Aimee Luther - The NABS Podcast
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How to be kind at work, even when you’re under pressure – with Aimee Luther

Aimee Luther is managing director of the Liberty Guild. The Liberty Guild is an invitation-only curated association of the finest communication practitioners in the world. The business aims to give creatives and strategists a better work-life balance and more ownership over their careers. 

 Aimee is a huge believer in kindness as a leadership style, and she makes sure this is a top-lived value throughout her professional and voluntary work. Aimee’s also a hugely busy working mum and speaks refreshingly about the demands of the juggle.


This week, our guest is Aimee Luther. Aimee Luther is managing director of the Liberty Guild. The Liberty Guild is an invitation-only curated association of the finest communication practitioners in the world. The business aims to give creatives and strategists a better work-life balance and more ownership over their careers. Aimee is a huge believer in kindness as a leadership style, and this philosophy infuses both her business and her voluntary work.


Which is lovely. We need more kindness in the world. So welcome Amy to the NABS podcast. How are you doing?


Aimee (00:37.71)

Thank you Louise, lovely to meet you. Thank you.


Louise (00:39.993)

It’s very lovely to have you on. Really looking forward to hearing about your approach to mental wellness and how you’re helping freelancers in our industry who sometimes get a bit forgotten about, so it’s good that they’ve got something they can go to. Let’s start by thinking about what mental wellness looks like to you.


Aimee (00:58.862)

I think the definition of mental wellness that I like best is that your mind is in order and functioning to your best interest. So you’re able to think, feel and act in ways that create a positive impact on both your physical and social wellbeing. Personally, if I’ve slept, I can conquer the world. If I haven’t, I can hardly function and motherhood has been biggest test of this.


My partner Tim works for the RFU and so is away for the Rugby World Cup. And he’s off again in January for the Six Nations. So I had to sort out my routine to keep myself in good mental health. I had to go to bed an hour after Cosmo, my 18-month-old son did, at 8pm, knowing that I’d be up at 4am with a two stone lump of gorgeousness attached to me.


So I still got my hours of sleep, although I had no sort of social life, particularly at that time. And I think the notion of mental wellness can be brought into sharp focus when I think of a CALM statistic. Cosmo is more likely to take his own life than die from any other single cause until he’s in his mid-30s.


That’s awful. I mean, that is absolutely, you know, blind-sided me when I read that. You know, one in five people have suicidal thoughts. And it’s really good to normalise that. It’s good to own up to feeling shit. But we need to do everything we can as an industry to stop people getting there and taking those thoughts into reality. So I think there’s a huge sense of responsibility that we all have within the industry for each other, no matter where we are in the, in the sitting on the office floor. So yeah, I think it’s being able to think, feel and act in your own best interest.


Louise (03:07.405)

Which then also helps you to act in other people’s best interests as well. So then you’re able to reflect in a more helpful manner on that really scary statistic and think well actually how can I help to support Cosmo’s mental wellness.


Aimee (03:20.64)

Exactly, exactly. And I think by, I think being a mum has, has further brought that need for empathy and understanding. I had, I’ve been MD for over a decade and I have always been very supportive of working parents and being flexible. But hand on heart, I had no idea how hard it was.


Without feeling like you’re either failing as a mate, failing as a colleague, failing as a mum, as a partner, you know, it’s a constant sort of pressure to remain good at everything. I was really good at what I was doing in all of those areas before I became a mum, and then having that wonderful thing happen and have a baby, certainly threw it all up in the air for me.


Louise (04:11.921)

I don’t know how people do anything. Sometimes I just feel so paralyzed by the fact that I’ve got all of this stuff to do and I’m too knackered to deal with any of it – I have a six-year-old – that I just do nothing. I just put my bum on that sofa and I think about the life I used to have while my child yells at me. That is working parenthood. It’s great, it’s great. If for anyone listening who’s thinking of doing it, you should definitely go ahead. But I have found that, because you and I are a similar age, we’re in our 40s.


Aimee (04:26.221)



Louise (04:41.553)

I, when I reflect back on when I started work 20 years ago, people were not talking about mental wellness in the workplace. And when I was being raised, my parents, people were not talking about mental wellness at school. It was not part of an active parenting strategy. Whereas now it’s so very happily embedded increasingly in our parenting culture and our working culture.


Aimee (05:10.494)

I think in society we’re now seeing mental health almost coming into equity with physical health. So kids are being brought up now to talk about their mental health in the same vein, with the same sort of openness that they would to their physical health, which is still a long way to go, but it’s brilliant that those are coming into balance. Certainly when I started working with CALM 20 odd years ago.


