}

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ageism In Advertising



Ageism in advertising is an open secret but is rarely discussed.  There is a tremendous amount of age discrimination in the advertising business.  Some is overt and most is very covert.  Everyone in the business has always said, “It is a young person’s business.”  I never thought much about it until I became a recruiter many ago.  At that time I met many people in their fifties who were worried about their ability to get a new job; they were right.  Many had to leave the business because they couldn’t get rehired.

I naively believed that the problem might resolve itself since the business was starting to be run by the Baby Boomers.  The population is getting older, people are living and working longer so I assumed that as people aged, they would continue to work and be productive.  I also thought that as management of agencies aged, they would hire older people as a reflection of themselves.  I was wrong.

It is a cultural problem. Agencies remain very age conscious.  They are afraid when they go on a new business pitch the client merely sees a group of older people; as if, older people can’t be creative or have great, strategic ideas. Agencies believe that clients falsely believe that ideas and creativity come from youth.  In point of fact, the heyday of the creative agencies came when their leaders – Bernbach, Ogilvy, Chiat and many others – were well into their late forties and fifties.  The biggest problem for some agencies with leaders who are now in their fifties or older, is that they actually believe that they are too old, so they surround themselves with youth.

The result is a cult of youth which demeans and minimalizes skill and experience.  The truth is that there is no substitute for life experience.  One of the things which caused the dot com bust was that when the economy tanked in the late nineties, the twenty-something executives who ran those companies simply did not have enough experience to know how to handle their companies in crisis.  By the time they started hiring older executives to help steer their companies, it was too late.
Ageism is pervasive in our society, not just advertising. 

My observation is that there are several kinds of ageism.

Financial Ageism
No secret: older executives most often make more money than younger people.  When companies have financial problems, it is easier and more profitable, at least on the surface, to find excuses and terminate an expensive person and replace her/him with someone who costs less.  This is not the place to get into the pros or cons of that, but suffice to say, that is often penny wise and pound foolish.

The first time I became aware of this was many years ago, when a magazine sales person who I liked very much and who was highly successful was replaced with a very inexperienced person who actually knew nothing.  The magazine (a major one) rationalized that if they gave this new sales person their major advertiser accounts,  they would not lose them because those advertisers needed the magazine.  (My friend went on to a competitor and within about eighteen months managed to pitch and win a lot of business away from his old employer.)

Intentional Ageism
This happens when companies feel that younger is better. Often, there are problems with the business and companies blame those issues on aging executives. (I once ran account management at an agency and refused to stay until 2am to approve a mechanical – I had very competent staff, and lots of them, to do that.  I was told I was too old – about forty – to run account management.) 

This is less true today than a few years ago, but it still exists in many ways.  Creative directors in their fifties are deemed to be too old to have the ability to work late and be productive to come up with great new ideas.  They are often replaced with younger people, often without explanation.

Inadvertent Ageism
This often happens in two ways.  When a new senior executive is hired they may be young and simply cannot relate to the older people who surround them. Those people may be terminated simply so that the new, younger executive can have his or her “own” people.  It is intentional, but it is not thought of as discrimination, but merely a management decision.

Or, and this is the most insidious, when a job opens and perfectly qualified executive is rejected because they are older than the person they would be reporting to.  The more experienced executive may be deemed to be threatening to the hiring manager or may be assumed to be a “bad fit” by an ill-informed human resource person. The result is that the older executive is not passed on to interview. This not only happens to people who are in their forties or fifties or older, but it happens to younger, successful executives who are out of work.  The problem is that companies put square pegs in square holes and do not train or retrain their executives on handling and managing employees. Often, management is completely ignorant of this happening.

Most businesses don’t do a lot of training any more.  But certainly there is absolutely no sensitivity training about age, anywhere.  I heard a story recently about a very young writer complaining about the age of voice-over talent auditioning for a commercial.

I have seen many senior executives who are out of work become highly successful consultants to the very clients they used to work for.  Some even get revenge by working with these companies to hire new agencies.

Ad agencies have been working hard on diversity.  This is an issue which largely affects hiring minorities.  People over fifty are certainly a minority in the advertising workplace and should be included in issues of diversity.






20 comments:

  1. Mr.Gumbinner we are looking for someone more digital.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gotcha. I have heard that many times. It is also B.S.

      Delete
    2. Well said Paul and on point. I have no problem with a 2am mechanical approvals,I'm usually forced to get up at that time any way....

      Delete
  2. Hi, Paul,

    The stat I recall from "The Ad Contrarian" is that over 50s make up 44% of the US population, and 6% of agencies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for that. I think 6% may be high. I was looking for that statistic when I wrote this

      Delete
    2. I turned 60 in December. I'm still making a go of it at Ogilvy on IBM. But I know what a deer feels like during hunting season.

      Delete
    3. It is something everyone over (or near) 50 lives with. Wear sun glasses.

