Advertising's alcohol dilemma: how not to be merry at Xmas

Advertising's alcohol dilemma: how not to be merry at Xmas

Matt Adams got a big response when he wrote about giving up alcohol. Now he returns to the subject as Christmas looms.

It has been 340 days since I stopped drinking.

A whole 340 days of what I thought would be a social and professional challenge through not propping up the bar with the team and clients, through not joining in at the joining and leaving drinks, and not spending the "quality" time with media partners that is so often the well-trodden path to a great relationship.

But, as we are now in December, when the corporate festive season really kicks in, I thought it was a good time to look back and assess the challenge and the opportunities (and there really have been opportunities) that having a dry year has brought since 1 January.

It’s a bigger issue in our industry than I ever imagined

Since I wrote an article for Campaign entitled "Advertising’s alcohol dilemma" in July, the response has been overwhelming.

I received hundreds of messages of support and thanks for raising an issue that, at the time of writing, I wasn’t even convinced was an issue.

With a rightful focus on mental-health support this year, it felt to me that the effect on health and work of turning to alcohol was overlooked and that feeling was proved right.

If you’re in a situation where you feel you must drink to be successful, prove people wrong – because it’s not true.

If you’re in a business that frowns on you for not wanting to drink, think about a new role.

If you’re worried about abstaining, my biggest learning is that the only real barrier is yourself.

Take the leap and back your own choice, not someone else’s.

Not drinking can be a superpower

I have been lucky enough to spend some time with Andy Ramage, founder of One Year No Beer, this year.

He describes not drinking as a superpower. He believes that removing alcohol from your life for a period of time is one of the most powerful business tools you can ever experience.

I was sceptical, but looking back at the success we have had this year, I can't dismiss the coincidence.

Take a look at what kind of drinker you are – heavy, light or moderate. Make sure you are happy with where you sit on that scale and if you are not, make a change.

So many times in a pressured and stressful industry, we overlook the need to put ourselves first, and that was one of my biggest learnings.

Give yourself a superpower and enjoy it.

No-one really cares

I was really worried about not drinking. I avoided situations and events that were typically alcohol-fuelled and I felt isolated.

Looking back, I – not others – had created that isolation. No-one actually cares if you drink or not, and if they do, don’t give them the time you once did.

There are great role models out there, from clients to media owners to agency leaders, who make their own choice – and guess what? They are successful; they haven’t failed.

Look at Rak Patel from Spotify as someone who leads a fantastic sales team and has chosen not to drink for years – and that’s working deep in a culture of music and gigs where alcohol is rife.

Find a space you can succeed in and enjoy being who you want to be, not doing what someone else wants you to do.

Remember – others do drink!

Not drinking isn’t good and drinking isn’t bad. Remain open to those around you and the choices that they want to take around alcohol. Look to support those who may need it and be sensitive to too many 8.30am Friday meetings.

Don’t enforce your choices on others, as they are personal to you. Build an environment that supports all choices and don’t forget that. Because you may have a spring in your step, others may not – and be sensitive to that.

Make it your choice

I learned the hard way. I didn’t look after myself and sacrificed too much personally for my career.

Make your choices your own, the ones that you want to make – and screw everything else.

The messages I received earlier in the year told me of stories of those who felt that they couldn’t stop drinking to support their pregnant wife or those who just felt pressure to drink to get on.

There was a common theme for those in sales roles who felt that there may not be another way to entertain and build relationships.

But there is. Hit me up for a coffee and a muffin any day and I’ll chat you through the choices you can make and the different, successful, superpower-led paths you can take.

I have had my first Christmas lunch of the season, celebrating a great year with one of our key partners, and when I left that lunch I went to my daughter’s school open evening.

I was not worried about smelling of drink or falling off one of those tiny chairs you have to sit on (she is nine, to be clear).

That feels good. That, for me, feels like it's been worth it.

Matt Adams is UK chief executive of Havas Media Group

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