Louise (05:36.148)



Aimee (05:39.754)

That wasn’t the case. And the idea of someone being depressed was using a young moping teenager sort of lying in his bedroom not wanting to get out of bed for a few days. And actually we’ve blown all of those stereotypes apart. It can happen to anybody, any gender, any age, any, you know, wherever you are in the world. And you can be super successful and still feel absolutely worthless.


So it’s very important that we’re all aware of it and we can lift each other up.


Louise (06:15.045)

Yeah, absolutely. We’re in two things there. Firstly, with NABS, we have the Advice Line and we have our other support services and demand went up by a hundred percent year on year, just in Q1 2023 alone. The top reason why people are contacting us is for emotional support. We assist people across the board. Every year demand goes up. So that’s, it’s great that people feel that they’ve got somewhere to go.


The fact that numbers are going up is both a testament to the fact that people feel actually it’s okay to talk to someone about their mental wellness and the fact that mental wellness challenges are rising. The other thing that I wanted to pick up on is something you said about being an MD and is there anything in particular that challenges your mental wellness as a business leader, like the responsibility of bringing in the business or making money or having people on the payroll?


Aimee (07:06.59)

And I’m going to be brutally honest with you, Louise. You know, I get terribly overwhelmed. I suffer from overwhelm almost daily by most things. And it’s all a case of finding out some of your own techniques to cope with it. I feel a great sense of responsibility for each and every person that we work with at the Guild. You know, they all have rent to pay or mortgage or family or you know, other responsibilities. And so the daily hunt for new business to keep everyone busy is a constant pressure and one that I take very personally. And that comes with the job. But it’s more than that. And it’s more than the basics of leadership.


To me, I think it’s about setting an environment so that everybody can flourish. And to be the best version of themselves. And in turn, within our creative world, they’ll create the best work and that’s the best work for our clients. So it’s in a roundabout way, it’s absolutely in our interest. And you mentioned in your kind introduction, I’m an avid campaigner for kindness at work. And particularly within our industry, and I’ve had experience with both, we seem to oscillate from a warm maternal bosom to a downright torturous, depending on the department, the team or the agency that you belong to. And I should make it clear that from the outset that I think simply being kind to one another is a pretty basic requirement for the human race to continue. And we are polite to that. And you have what should be the sort of minimum viable behaviour to be part of modern society. I think corporate kindness is what I’m really interested in and showing how being kind


Louise (08:46.396)



Aimee (09:04.65)

In its broadest sense, will have a positive impact or does have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. You know, you have people stay longer, there’s a greater retention of staff, you’re not having to pay to recruit, you get better work out of happier people, etc, etc. And people want to work, you know, clients want to work with a happy, buoyant, creative business. So we’re working actually with Lancaster University management school to prove that link between corporate kindness and fiscal health.


Louise (09:39.573)

Kindness does so much for the individual as well. There are studies that show that you feel better, your happiness levels are higher if you are kind to other people. From your experience, what does kindness as a leadership style look like in real life? And how can managers across the board adopt this as part of their MO?


Aimee (09:47.583)



Aimee (09:58.038)

Yeah, it’s a good question. I think the nice and polite I’ve said are kind of given. I think the sort of unlimited goat milk and marbling workshops have probably seen their days. But I think it’s about empathy, it’s about compassion, and it’s about benevolence. It’s being aware of people’s whole selves and acting accordingly. It’s the manner in which you treat people. So if you know you’ve got parents or people with disabled siblings or people that live far, far away. It’s been understanding of what’s going on in their world, in their lives, and not just the 9 to 5.30 that they’re sitting, either on a Zoom window or in an office somewhere. So I constantly strive to ensure that I create a colourful, eclectic, nurturing environment.


And knowing that we have that helps me relax and feel proud of the agency and every single person that sort of contributes to it. And like I said, that sort of fundamental and pervasive cultural kindness allows people the freedom to be their whole selves, to get that better work-life balance, something particularly post-COVID, which is really, we’ve really noticed. And like I said, to get better work and you know.


We are very proudly as part of the service industry. We are only as good as our people. Their wonderful, eclectic, prolific, creative, colourful minds are exactly what gives us our very black and white competitive advantage. So we need to look after them. We need to allow them to be themselves. We need to have that empathy and that compassion to be the best we can be as an agency.


