Is the media industry too young?

Arif Durrani asks if agencies, where the average age of staff is 31, lack the wisdom and experience provided by older heads.

What happens to those in media agencies when they hit 50? Take a look around you. How many people are anywhere close to being eli­gible for a free bus pass? The last IPA Agency Census revealed that, in 2012, the average age of staff in a media agency was 31 years old. That means most people working in the business are still young enough to play sports such as football or netball professionally.

As the UK population becomes ever older, and with general working ages increasing annually, it is not unreasonable to wonder whether this situation can be sustained.

Earlier this year, the Lords Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change forecast that half of those born in the UK after 2007 can expect to live to over 100. Between 2010 and 2030, the number of people aged over 65 is set to increase by 51 per cent, with the number of people aged over 85 doubling during the same period.

Meanwhile, a new influx of ambitious and capable leaders over the past year – such as Dan Clays (OMD), Mark Creighton (Mindshare), Josh Krichefski (MediaCom), Anna Watkins (Initiative) and Paul Frampton (Havas Media) – have firmly planted the flag for the under-40s.

As the media continues to evolve, perhaps there is a bigger picture to consider – namely that those perceived to understand digital are being catapulted into the hotseats.

Another possible explanation for the apparent disappearance of grey hairs from the industry is media’s reputation for being one of the most social businesses around.

Long hours, incessant ego-stoking and stroking, and bar-room banter are the norm – and, despite what you might want to believe, play an important part of the job if you want to make waves in the industry. Perhaps the simple truth is that, as people get older and have more of life’s grown-up issues to wrestle with – kids, ageing parents, chrysanthemums – the impetus simply wanes.

But is it a shortsighted industry that leaves those with years of experience – such as Steve Booth, Nigel Sharrocks and even the comparatively youthful Jed Glanvill – "ex­ploring new opportunities"? Is media too young?


NO Kathleen Saxton, founder, The Lighthouse Company

"The new agency leaders who are sub-40 all have digital and curiosity in their DNA. Most clients looking for hyper-growth demand those same qualities from the top down. The message is: if you’re smart enough, you’re old enough."


MAYBE Marc Mendoza, chairman, Havas Media

"Media has always been driven by bright young people, and digital means that never has this been truer. Simultaneously, they have always been guided by older heads. This combination is more desirable than ever."


NO Iain Jacob, president of dynamic markets, Starcom MediaVest Group

"You are either good or you are not. I see older agency people who fail to keep themselves at school and become outdated. I see younger people who get dazzled by jargon. Media is about smart, adaptable people who love ideas."


MAYBE Geoffrey Russell, director of media affairs, IPA

"Compared with their US counterparts, British media agencies do have a lower average age – but that is true of the UK ad industry as a whole. The fact is the average age of 31 was exactly the same in 2007, 2003 – and in 1998."