The ad industry could do with a few more grey hairs

By Ian Darby,, Thursday, 11 April 2013 08:00AM

Having acquired a first pair of adult slippers and the beginnings of a vegetable patch, I'm embracing the onset of middle age. In light of this, Patrick Collister's appointment last week as the head of design at Google struck a chord.

The ad industry could do with a few more grey hairs

Poring over analysis of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy provoked the tangential realisation that politics, like industry, values its elders. Thatcher reached her mid-sixties before she was ousted as prime minister (and felt she had more to give) and many politicians make vital contributions into their eighties.

Google is coming to value advertising expertise and craft skills as it looks to build its resource in talking to brands

This respect for longevity appears to be sadly lacking in the advertising business, especially on the tech side of the media industry, where forty- and fiftysomethings are thin on the ground. Collister, who previously ran the consultancy Creative Matters, seemed to recognise this when he told Campaign: "I have been a creative director for 25 years now and the fact that an organisation like Google is looking to a grey-hair like me is very interesting, because I think it shows that good old-fashioned understanding of brands, ideas and – dare I say it – people is important."

Google’s willingness to appoint a veteran is a rare exception to industry trends, which make depressing reading for those nearing the second half of their working lives. The average age in agencies is 33.8, according to the most recent IPA Agency Census, and just 5.7 per cent of agency staff are over 50.

While Collister hasn’t occupied a "frontline" creative director role for a decade, he was running creative departments at the likes of Ogilvy & Mather and EHS and talking about "integrated" models before many current practitioners were out of school. His appointment shows that Google is coming to value advertising expertise and craft skills as it looks to build its resource in talking to brands and building its own.

Collister joins other prominent advertising names such as Steve Vranakis and Graham Bednash at the tech giant, which needs to make strides in convincing the ad community to spend greater amounts beyond search advertising. The advice of these former agency types could prove invaluable and should have the knock-on effect of forcing agencies themselves to adapt.

Not before time, according to Collister: "Within some digital agencies, people tend to think platforms are a substitute for ideas, but you need both. Technology drives creativity, but it doesn’t lead it." Sometimes it takes a wise old head to identify something so simple. Google is willing to embrace it, now let’s see if agencies are capable.

Danny Rogers is away      @darbs73

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