Louise (11:52.605)

Yeah, absolutely. In NABS we talk about there’s not a one size fits all style of management and it’s really important to take a bespoke approach where you actually talk to your people, you find out what’s going on for them and then you can help them to flourish as appropriate.


Aimee (12:09.898)

Yeah, yeah. And I think, you know, I have a desire to see the industry change, to be somewhere between that warm maternal, maternal bosom, and that kind of fearful agency of old. And I think if you want to see the change, then you’ve got to be the change. And I think a good example of how we did this at the Liberty Guild was during lockdown in 2020-2021. And we carried out a number of initiatives. The first one was we teamed up with a company called Hello Self and we offered free private clinical psychotherapy to anyone within the Guild who could benefit. Their lives, particularly as freelancers, had been turned upside down and work was being cut off every which way they looked.


We opened that, we extended that to our clients and even our suppliers and other agencies. And we picked up the tab. It was all completely anonymous, obviously.


Louise (13:16.349)

What was the take-up like?


Aimee (13:18.242)

It was good. It was surprisingly good that people put their hand up to say, yeah, I could do with a chat. We also had a permanent, what we called a window on the guild, a fancy name for a permanent Zoom link that was open so everyone could be together, tell terrible jokes, but, you know, have the banter, the support, the inspiration that we all need as creative souls.


So it wasn’t about presenteeism, it was kind of about mutual support. And that’s still we still have that to today. We did a number of reboot camps. We offered little workshops for brands completely free. We offered two-hour workshops for any brand that needed our strategic help because they had staff being furloughed. They’re having a terrible time. So we got our elite talent to come and help them keep their heads above water, their brands above water. We even did something which was quite fun called Freedom for Kids. And it was kind of like a respite initiative. And we found that between school finishing at about half past three and them getting their work done at like half past five, the kids were at home and just needed occupying. So we did a competition and they were sort of self-guided creative projects.


So it was things like making their own lava lamp from stuff in the kitchen cupboard to stock frame animation, illustrated storybooks and some mini entrepreneurs. They had to see how quickly they could grow a pound, i.e. by buying flour and water and making bread and selling it and stuff. It was great fun. So we did that sort of stuff. So it’s more than just the, like I said, the immediate employer-employee relationship.


Louise (15:12.037)

There’s something really lovely about the last activity that you mentioned because in it is the recognition that people have got lives and that often involves kids or other caring responsibilities. And that’s a way of drawing that all in rather than asking people to make a separation in the head at a time when separation was just not possible. But that continues to this day with hybrid working and there will be days when you’re at home and the kids are at home and you can’t just cut yourself off from your child asking you for something.


You know, NABS will still have, if someone’s got the kids at home, they’ll come into the meeting and they’ll say hi, and that’s totally fine. And everybody loves it.


Aimee (15:48.214)

One of the lovely things I think about lockdown, and both from agency, but also with clients, you’ve got to know their partners, you’ve got to see their kids, and suddenly the kind of facade of, you know, the suit wearing agency and all the very sort of strict cold clients was dropped and we just became humans trying to change people’s behaviour and buy more X and less Y or what have you.


To wrap that up, I think it’s about standing up for principles, having the same principles and values that you do have outside of work and bringing them into work. And that doesn’t have to cost you anything. You know, we became a B Corp, a certified B Corp, because ethics matter. We offered that therapy because mental wellness matters. And, you know, we didn’t furlough anyone, we didn’t let anyone go, because people matter. So, yeah, I think it comes back to that kindness, that empathy and humanity.


Louise (16:44.689)

Yeah, having those really kind of cool human values.



We carried on paying all of our contractors early and we didn’t furlough anyone or let anyone go because people matter. So I think having that empathy, that compassion, that benevolence at work as much as you would outside of work is absolutely critical to business.


Louise (18:07.205)

Yeah, and you mentioned something before about, you might get it in some teams, but not in others. And I think it’s really important for leaders to ensure that the theme of kindness and the importance of mental wellness is throughout the business. I, you know, I haven’t met anyone who says that attitudes towards this are consistent throughout their organization. And it shouldn’t be a lottery.


Aimee (18:31.126)

No, yeah, you’re absolutely right. And it needs to come from both the top and the bottom to make sure that everybody is supported. And when we talk about kindness, it doesn’t need to be pink, maternal, gentle kindness. You can still be the hottest shop in the land and produce the most incredible work and have them.


