The death of a young Indonesian copywriter after 30 straight hours of work should serve as a “wake up call” for the advertising industry, the woman’s stepfather said.
Pradnya Paramita, popularly known by her social media nickname Mita Diran, tweeted “30 hours of working and still going strooong,” mere hours before she collapsed and fell into a coma at a South Jakarta restaurant on Dec. 14. Mita’s death, and her complaints over the taxing realities of the “agency life,” has since inspired a groundswell of support and sympathy online.
The 27-year-old copywriter has become something of a symbol on social media, a cautionary tale about the dangers of overwork and the demands of the advertising industry — an industry that is in desperate need of reform, her stepfather Z. Yani Sjahrial said.
“I think she is an eye-opener to the industry as a wakeup call,” Yani said. “The industry needs to look into the way they work… because if not there will be the next Mita Diran not very long from now.”
Yani is a veteran in the advertising industry, cutting his teeth as in the creative department of JWT for 10 years before moving to work in firms throughout Asia. He watched the industry change dramatically, he said. Deadlines are now tighter and non-negotiable, requiring long-hours from the creative department to meet the timelines of clients.
Firms, in a rush to grab as many clients as possible, are stacking their portfolios, while simultaneously taking on prestige projects to win awards. It has created an environment where young, driven copywriters like Mita are pushed beyond their limits, often staying at the office for excessive periods of time in a push to get recognized.
“The industry… has evolved,” he said. “Everything is in the rat race right now. It used to be, yeah deadlines were very important, but it used to be a very professional way, a two-way communication between the agency… providing the service and the client.
“As far as deadlines and all of that, they [were] negotiable. Unfortunately now it is not negotiable as far as the client goes… It is an industry problem, unfortunately it is my daughter, [but] it could be another girl at another agency like McCanns or JWT.”
Mita was well-aquatinted with the reality of working in the advertising industry, he said. She grew up watching Yani cope with the long hours, the stress and the occasional all-nighter to meet tight deadlines.
“She knew exactly what it takes to be in advertising,” he said.
Mita spent her post-college years working for a magazine, but remained interested in advertising, Yani said. She had shown promise as a talented writer at an early age and was able to net several job offers when the family moved back to Indonesia, her stepfather said. There was one offer that stood out.
Young & Rubicam Indonesia had offered Mita a position in its creative department. It was everything Yani had told her to look for in a first advertising job. The company had offices in 90 countries, employing more than 6,500 people in places as far-flung as Yangon and San Yuan, Puerto Rico. It had big-name clients like LG and Mini and a good reputation in Indonesia. Y&R would be a great place to nurture Mita’s burgeoning talent, Yani said.
“When we moved back here, we were in Malaysia, she was just offered a job at Y&R and in fact she got other offers, like becoming a travel writer, this and that, and she was so excited,” he said. “She chose to come to Jakarta because her mom moved back here and it is Y&R you know?
“I always told her that if you want to start your career in advertising you start it right. Start it at a multinational company.”
A promising career cut short
Mita showed a talent for copywriting early in her career, her stepfather said. Within six months she started to get offers from rival advertising firms. By the end of the year campaigns she worked on received three awards at the Cita Pariwarta 2013 advertising festival, including a silver award for a campaign painting education lessons on the capitals walls in an effort to reach out to street kids.
“As an agency person over these years I’ve seen good creative, I’ve seen bad creative and I’ve seen lazy ones, I’ve seen dull ones, I’ve seen bright spots, I’ve seen it all,” he said. “At that time I was so proud. She is one of the bright ones she is one of the ones who would make her parents proud.”
But Mita also showed a tendency to work too hard, Yani said. Mita’s commitment to working long hours often worried her mother, a health-conscious woman who swore off processed foods. When she saw a bottle of Kratingdaeng — the Thai version of Red Bull sold in Southeast Asia — in her home she grabbed the bottle and threw it out.
“I saw her passion, I saw some of her work,” he said. “[But] even at home she finished her work at three, four in the morning, even at home. I don’t know what drives [her], she is so passionate about her work.”
Mita missed the awards ceremony — she was in Malaysia on a much-needed vacation — but the recognition likely drove the young woman to work even harder, her stepfather said. She as a self-effacing and engaging woman, one who left a lasting impression on those she met, Yani said.
After her death, Yani saw a postcard from a client in her apartment thanking Mita for her work on an advertising campaign.
“I was like ‘Oh my God, she made an impact on the clients as well,” he said. “I’m not saying she is an angel or a perfect person, she is not, no one is, but by nature she happens to be on the kind side. And she never complains. If you ask her she says, ‘No issue, I can do it,’ a little bit of a headache, ‘Oh no, I’ll be OK, a short nap.’”
‘There is no one to blame’
Mita typed out her final tweet at 5:47 p.m. on Dec. 14 and headed to her Semanggi, Central Jakarta, apartment for a short nap. It has proven to be a busy week. She had worked three days straight, her stepfather said, reportedly clocking 30 hours of work before leaving to go home last Saturday.
She received a text message from a friend in town from Kuala Lumpur asking to meet up for dinner. The friend had been in town for three days, but Mita was unable to find the time to catch up, Yani said. She got up, sleeping only an hour or so, and headed to a restaurant in Senopati, South Jakarta.
“She thought ‘OK, I have done my work. I have a little bit of time. Why not?’ and she went out to this restaurant probably not realizing she has not gotten a full rest,” he said.
It was late when Mita arrived, some of those sitting at the table had already eaten dinner, he said. She ordered a plate off the menu, Yani can’t remember which, and the collapsed.
“They greeted her at the restaurant, [but] because it was quite late some of them had dinner already and when she ordered one of them said, ‘Hey, I ordered the same thing,’
“[And then] plop. She collapsed. At that moment four of them rushed her to the hospital. During the travel with the jam and all of that she stopped breathing. Her heart stopped beating.”
When Yani and his wife arrived at Rumah Sakit Pusat Pertamina (RSPP) Mita was in a coma.
“They said, ‘Sorry, we tried our best to bring her here and I went to the emergency room and there she was already in a coma stage.” he said. “There is nothing much I can do. There is nothing much anyone can do actually and the doctor says well they will try their best but the chances are pretty bad.
“So we waited and waited.”
She died on Sunday.
“The doctor said her veins, I don’t know the exact medical terms, they just burst,” he said. “That made her [have a] stroke, she had a stroke basically.”
News of her death broke the next day. Her final tweet, which has been retweeted more than 2,500 times in the wake of her death, was seen by many as sign of her exhaustion. But to Yani Mita’s tweet was a boast.
“’30 hours of working an I’m still strooong,’” he said, drawing out the end of “strong.” ”That is like a marathon runner who runs ten clicks and says ‘I can do 15.’”
He said there is no one to blame for her death. Mita chose to work hard in a highly competitive industry.
“If anyone is to be blamed, blame her passion, but is that a good blame to put on a person?” he said. “And I don t think that is a good thing to tell anyone else, young aspiring writers, you know they wont be passionate about it anymore about their work. But there is no one to be blamed actually.”
Yani said the family wants to remember Mita as a sweet, passionate woman. He hopes her death will drive reform in the industry.
“[We want to] remember her for what she is for what she was,” he said. “For her passion to do her work in the creative industry, that is how we would like to remember her and if she managed to open up the eyes of the industry that would be nice.” The Jakarta Globe