      Delete
  3. Paul, IMO the issue is that many of us (>50+) have been impacted by ageism for all the reasons you describe. They are the same issues that Michael Farmer discusses over and over again - highly skilled but costly resources against decreasing client budgets within monolithic holding companies that siphon off huge costs to cover holding company executives that contribute almost nothing to clients in productive value. Those who have been impacted, myself included, are then leery of discussing in a public forum, since the industry itself is actually very small, and we feel we cannot afford the visibility as we look for employment opportunities, in many cases within the web of agencies that are part of those same holding companies. It is sad but true. I know at my previous agency (>10 years, great reviews, annual bonuses) when I was "released", it was with a number of 50+ senior managers and mid level executives. All of course were validated by client reductions...but no less coincidental. The reality is that Ageism in this industry is impossibly hard to prove given client volatility and transience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Anon. I appreciate the issue fully. But I believe that when people speak out publically, the issue will begin to be solved. It is no different than the #MeToo people who were afraid that they wouldn't get work.

      Delete
  4. I was recently laid off due to a purchase, and got outplacement with a well-respected firm. Our weekly meetings were full of people 50+ from all industries facing the exact same thing.

    We were all advised to not have our resumes go back further than 20 years, unless absolutely necessary. That would at least give us a little wiggle room in terms of potential employers figuring out our age. It's a damn shame, since some of that early experience has allowed us to see the growth of some trends, the death of others, and be able to respond to myriad changes quickly. And in terms of teaching the next generation, well I think we are already seeing how underprepared a lot of the more junior ad folks are these days. No agency training programs, few 50+ experienced execs to mentor & train...

    Not sure what the solution is, other than to make a commitment ourselves to be cognizant of it and not do it to someone else!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Anon, but I will tell you a little secret. Any professional resume reader - recruiters, HR people, etc. - can spot someone who has lopped off years from their resume in a flash. There are too many tell-tale signs (e.g. you put your title down from 20 years ago; no one starts there career as a VP or SVP). The out-placement firms think they are being smart by telling people to do that, but it is bad advice.

      Delete
  5. Pay Per Click Advertising Hey!!! There Very Nice And Impressive Blog. Its so Helpfull

    ReplyDelete
  6. Someone once said to me that in advertising, if you are not in a "corner office" in an agency by age 45, you'd better have an exit plan. Great advice, but unfortunately, I got it at age 53.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Getting a corner office by 45 (or better, yet, 40) helps, but is not a guaranty that at 50 you will be let go. That is the whole point.

      Delete
  7. Ageism? In advertising? 40 years ago I used to tell my 20-something new hires, "If you're 45 years old and you don't own a piece of the company, there's a big, fat, red X on your back." They laughed--and they all reached out to me when they turned 45. That said, ageism is now rampant across all of business (Read Dan Lyons' excellent book, "Disrupted") which is good news for virtual businesses like mine: My partners and I have the cream of the senior crop, able to pick and choose among some of the best and brightest who've been discarded by mainstream agencies and companies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So right. The best protection against ageism is owning your own business or freelancing.

      Delete
  8. Businesswise, we privilege youth because young people are easy to manipulate and exploit. They lack experience, perspective, understanding and financial resources. They believe what they’ve been taught about getting ahead and will likely do what is asked of them. They are ensnared and enthralled by a system perpetuated on them by older people. They’re cheap labor.

    Older people, by which I mean people over 44, at least that’s the point at which I felt I had aged beyond youth, have learned enough about the way things work to play the game differently. They can be difficult employees, especially if they’ve found emotional or financial freedom. On the other hand, some leverage what they’ve learned into greater wealth and power by exploiting those who are young. Others get stuck in the middle, knowing they need to leave but too attached to go. I was one of them for a time. It took me ten years to leave the business.

    Here’s a story that illustrates what gaining wisdom did to my career. It was a moment when the experience of age took over from the mindless exuberance and loyalties of my advertising youth.

    We were at a creative meeting with a new client on the Thursday before Labor Day weekend. The client was an aggressive 40-something MBA, new and looking to make a mark. She didn’t like the creative and demanded we prepare new work for presentation the Tuesday after Labor Day. I said no. I knew no one wanted to work over the weekend. There was no reason except to submit to her ego. She called my boss and demanded I be removed from the account. My boss, agency president and winner of the account, obliged and moved me elsewhere.

    The meeting was a moment when I realized that no matter how important I thought it was to pay the mortgage or play in the ad game, advertising and I were moving in separate directions.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Funny, I had the same experience, a brand manager at Pfizer called me to have a 4:30 meeting on a Friday. She wanted the entire account group, including creative, at the meeting. I knew that several of them were leaving early to go skiing. The brand manager was insistent. I called her boss to ask to change the meeting and he actually agreed. But that is one of the incidents which lead me to become a recruiter.

    ReplyDelete
  10. A blog post I wrote a while ago addressing the same issue....the demographic landscape is changing and agencies are behind

    http://creatingbrandtraction.blogspot.com/2016/09/moving-towards-generation-none.html

    ReplyDelete
  11. Here’s an interesting thought that just popped into my head … The “Boomers” still run the agency holding companies and their Top-Ten global siblings. Everyone else is Gen X under 50, or “Millennials” under 40. Always was, and always will be. Not personal … just business as usual in advertising, media, entertainment, and digital industries of today.

    ReplyDelete

I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

 
Creative Commons License
.