This incredible return on investment for your clients, et cetera, et cetera, and be kind. It’s not a one or other situation.


Louise (19:07.193)

Exactly. Doesn’t cost anything, but can be brilliant for your ROI. I should have asked you at the beginning of the chat really, but here we are. Can you explain how the Liberty Guild works and how it helps to support the mental wellness of freelance creatives? I know that you’ve spoken about some specific initiatives that you’ve brought to your community, but the overarching mental wellness support would be really interesting to know about.


Aimee (19:36.086)

Yeah, so we’ve got nearly 400 creatives and strategists around the world, so in 28 countries, there’s 2,300 hand lines and D&AD pencils amongst them, nine BAFTAs. So we’ve got the most creative and most diverse department in the world. And because we’ve knocked down, we’re distributed.


We’ve knocked down any physical barriers, any geographical barriers to being part of the best department. So people can live in Mumbai or Shanghai or New York or Bogna and work with us, work on the brilliant briefs and the brilliant clients that we work with and produce the best work of their lives. We get diversity of thought for our clients.


We worked on a hair product and we were working across America and China and the UK. And we had people in all of those markets who understand what it’s like to have Afro-Caribbean hair or Chinese hair, which is very different from my hair. So we ensure that you’ve got the right people working on each brief.


And people can be the people they want to be. So, you know, we work with a husband-and-wife team who live up in remote fishing village in Scotland. And, you know, they surf in the summer and sledge in the winter, and their kids are kind of free range and organic as a result. So they’ve kind of got their work-life balance sussed. So I think it’s, you know, you don’t need the short-term perks to ease the pain of working 70-hour weeks.


In fact you can just have an environment that’s colourful, eclectic, supportive, kind etc. to produce the work that they want to be producing.


Louise (21:40.909)

So in that sense, that’s how it’s supporting the mental wellness because they’re more able to choose the kind of lives that they want to live.


Aimee (21:48.146)

Exactly that, exactly that. So if they can be, they’re not feeling sort of oppressed and having to live in London in order to work from any of the big agencies or Manchester or whatever, they can live where they want. They can work on the briefs they choose to work on. We don’t do pitching over the weekend, for example. So there’s a lovely work life balance. And if you can get that right, then everything else kind of falls into place.


So yes, the COVID examples were sort of an extreme version of what we needed to do at that time. But generally, sort of day to day, we ensure that people are allowed to flourish and be the person, the broader person that they want to be, whether that’s where they live, what they work on, et cetera.


Louise (22:34.565)

So you’ve got 400 people on the books, is that right? So if you haven’t got all 400 working at the same time, so some of them might be, I don’t know how you’d refer to it, on the bench or working on other products or projects, do you still have a mechanism where you’re keeping in touch with all of them regularly to check in on them with mental wellness as part of that?


Aimee (22:47.542)

Yeah, absolutely. So we check in regularly, so there’s a sort of a group mechanic that we can all chat to them. We update them on what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in our business, and open the doors for them to tell us what they’re up to. And they often have other side gigs going on and freelance for other agencies. So they’re not exclusively with us by the very nature of it. They’re independent freelance talent.


And we talk a lot about the benefits of being a freelance. That you mentioned in the introduction, that freelancers, particularly within the ad world, became a sort of solid term. And it was seen as a negative. Whereas actually the history behind the freelancer was this champion guy that we brought into battle to win the battle and then he’d go off. You know, they were the heroes.


Louise (23:39.839)



Aimee (23:55.498)

And literally a freelancer. And so we’re keen to bring that back and to celebrate the fact that these very senior people have chosen to live in a slightly different, live and work in a slightly different way. So we talk about them a lot in the press and the benefits of working with them.


Louise (24:34.769)

Okay. Yeah, so if you can get freelance life right, and you can get the right support, then it’s something that can actually work out pretty well. At this point, it’s a good time to say that NABS’ services are open to freelancers, as well as people who are staffers. We welcome everyone and our services are free because we’re a charity. So you can come and join a workshop or attend a talk or anything that we’ve got to have a look at our website and you’ll be able to see how best we can help you.


So you’re running something where you’re looking after a lot of people in adland and you’re doing things to lift them up, but how does the adland community lift you up?


Aimee (25:19.702)

It’s a very good question Louise and one I pondered about. I’m not a member of any specific or official groups and forums. Maybe I should. I mean there’s wonderful things like Pregnant then Screwed and all that sort of stuff, but I haven’t, I’m not a signed up member of any specific groups.


