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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Stockholm Syndrome at Ad Agencies?

Recently, someone whom I know casually wrote to me and asked me to draft a post on the presence of Stockholm Syndrome at Advertising Agencies. I wanted to dismiss the idea as absurd but I sent out a few feelers and was more than a bit surprised at the reactions that I received.

To recap for those who have not heard the term in a while, Stockholm Syndrome is generally defined as “a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with their captors.”

Reviewing the working definition, I again thought that the concept was ridiculous when applied to ad shops. After all, employees at ad agencies are not captives. People can quit, move to another agency, another state, or leave the industry. My mail, however, said otherwise.

Here are a few comments from people whom I value and trust:

“The problem definitely exists and I am certain that it is present in a number of American  businesses. In recent years, I have seem a number of people who are overworked and underpaid defend their superior even when their treatment has been rough or belittling. Today, more people seem to be happy to remain employed and put up with a lot of grief and actually defend the supervisor or executive who treats them badly.”

“Don, the Great Recession was frightening and many of us are scarred by it. When we saw some shops closing and friends getting fired left and right, it was a severe blow. You know how I was always in the CEO’s face lobbying for more money? In 2008-2009, I kept my head down and worked like crazy. When some of the staff would go out for beers, I got annoyed when they attacked our chief. I made some comments to defend him and then stopped going. There was no raise for five years although he did give small bonuses to us starting in 2011. We were thrilled! Now, I ask for a raise each year but I am far more low key than before. The boss is a sarcastic bastard and sometimes is mean. Yet I defend him sometimes and so do others on the team.”

“We have several people on board who seem to have the scent of Stockholm Syndrome. They are treated I think very unfairly but they never mention the thought of leaving. It disturbs me. They are not stars but are very serviceable employees. I think that they are being exploited. The way she speaks to them is really shabby.”

“Some of my peers are indeed captives. They work in a city where there is no where else to go. We almost went under during the big downturn and our recovery has been slow. One guy will have a hard time selling his house and the other is afraid to move from his hometown. I will be gone in a few months if my plans gel. Honestly, I did not see this issue clearly until I made the decision to leave. I was defending my jerk of a boss to my wife for a couple of years. No more.”

“Stockholm Syndrome! Give me a break! The weak economy and the rapid shift to digital has hurt a lot of us at small and mid-sized shops but there have always been people who put up with a lot just to keep their jobs. My son was reading Dickens for school and we discussed the character Uriah Heep  in David Copperfield who always said how humble he was. He was just a yes man and so are the people who some say have Stockholm Syndrome. These people are afraid and know that they have not kept up with the changes and neither has their agency. Many are not that young. The boss is nervous too and takes it out on defenseless staffers who cannot and will not fight back verbally.”

“I think Stockholm Syndrome is an exaggeration. BUT, as things improve I think some executives are taking advantage of people’s fears. My CEO and CFO were talking the other day and I overheard them laughing saying that, “The poor fool hasn’t asked for a raise in 8 years.” I was not meant to hear the comment but I was deeply disturbed.”

What do you think? Is this phenomenon true everywhere or is it more prevalent in 2015 advertising agencies.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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