Adland's relationship with drugs is a long and chequered one.
Practically everyone, whether they've indulged or not, has tales to tell
about drugs, and famous stories of the hedonistic boomtime 80s are still
raising eyebrows 20 years on.
But the fact remains that more and more people appear to be turning to
illegal substances to help them cope with the pressures of work.
That people in advertising are stressed is no news - the industry
thrives upon uncertainty, competition and deadlines.
But new research from the stress councillor Deirdre Edwards -showing
that eight out of ten senior executives in agencies and production
companies are suffering from increased levels of stress - suggests that
this year's menu of redundancies, billings reductions and account
reviews is hitting home hard.
And after previously claiming that action on stress was not something
its members were clamouring for, the IPA has plans for a code of
practice to help agencies tackle the issue before the symptoms become
Edwards, who sees clients from both the advertising and marketing
industries, claims that employees are being "screwed" by their bosses to
produce results, rather than being motivated and encouraged to perform
in more positive ways. She says she was spurred on to conduct the
research following an increase of people coming to see her with problems
involving panic attacks, low self-esteem, eating and drinking problems
and, surprise surprise, drug use.
In the minds of most, there's a fair amount of distance between the
occasional recreational indulgence in drugs and frequent, problematic
use, including drug taking in the workplace. Agency bosses have casually
confessed to Campaign in the past that they prefer staff using drugs to
heavy drinking, as workers' symptoms appear to be less debilitating the
However, the mere fact that most interviewed for this feature preferred
to remain anonymous is a stiff reminder that taking most drugs is
Despite an increasingly tolerant society appearing to condone a growing
number of illegal substances, no-one in advertising wants to broadcast
anything other than a hardline attitude.
Most senior agency executives are well aware of the kind of stress
people are under. "It's always been an intense business," one chief
executive says. "We have to allow people to relax and let off steam.
Whether that's at the agency bar, in town or wherever, we have to accept
that some people will use drugs to do so."
What is universal is the fact that very few agencies seem to have a
fixed policy on drug use among employees. "It's basically a
fence-sitting acceptance that adland takes drugs," another senior agency
boss says. "For some places, adopting a zero-tolerance stance on
recreational use means losing half the staff."
Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy's chief executive, Jeremy Miles, claims
the small size of the agency helps senior management "keep an eye" on
staff at work, but admits that what goes on outside the office is
difficult to measure. "We're interested in looking after them at work.
We try to encourage a healthy attitude, to balancing work and private
life, and it's important that people learn to differentiate," he
With the lack of a consistent industry line, agencies display remarkably
different attitudes when it comes to staff taking drugs at work. "For
most, it's a given that it's not acceptable, but when timing's tight on
a pitch and everyone's working hard, it's not unusual for people to take
something either to get them going or get them to sleep when it's all
over," another senior executive admits.
Most agencies are keen to stress their caring sides, claiming that help
will be the first thing offered to a known drug-taker whose work is
suffering from their habit, rather than their P45. "A case will be
looked at individually. We prefer not to have a blanket policy," one
managing director says.
It's a different story, though, if you're looking for a job, with even a
minor conviction for possession: "There's no way we'd hire anyone - no
matter what their track record or how good they were - if they had a
record for drug use," another managing director says.
The IPA's president, Bruce Haines, argues that - aside from the
illegality of it - agencies must put the needs of other staff first when
dealing with drug use. "Agencies have a responsibility towards making
sure that all their staff are happy," he says. "And many won't be if
they are working alongside colleagues who are regularly taking
The chief executive of Nabs, Kate Harris, was shocked when she started
working for the charity - but not for the reasons you might expect.
"I've worked in advertising, I know what goes on, and I can't believe
how few calls we get about drugs," she says.
Harris puts this down to the increasing youth of the industry: "For
youngsters, taking drugs doesn't seem like a problem, but it is when it
becomes a 'normal' part of the working day."