But I find being surrounded by equally colourful, odd, fallible invariably kind souls is just the community I need. The people I work with are just a joy, and I mean that whether that’s the freelancers or the core guild that I’m working with day to day. And some of my greatest friends I’ve sort of picked up along the way from why I was a grad at Ogilvy through B&B, and they lift me up regularly. And knowing that there is support, both from the likes of CALM and from NABS, is hugely comforting to know that if you do need it, they’re literally a phone call away.


NABS was introduced to me very early on in my, when I was a graduate at Ogilvy and Mather. And yeah, I’ve remained a great fan.


Louise (26:27.433)

How have NABS helped you over the years?


Aimee (26:31.05)

We haven’t ever had to call on NABS. I was always looking forward to going to the nursing home, but I’m sad to hear that my husband and my wife don’t really exist. What a hoot! Can you imagine?


Louise (26:37.402)



Louise (26:43.518)

Yes, we used to have a nursing home. Our services have changed since then and we no longer have that.


All right, what’s the lesson you’ve learned about how to support yourself?


Aimee (27:41.066)

So what’s the lesson you’ve learned about how to support yourself? And I’ll be brutally honest with you, Louise. I’m not very good at it. And I think on the outside, I appear to be a very social person, sort of a confident extrovert, but I feel very much the opposite. I need, and in fact, I crave solitude and sleep, as we mentioned earlier. So carving out time to decompress is really, really important for me.


I managed the overwhelm, which I talked about earlier, with lists. Brilliant, colourful diagrams and lists. And I think becoming a mum to Cosmo in my mid-forties kind of blew apart the plans I had to keep myself and good mental health. Everything was literally turned upside down and inside out. And I really struggled to see how being at home and doing fairly menial things for the six months mat leave I had could be so utterly exhausting because I wasn’t doing anything particularly that was worthy of being exhausting or didn’t feel like it should be. I can run a business but running a household with a baby is much, much harder.


So what I’ve learnt to do and I’ve been really militant at is I always ensure I finish at 5.30 on the dot and I mum until Cosmo goes off to sleep at about half past seven. And then I crack out the laptop and finish him the thing I need to finish off. So as far as he’s concerned, whenever I’m with him, I’m not working. I’m with him, exactly. And that helps me focus on being the best I can be in both my role as a mum and my role at work and really try not to let them overlap where possible.


Louise (29:42.769)

You’re with him, that’s it, he’s the focus.


Aimee (29:57.986)

I get support, I’ve got a brilliant lady that looks after Cosmo when he’s not at nursery and she’s an absolute legend, my girl Friday. So yeah, I think being brutally honest, I’m not brilliant. I constantly feel under pressure, pressure that I put on myself. I feel like I’m an absent friend. I find looking after, keeping a little boy alive somewhat difficult at times.


But I’m waiting to get addicted to exercise, because apparently that’s what happens. And I’m running my fourth London Marathon in six months. So I’m really hoping.


Louise (30:33.801)

That’s incredible. When do you get the time to train?


Aimee (30:37.022)

Well, I’m starting on 1 January, Louise, because I’ve got five months then. I’m hoping I get the running though. Apparently that happens. It hasn’t happened for my previous three attempts.


Louise (30:49.669)

The fact that you’re doing it a fourth time round suggests to me there might be some kind of bug involved at this point.


Aimee (30:54.474)

Yes, no, stupidity. I sort of forget it. I think the last time was about 10 years ago. And I’m terrible. Every time I’ve done that, I’ve been absolutely terrible. There were 37 and a half thousand people that started last time and only 20 finished after me. I mean, that is how bad I am.


Louise (31:10.493)

Were you running it the year that someone was in a Victorian diving suit?


Aimee (31:13.89)

Yes, yes. I think I beat him because he took about three days. People with one limb beat me. So, yes, it’s I’m raising money for charity and I’ll do it regardless.


Louise (31:17.274)



Louise (31:29.873)

Well, I think you are fabulous for finding the time to do that in amongst being MD, looking after so many people in the industry and also looking after your young son as well. So maybe your mental wellness lesson is to give yourself a break and a bit of a clap on the back.


Aimee (31:48.366)

Yes. Thank you. Thank you.


Louise (31:50.701)

Amy, it’s been absolutely lovely talking to you. Thank you so much for giving us your time.


Aimee (31:55.606)

Absolute pleasure, Louise. Thank you and thanks enough for having me.


Louise (31:58.834)

You’re welcome.



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