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Feeling the pressure?

Pressure affects us all differently. But one thing is certain... left unresolved, pressure will have a lasting negative effect on the culture of your agency


For some this word induces thoughts of stress and anxiety. For others it’s exciting, motivating or encouraging. But for most it likely brings up mixed emotions and feelings.

The relationship you have with pressure is as unique as your fingerprint. How you react to it is based on your own genetics and life experiences. But it’s not confined to the individual.

Pressure can be contagious moving person-to-person through speech or text, or even with a look or a stare. It may be implied or inferred and can travel through a business in no time affecting individuals, teams or whole agencies. With lasting effects on the culture and reputation of the organisation.

Think of the last time you got an email from your boss or a colleague and the tone felt immediate or stern. Did you feel the pressure or was it motivating?

If you’re anything like me, you have a love/hate relationship with pressure. The idea of a deadline challenges you to deliver but can also make you feel overwhelmed.

Pressure in creative agencies

Creative agencies are among the most affected by pressure due to unpredictable workload, peaks and troughs and team changes. There’s constant flux between too much and too little going on, making it a highly stressful working environment.

Paul Phillips, who runs training workshops for fox&cat on ‘managing pressure and building resilience’, says: “There’s a tipping point where good stress turns to bad stress and the pressure you’ve been able to successfully thrive on and embrace suddenly generates anxiety.  To some extent that tipping point depends on the environment and culture of the company you work in, but it also depends on how you process your thoughts, how you organise yourself and aspects of your lifestyle.”

Workplace pressure or stress is a growing concern1 but looms larger in the comms industry where, according to a CIPR survey, one fifth of employees experience mental health issues.2 Three quarters cited comms agencies as the most stressful sector and 20% take sick leave due to anxiety, depression or stress. It costs the UK economy around £5 billion per year1 and with the current landscape, this will only continue to rise.

The CIPR’s State of the Profession report found 23% of people take sick leave due to stress, anxiety and depression – something I can speak volumes into as I once fell into that category. Personally, I was one of the lucky ones because my previous employer understood mental health. Sadly, a quarter of people who raise concerns with their line manager said nothing happened.

Too much or too little: it’s all pressure

In creative agencies you work blooming hard! There’s often loads coming at you all at once and too many decisions to make by, err… yesterday. It’s easy to become overwhelmed or stressed. Your work may suffer and you’re probably less able to cope with life altogether.

On the other hand you might have very little (or no) pressure at times which can seem truly blissful. For a while it can be good – a bit of downtime, chance to do some admin, time for a holiday perhaps.

But if you don’t manage the troughs it can lead to uncertainty and boredom. Creatives and anyone who thrives in a demanding role will jump ship, numbers will fall and profits at your agency will slump leading to redundancies and job changes.

The best place to be is somewhere in the middle where you wake up each day feeling motivated, with a team who also feel that way. And your workload is pushing you forward at an achievable rate.

Problem: in comms agencies sticking to that middle ground for any great length of time isn’t realistic.

The answer? Read on…

How you can manage pressure in your agency

1. Firstly, recognise it’s possible!

2. Then think what’s causing pressure in your agency. We believe there are four main factors:

  • Inability to deliver the work you have (or to get work in the first place)
  • Lack of training that helps individuals, teams and agencies develop
  • Leadership that doesn’t address, understand or acknowledge pressure
  • A culture that isn’t ripe for change (we call it wellbeing)

If you can take time to consider your situation holistically and mindfully, you’ll be able to develop a long-term strategy that works.

Perhaps you’ve heard the fable of the fox and cat. When faced with many challenges (high pressure) the fox came to a gruesome end because he couldn’t decide what to do for the best. But the cat, with only one option, easily chose her solution.

3. Objectivity is key. So consider finding a partner who’s experienced, professional and understands pressure to help support and guide you.

4. Lastly, it takes a combination of people to create lasting change: HR, client service teams, line managers etc. So it’s good to get everyone on board.

The time for action is now

Mental health is an issue in comms agencies. Particularly in health comms where we aim to make a positive difference to other people’s wellbeing through the campaigns and client work we service. But to be effective, these agencies and their staff need to keep mentally and physically healthy too.

It takes courage to admit something’s wrong and commitment to overcome whatever challenges you face. But there’s plenty of support out there…

The CIPR and PRCA have information and brilliant services available for members. You can also find lots of information at Mental Health First Aid England or Mental Health at Work. And at fox&cat we’re only too happy to have a chat.

If you’re ever concerned about your mental health please do talk to someone. It’s time for action.

About fox&cat

Fox&cat helps creative agencies - starting in health comms - manage the pressures of agency life by providing client servicing & consultancy, training, leadership support and wellbeing. Find out more:


  1. Digiday Market Research. Cited: [Accessed April 2021]
  2. CIPR. State of the Profession Report, 2020. Cited: [Accessed April 2021]

6th April 2021



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