Editorial: Adland needs to change its ageist attitude now

The here-and-now nature of advertising makes it a risky business for anybody working in it beyond the age of 40.

If they've not sought to rise through the agency ranks, their comfortable salaries and benefits packages leave them perpetually vulnerable to the next round of cost-cutting.

If they've made it to the boardroom, the pressure to hit the numbers with an agency client base is always capable of delivering a nasty P45-shaped surprise. The plight of the agency fortysomething - from those who have been emboldened by their firing and those who rail against an industry that fails to cherish and acknowledge its more mature talent - is highlighted in this issue (pages 13 and 24).

So, it's as easy to admire those senior executives who have bounced back as it is to sympathise with others who believe they still have much to offer and can't fathom why agencies fail to see it. What's clear, though, is that those who have not let themselves be cowered by the sack are the kind of characters not often found in a business where rolling over is an easy option in the face of a bolshie client or creative director. For many, it's not so easy. While major US shops boast accounts of a size that allows them to retain staff into their fifties and beyond, their UK counterparts are not so lucky.

The problem defies a simple answer. One solution may be for agencies to turn their best mature staffers into consultants, harnessing their expertise as and when they need it.

Another might be to offer more flexible working hours.

What's beyond question is that the industry can no longer bury its head in the sand over the issue of older staff.

Nabs executives say calls to the charity's helpline suggest that last year's age discrimination legislation has made no difference to the way adland treats its "lifers". In fact, agencies are skating on thin ice when they make long-serving staff redundant because they are among the most highly paid. Also, it is discriminatory to make those with a longer tenure redundant. Employment experts predict adland may be among the first in Britain to face a legal claim over age discrimination. Maybe then attitudes will change.

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