Shirrin S Patwa

Campaign Middle East - - NEWS -

Ire­cently wrote about how women are mak­ing their mark in ad­ver­tis­ing at all lev­els. Now we will ex­plore an in­creas­ingly sin­is­ter prob­lem that is lurk­ing in the mar­comms in­dus­try, but which is rarely dis­cussed. It is ageism. It should gar­ner our im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion be­cause it af­fects both men and women, and un­for­tu­nately it gets hid­den amidst new-age fads such as re­lent­less agency cul­ture, aver­age staff age of 26-29, cost man­age­ment, burnout, an­a­lyt­ics vs cre­ativ­ity and dig­i­tal. As per the IPA Agency Cen­sus pub­lished in 2017, only 5.9 per cent of em­ploy­ees are over the age of 50 in IPA mem­ber agen­cies.

I have spent a con­sid­er­able amount of time man­ag­ing tal­ent in agen­cies in the Mid­dle East, and in my ob­ser­va­tion across the en­tire in­dus­try, peo­ple over the age of 50 are few and far be­tween. We can eas­ily clas­sify these few in three cat­e­gories: first are the C-suite, who have founded the com­pany; sec­ond are usu­ally the first hires that have been with the founder through­out the jour­ney; and the third cat­e­gory is sim­i­lar to the sec­ond but they have been lucky to be work­ing and ap­pre­ci­ated by global man­age­ment, who re­lo­cates them to a boom­ing mar­ket to sort out their re­tire­ment and en­joy the last few years at ease.

When­ever there is a cost-cut­ting ex­er­cise, it is usu­ally the older folks who are the first to go. This is due to the fact that we as an in­dus­try are so ob­sessed with youth cul­ture, align­ing the brand with mil­len­ni­als and re­duc­tion in costs that all our busi­ness strate­gies end up re­volv­ing around it – most times at the ex­pense of valu­able ex­per­tise and ex­pe­ri­ence. Yes, mil­len­ni­als are the fu­ture. They are the de­ci­sion mak­ers and are start­ing to have the buy­ing power. How­ever, here’s a quote from the great­est mar­keter and en­tre­pre­neur, Dubai’s Sheikh Mo­ham­mad: “He who does not know his past can­not make the best of his present and fu­ture, for it is from the past that we learn.” If or­gan­i­sa­tions don’t re­tain their ex­pe­ri­enced staff, they will keep re­peat­ing costly mis­takes and rein­vent the wheel every time. The prob­lem also lies in the fact that mar­gins are ex­tremely squeezed in most agen­cies, and hence em­ploy­ees are re­duced to data points and each data point is a cost cen­tre. Dur­ing re­dun­dan­cies, em­ploy­ees with higher salaries and per­ceived low in­come gen­er­a­tors are the first to be let go. In­vari­ably these are the se­nior staff of the or­gan­i­sa­tion. This re­sults in los­ing ex­cel­lent men­tors that all bud­ding tal­ent needs. Lastly, the growth of dig­i­tal and an­a­lyt­ics has brought along its own form of dis­crim­i­na­tions. How­ever, com­pa­nies for­get that with­out wis­dom, ex­pe­ri­ence and in­sight of what pat­terns to look for, data is of no value.

On the other hand; it is in­cor­rect to place the blame wholly on or­gan­i­sa­tions. In many sce­nar­ios the older staff get com­pla­cent by rest­ing on their lau­rels and for­get that in this fast-paced econ­omy it is easy to be left be­hind. Also, most or­gan­i­sa­tions in­vest heav­ily in dig­i­tal train­ing but some em­ploy­ees are un­in­ter­ested and oth­ers refuse to adopt new meth­ods. They get too com­fort­able to re­alise that a P&L ac­count never con­sid­ers past achieve­ment and loy­alty and, in these times of pres­sured profit mar­gins, every cost is a bur­den. In agen­cies, ex­pe­ri­ence is con­sid­ered to be ex­pen­sive and there has to be an on­go­ing jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to prove this wrong. It also doesn’t help that the cost of spon­sor­ing an ex­pat over the age of 60 is tremen­dously high in the Mid­dle East.

So how does a Gen X or a baby boomer pro­long their em­ploy­ment? I have a cou­ple of sug­ges­tions: be­gin with understanding that your or­gan­i­sa­tion and team shouldn’t be­come a com­fort zone. In this era of fre­quent man­age­ment changes, you should be ag­ile to adapt quickly. Mov­ing jobs every three to four years is very healthy as it gives you a lot of ex­po­sure in dif­fer­ent cul­ture and prac­tices. This will also help you in widen­ing your net­work. Next, be in re­lent­less pur­suit of new skills. Your ex­pe­ri­ence should en­able you to think strate­gi­cally across dif­fer­ent me­dia and tech­nolo­gies. Be ready to speak up and join de­bates – don’t get in­tim­i­dated by the buzz­words. In­vest in your fu­ture. Don’t leave this de­ci­sion for an­other day, as every day you spend think­ing only about the op­er­a­tional dead­line is a day wasted. Po­si­tion your­self against the fu­ture, not the past. Lastly, find a men­tor or a coach who will hold you re­spon­si­ble against your­self.

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