Study into the empathy of the creative, media and marketing industry

Different Shoes: The empathy project is a collaboration between Never Not Creative and Mentally-Healthy with an aim to improve awareness of the levels of empathy within creative, media and marketing businesses and empower leaders to cultivate more empathetic cultures.



In the last wave of Mentally-Healthy research, the industry told us that the number one thing they wanted to improve mental wellbeing at work, was – more empathetic leaders. So we're on a quest to find them, understand what empathy means for our industry and how to create more of it.

Who’s involved?

The project is being supported by senior leaders and passionate mental health advocates across our industry, including:

  • Maria Devereux – Executive Creative Director at Colenso BBDO
  • Catherine Ross – Research & Insights Manager at Medium Rare
  • Andy Wright – CEO, Streamtime; Creator, NNC; Co-Chair, Mentally-Healthy
  • Emilie Tan – Strategist, Khemistry
  • Ben Greenberg – VP, Global Strategy Director
  • Kate Holland – Co-Chair, Mentally-Healthy, Account Director Unltd
  • Chloe Hooper – Founder, Bare Feat
  • Jonelle Lawrence – Managing Consultant, Clear Hayes Consulting

2021 research project

In 2021,The Different Shoes Project is conducting an industry-wide Empathy Audit. In order to tackle the problem of empathy (lack of) in our industry, we need to understand what people perceive it to be, what experiences people have had relating to it, and quantification of empathy levels throughout.

The audit will examine the following dynamics:

The aim of this research is not to create a witch-hunt of toxic cultures. In fact, quite the opposite. We’d like to be able to shine a light on the cultures and behaviours lauded for their empathetic approach and the number of ‘empaths’ inside them.


  1. There are too few leaders in our industry that understand and practice empathy effectively enough for it to result in healthy levels of mental wellbeing.
  2. The higher the levels of empathy throughout an organisation, the more likely the ability of that organisations work to connect with the audiences they’re trying to reach.
  3. The client/agency dynamic is a major source of the lack of empathy and understanding that exists in our industry.
  4. Empathy can be measured using four domains of individual psychology: Personality, Emotions, Biases, and Intentions.
  5. Leaders believe empathy is soft and fluffy. Not an essential business skill.


The learnings gained from decoding these cultures will be shared throughout the industry to help promote the benefit of more empathetic ways of working, communicating and delivering work as teams and for clients.

In addition, we hope to show the connection between how these positive cultures can lead to better work that resonates more deeply with our target audiences: In short, we look to show that empathy begets empathy.

Sharing the project

If you want to get involved with spreading the word about this project – thank you!

Creative, media and marketing businesses are full of good folk, and there will be many people (like you) who engage with the project because of their intrinsic desire to make the industry better. However, the number of mental health and wellbeing related initiatives is on the rise, and so too is message fatigue. It’s terrific that mental health stigma is declining, but it also means that we’ll need to give people a compelling reason to participate.

Example key messages

The work: Good ad people care about the work, and great ad people know that empathy leads to better work.

You could:

  • Talk about how taking an empathetic approach positively impacts the work you do
  • Share an example of a project you worked on that was transformed through empathy

A story: Sharing and engaging with others’ stories is part of being human, and when those stories relate to mental health and wellbeing it can enable connection as well as catharsis. People in our industry are also often motivated when someone they admire or respect asks for their help or feedback – particularly if the ask comes from a place of vulnerability.

You could:

  • Share a story about a time you led with empathy
  • Tag someone in your network who you have seen demonstrate a commitment to leading with empathy, and thank them
  • Share your empathy ‘learning moment’ (when you realised you needed to tap into your empathetic side a little more)

Advocacy: Through engaging with the project, people will be able to demonstrate publicly that they care about empathy. Virtue signalling doesn’t always stem from self-importance – particularly in the sphere of mental health, demonstrating that you are an open and committed advocate is beneficial to the cause.
You could:

  • Broadly encourage others to advocate for empathy by participating
  • Engage with leaders in your network (through tagging or direct message) and encourage them to show their commitment to empathy

Here are some assets that you can use to help promote the project.

About Different Shoes: The empathy project

In 2020, Mentally-Healthy, a change group setup by Never Not Creative founder, Andy Wright and Unltd CMO, Nina Nyman published research with the support of Everymind on the state of mental health in the creative, media and marketing industry.

It was the second wave of research published by the collaboration after finding significantly high levels of depression and anxiety in the industry in 2018.

Ever since, the group has been working to address the stigma around mental health in the industry. With signs of improvement (in stigma) in the 2020 research, a deeper dive revealed that the single biggest hope for mental health and wellbeing to improve in the workplace was the presence of “more empathetic and educated leaders.”

Many respondents further qualified this with statements like, “leaders need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk,” and “there’s no use having mental health and wellbeing policies if employees don’t feel empowered to take advantage of them.” All symptoms of a lack of investment in leadership training in our industry and preparedness to lead teams and recognise the needs of people.

Empathy is now one of the highest priorities on Mentally-Healthy’s agenda.

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