Should age come before beauty?
Diversity may be at the top of the advertising agenda but the issue of ageism has been conspicuous by its absence, Nicola Kemp writes
Diversity may be a hot topic in international advertising, but the issue of ageism is conspicuous in its absence from the agenda.
“If you are made redundant over 40, it is very difficult to get another role” Diana Tickell, Nabs
If youth is wasted on the young, then age and experience are in danger of being wasted on the advertising industry. Diversity may top the marketing agenda but age is the final taboo at a time when, all too often, youth is mistaken for a shortcut to digital expertise. From actively hiding their age to investing in costly and invasive cosmetic procedures, those in the creative industries often view the passing years not through the accumulation of skills and experience but as a source of fear and potential rejection.
Data from the UK’s industry body IPA, confirms that the cliché that “advertising is a young person’s game” is more than just a lazy stereotype. The average age of employees at all IPA member agencies is 33.7, a figure that has remained static since 2009 and prompts the question: “Where does everyone go?” Is it time to broaden the ongoing debate around “the war for talent” to tackle the inherent ageism that is unpinning this great exodus from the industry?
In order to shine a light on this often neglected issue, and MEC conducted a UK-industry-wide survey to uncover the experiences and issues surrounding ageism in marketing and advertising. “Diversity is Campaign important in all of its forms and age is one of those areas that needs to be addressed and needs more attention,” Jason Dormieux, chief executive of MEC UK, explains.
The study revealed that almost 80 per cent of respondents agree that the industry comes across as ageist. Meanwhile, separate consumer-facing research shows that 31 per cent of the public would like to see more older people in advertising.
The rhino in the corner
Robert Campbell, founder of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R who currently runs High50, a lifestyle brand for the over-50s, says that age is the advertising industry’s “big rhino in the corner”. He explains: “We are all going to get old, but everyone is in love with youth.”
According to Campbell, the industry’s dismissive approach to the value of experience is symptomatic of a wider shift away from creativity. He says: “We used to be a business that understood and celebrated creativity, but now we are anti-creative as an industry. The generation below me speaks the language of creativity but the maths class has overtaken the art class.”
Campbell believes that the digital culture the industry has colluded in creating is frightened of creative ideas as it is driven by an overwhelming desire to weigh and measure any given approach. “Over the last 25 years, creative people have been sidelined,” he adds.
A creative used-by date
Shilpen Savani, a dispute resolution and employment law specialist at Gunnercooke, says that the advertising and media industries as a whole are not dealing well with the issue of age discrimination. He explains: “Innovation is valued above experience and that has created an imbalance and a focus on change. There is a misconception that age and innovation are seen as mutually exclusive.” According to Savani, age has long been regarded as something that is unattractive and “there is a greater awareness and acceptance in the industry where individuals have an invisible sell-by date”.
A swathe of companies in the industry are still falling foul of legislation by downsizing or restructuring in an attempt to mask unfair selection on the grounds of age. Drawing comparison with how companies handled race discrimination 20 years ago, Savani believes the industry has a fair way to go to tackle ageism. Although some have successfully tackled discrimination or negotiated a settlement over the past 10 years, Savani says these offers, while significantly above the statutory minimum, “have almost halved”.
It is a shift that, according to UK industry support body Nabs’ chief executive Diana Tickell, has led to a wave of industry professionals aged over 40 coming to the organisation for financial assistance. She explains: “If you are made redundant over 40, it is very difficult to get another role
and we are seeing the money run out quite quickly.” From person to datapoint The uncomfortable fact remains that as the industry continues to suffer from squeezed margins, the value of the individual to any given organisation is often reduced to a datapoint when the inevitable restructuring and redundancy processes begin. Dave Buonaguidi, chief creative officer at Crispin Porter & Bogusky London, says the industry is in danger of creating a zero-sum game: “For most people, it is just about numbers and people are reduced to a statistic. When you cut 30 per cent of an agency, or cut out the highest earners ahead of a potential sale, this often disproportionately impacts older staff. We’ve created an extraordinarily greedy industry.”
It is an approach that Buonaguidi believes is robbing not only the industry of some brilliant talent but also the next generation of creatives of the invaluable mentoring that experienced colleagues can provide. He says: “We need to think more about people; culture is not about simply saying we do fun stuff. It is easy to put your values on paper but we need to do something more than ask: how do I make money for myself?”
The rise of the cult of the entrepreneur, and the emerging generation of millennials who view their own success, or lack thereof, through the lens of Mark Zuckerberg, are driving a generational schism in some corners of the industry.
Brian Cooper, chief creative officer at Oliver, believes there remains an addiction to youth in the industry. He explains: “There is a real seduction around youth culture, and everyone wants to be a part of that.”
This discrimination has been bolstered by the growth of digital communications. Cooper explains: “Digital has created its own culture and what you find at agencies is there are a lot of people who don’t get it. It fosters a culture of collaboration, is very flat and fosters different ways of working.” An attitudinal lag This is not to say that age is a barrier to embracing these new ways of working. When culture is often viewed as the cornerstone of successful creative work, fostering one that supports diverse talent, which embraces age, is viewed by some of the industry’s leading creatives as a business imperative.
Vicki Maguire, executive creative director at Grey London, warns that any business that turns its back on people because of a number is losing out on a huge pool of talent: “I’ve been in agencies where the old boys’ club ruled but it was about thinking and culture. I used to have to stand outside my old creative director’s office waiting to show him work while he was at The Ivy talking about the good old days, but he wasn’t even that old – it was about attitude and energy.”
Just as the industry’s consumer segmentation model has evolved,
“People are reduced to a statistic. We’ve created an extraordinarily greedy industry” Dave Buonaguidi, CP&B London
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