s pets!

As the conversation around mental health becomes more persistent, what advice would you offer agencies on going down this route?

AA: We found the most powerful tool to be sharing experiences – people opening up about their stories, struggles, and being vulnerable (irrespective of their seniority).

Mental health continually evolves, so it’s important to trial a few initiatives to see what works for the business in question. People’s trigger points can be unique, but the feelings that they experience are often uniform.

The key goal in any workplace should be to create a positive environment to encourage those suffering mentally to speak out and feel supported. Overall, we wanted to highlight that people are never alone and reinforce that with real, practical ways in which they could express themselves, epitomising the mantra that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. Support in any workplace is hugely beneficial to its employees, and providing a platform for people to open up and be honest about their struggles helps to break down boundaries and eliminate any source of hierarchy.

Ultimately that’s good for business – making staff wellbeing a core goal keeps everyone happy.

On the subject of being good for business, how does the focus on staff wellbeing feed in to the work that the7stars does for clients?

PQ: It goes without saying that our priority is staff wellbeing. However, in taking this focus, we also fulfil our responsibility to clients; happy, healthy people working an environment in which they feel secure and supported are more productive and creative. There’s also a cyclical element, as producing work that meets and exceeds a client’s brief is motivating for employees, which feeds back in to the wellbeing loop.

Employee wellbeing leads to a healthy working environment, and that translates into high quality work. When clients feedback that our teams feel like an extension of their own, and praise the positive and can-do attitude of employees we know we are getting it right – and that paying proper attention to mental health plays a key role in this. Ultimately that’s what advertising and media is all about: doing great work with clients and media owners.

Finally, on the topic of doing great work with clients, how does the partnership with TabMo help you achieve this?

PQ: Successful media campaigns are rooted in good communication and people skills (something that dovetails nicely into our mental health initiatives discussed above). Having worked with TabMo over several years, we have first hand evidence that it puts the best interests of each of our clients at the heart of everything it does.

TabMo combines all-important human skills with its sophisticated technology. Working with the team, we use its Hawk platform to activate bespoke strategies for our clients, unlocking the full potential of tailored campaigns and cross-channel advertising. This allows us to connect previously separate screens (mobile, audio and digital out-of-home, for example), and plan, activate and optimise across each of them in an efficient and co-ordinated way, enhancing the performance of a campaign with data insights gathered as it progresses.

The overall result is great work all round.

Amesh Ahir discusses mental health issues further in his new ‘All Chats’ podcast.