Worked to death

The death of a 24-yr-old copywriter in Indonesia has become a cautionary tale,drawing scrutiny on the ad industry’s ways.

Written by New York Times | Published: December 29, 2013 4:53:11 am

Kate Lamb

The death of an Indonesian copywriter has generated a surge of anger in Indonesia,turning the young woman into an inadvertent symbol of the gruelling,workaholic culture of the advertising world.

Shortly after working a 30-hour shift,Ananda Pradnya Paramita,27,a copywriter for Young & Rubicam Indonesia,fell into a coma on December 14 at a South Jakarta pizzeria. Paramita,who referred to herself as Mita Diran on social networks,was taken to a hospital. She died the following day.

Her revealing final post on Twitter,“30 hours of working and still going strong”,has prompted accusations that her agency pushed her over the edge with its work demands.

On a corporate message of condolence posted on Young & Rubicam Indonesia’s Facebook page,commenters accused the agency of exploitation and criminal negligence.

Geets Harris,an associate creative director at Ogilvy & Mather in Kuala Lumpur,Malaysia,joined the thread to criticise advertising executives for what she said was their myopic preoccupation with the bottom line. Her employer,Ogilvy & Mather,is owned by the British multinational advertising agency WPP,which also owns Young & Rubicam. “Advertising culture must change,” she wrote.

Harris sent an open letter to Young & Rubicam and WPP in which she proposed an 11-point plan to improve conditions in the ad industry. The creative director urged no more than two hours of overtime per day and the elimination of short deadlines.

Young & Rubicam Indonesia has stressed that the agency adheres to the country’s labour law,which prohibits more than three hours of overtime per day.

“Up until now,we’re still trying to find out what really happened internally,” said Sie Zin Lie,a Young & Rubicam spokeswoman. “We are deeply affected by the loss of Mita,and we pray for the family to have the strength to be able to get through this difficult time.”

Daniel Tjoe Sunaryo,32,a former creative director who worked in a Jakarta ad agency for 10 years,said that in the industry,“whatever you do is never enough”. Working in advertising is akin to being in the “front row of capitalism,” he said,and “there is always room for new clients… Even if quotas are met.” Sunaryo recalled spending nights at the office to meet deadlines — he has since quit to become a yoga instructor — and said that within ad agencies there was a sense of pride about being a workaholic and pushing beyond the limits.

Paramita’s Twitter feed paints her as a vibrant but sleep-deprived young woman who was familiar with long hours. In her posts,she joked about moving her bed to the office and of her diet of coffee and energy drinks. “Weekend? What weekend?” she asks in one tweet.

It is unclear whether the copywriter’s death was related to her workaholic lifestyle,but those in the industry say it is unlikely that she was forced to work 30 straight hours.

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