Advertising Age posted this week an article “Aging in Adland: The gray-hair phobia that’s hindering older execs.” and it hit a nerve. My Twitter feed was bursting with comments about the article and the comments a the bottom of the post are worth your time.
Rupal Parekh writes:
“Most shops won’t admit it readily, but gray-hair phobia is a reality in the digital era. With agencies continually restructuring and changing models to keep pace with the public’s media consumption habits, adland is right to be digitally obsessed. But most in the industry wrongly assume that the only people who grasp digital are fresh out of college.
That presumption has spawned an undercurrent of resentment as agencies refit themselves for the digital world – a process that often entails stripping out layers of longtime employees in favor of a newer breed of creatives and strategists believed to better grasp the increasingly complex media environment.”
It’s a bigger problem than just the digital revolution
When I started as a copywriter in advertising, people suddenly looked at me differently. Behind that cheap haircut and the non-cool clothes and appearance, there must be something cool about me, right? I didn’t know bands that were playing in a garage, ready to become underground hits. I didn’t go to hidden bars, I didn’t eat in a North Korean restaurant and I didn’t care about that cool movie from Sri Lanka. That average guy, how could he work in advertising?
Once you start working in the advertising industry, it looses its perceived coolness very quickly and turns into a grind of long hours, lost weekends and endless defeats. (Still, the best profession on earth.) Advertising professionals should know about the lack of coolness in our profession but, somehow, the outside view of our industry has rubbed off on the industry itself in some kind of self-perpetuating cycle.
Focusing on coolness is a sure loser
Being hip and cool seems to be equated by our industry with youth, the general feeling seeming to be that if you’re over 39 years you can’t possible contribute anything valuable. Translated: If you’re not in an executive position by 39 and 364 days, you better look for a new job. You’ll never make it.
This makes no sense. Or to say it in a more diplomatic way: It’s beyond stupid.
The long hours, the lost weekends and overall lifestyle demands youthful amounts of energy and, sure, some agency types are done by the time they start a family, opting for 9-5 lifestyle. This is not a golden rule but agencies love to worship the fountain of youth (the current economic climate doesn’t help) and forget that they are missing out on a deep talent pool.
The industry not only misses out on 39+ executives from other industries who would be suicidal to make the jump into advertising, we’re also losing a lot of talented people inside our industry. Especially bewildering when you have to listen to endless complaints about the “lack of talent” in our industry. I have friends in the industry who were loved by all their clients and co-workers, who can talk more intelligently about emerging technologies than any SXSW attendee and who have an amazing track record of brilliant work who can’t get an interview. Why? Because they were born before 1973.
The industry should take a long, hard look in the mirror: We seem to hire the same cool folks, the same hip people, the same way of thinking. And we end up with similar ideas. Innovative thinking won’t happen when we habitualize our hiring policies.
We need to start recruiting more on attitude and aptitude and less on date of birth.