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  • Corporate Gaslighting

I'm The Captain Now ...

I joined a company with the ambition of doing something different within advertising. The person who was leading the hiring seemed to say everything I wanted to hear and equally shared an ambition to change the market place (all in due time of course). As we chimed our glasses at our final meeting and was made a formal offer which I accepted, I was excited about what lay ahead. Fast forward two months later and warning signs started to appear. A day hadn't gone by where I was not pulled into his office to be told that the entire team was not good enough to match the ambition of me, the creative. At first I thought these where just throw away comments as he seemed to be a character who liked to cause a bit of a storm but then quickly laugh off. However, as time went on I could see he was serious. I was still getting to know the new team I had inherited but fundamentally these where good people just wanting to do good work. It was (and always has been) my strong belief that firing an entire team would not in no shape of form create the catalyst of bringing in the right talent. What was this "right talent" anyway? Why was, in his mind, the team not good enough since I joined? Why was I constantly pulled into his office to discuss like some secret operative that would be carried out? Theses where big questions with no direct answers. Then our time to shine came. A large pitch opportunity came into the building. The team was put into a place and we pressed ahead. Ignited with the prospect of working on something that could define us as a Creative practice. Again, like clockwork, I was pulled into his office to be told (not consulted) that a freelance team would be working on the project. A option that I have in the past taken if and when the time was right, but yet again, it seemed to be organised within the shadows of the building.  My full-time team nailed a potential path and whilst the work from the freelances was solid, it was agreed from the wider team that the creative approach for pitch would be the route the full-time guys had worked up. With time (as always) now against us, we worked day and night to craft our pitch into place. Then before we knew it, it was pitch day. The presentation was slick, from beginning to end and only a few days later we where told that we had won the account. The morning after the day we had been awarded the business, I was asked to pop into his office once again. Surely any narrative around the team, its ability to deliver or anything else that seemed to annoy him must have been put to bed. Unfortunately this wasn't the case. In fact he did not want to see one member of the in house team to be on the account. That he would "loose his shit" if anyone now touched the account. What was worse was to follow. He didn't even have the balls to say this to the team himself and though I initially refused to pull anyone from the account, I was made to pull my creative team and hire freelances. Ironically, the freelances couldn't crack what I felt was "good enough work" and after two weeks, finished up their freelance stint and thanked them for their work. I then went back to my team and had them relook at what they had produced. It was this work we presented to the client which was loved and shortly afterwards we went into production. This was only the start of what I consider poor management. There was still a steady flow of meetings in his office where he then informed me he was the Executive Creative Director (he was now the Captain) as he had a good eye. His critic and involvement in other areas of the business was now taking a massive toll. I had to start hiding work and telling my Accounts team to not report into him as he would take projects off brief, take credit for having no involvement and then berate me for reasons unknown. All of this took its tool and in October I finally had what I thought would never happen to me, a mental breakdown. A dark cloud of depression was constantly hanging over me. Coming home and crying uncontrollably. Having to return into the office and remain positive. Trying to still drive the creative practice forward and yet at the same time not knowing who or how I could ask for help. My wife was my only saving grace in this time. She also knows the industry well and have both worked with challenging clients, despaired at the bleakness I was facing. I felt that I can no longer do what I loved nor did I trust the industry I had invested so much time into. I cannot say in any way that I am perfect, though who is. However, I do feel I have always treated people with respect and understanding. To get to know the individual who plays a part in mine or any team. In this instance I felt all of that was stripped away and whilst worked tirelessly to defend fellow colleagues that I'm sure I could have done a better job of doing, my own mental health took a major knock. I honestly think that I was lucky. I have an incredibly supportive wife who helped during the worst of it and later on gave me the mental space to take a step away from the industry. It was during this time which allowed me to reset and speak to other friends and colleagues within the industry. To find that I, like so many others, have been affected by poor management that has left us rudderless in choppy waters. But also by opening up (granted, easier said than done) I found further solace in talking through shared experiences. It is amazing how we often feel we are alone in these moments but actually so many of us are battling against a similar foe, all relative to their own life. I now look to use my own experience as a learning, to ensure that I never miss manage anyone to that extent now or in the future.