Claire Beale: Show some respect for the mature adlanders

By Claire Beale, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 03 May 2012 08:00AM

When the Telegraph's Careers Advice column printed a letter from someone called James, "an experienced creative director in my late fifties" who was looking for advice after being made redundant from his agency, the headline to the piece screamed about "Battling Ageism in Advertising".

Claire Beale: Show some respect for the mature adlanders

In trying to offer some useful counsel, the Telegraph's jobs editor had put in a few calls to headhunters and agency chiefs. She was very quickly "shocked" to discover how rife ageism is in the advertising industry.

Neither James, surely a demographical everyman rather than a real person, nor anyone else with even a casual knowledge of the ad industry can have been similarly surprised. Every year, the IPA's census comes out with variations around the theme that advertising is a young person's game. This year's stats show that around 40 per cent of creative agency employees and 56 per cent of media agency staff are under 30.

Quite a lot of people (and certainly not all of them under 30) think this is actually a really good thing. Marketing, creativity, strategy, management ... you can teach young people to be pretty good at these things quite quickly; but you've either got digital baked into your DNA (by virtue of your age) or you haven't.

It's an argument that (just about and for the moment) has some logic. But advertising was skewed to youth before the dawn of social media; transformational digital technology has simply exacerbated this. As have the twin pressures of reduced agency fees and fewer retainers. It's harder for agencies to sustain the higher salaries of an experienced, older middle-rank when income is continually being squeezed.

Although there's a similar, if less pronounced, trend toward youth within marketing departments, many clients say that they miss the counsel of experience.

One big-budget marketing director I had lunch with the other day had just come from a meeting with his agency that had been led by two under-30s. It wasn't a particularly important meeting, and he likes seeing his agency without the chief executive dominating proceedings. But he left the meeting "appalled" by the gauche inexperience of the people running one of his key advertising projects for 2012, "callowness but with this utter self-belief that their solution was the only right one". He also sensed they thought he was a bit of an old fart, which he admits he is: he is, after all, in his late forties. And he's already called an emergency meeting with his agency's chief to discuss.

Our feature on page 24 celebrates those relatively few adlanders who have clung on in the business beyond their half-decade. They are all, of course, at the top of the industry ladder. But perhaps more respect is due to those industry talents on the lower rungs who have managed to sustain an advertising career into their fifties and beyond.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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