Am I ageist… or a realist?

In this guest post, Ben Lilley responds to ‘ageist’ comments made about him after he pronounced that the traditional ad agency model was dead.

I’ve recently been accused of being ageist. Again. This last happened several years ago, when I was running a younger agency with a handful of youth brands requiring, not surprisingly, young people to work on them.

I was a bit younger then myself – not too much though. I’ve still yet to hit the ripe old age of 40. But now that I’m back in the multinational agency realm, it’s been suggested I only want to populate my new agency with ‘young people’ all over again.

Of course, this is not entirely true. But it’s not completely false either. This is not a question of age versus experience though, because of course every agency needs the right mix of both. The real question is: what is the right mix? The answer, I believe, is that most creative agencies are still too ‘old’.

We do, after all, work in an industry distinguished by its youthful strategic and creative professionals. And rightly so. These younger minds have not “tried that”, “seen that”, “done that” before. Their thinking is uncluttered by the “won’t work”, “too hard”, “that’s dumb” voices that can hinder more seasoned souls. And in an industry built on new ideas, the unconstrained thinking of those who don’t know any better is our true competitive advantage.

Younger agency workers are also immersed in the media landscape in a way their senior counterparts are not. Their personal lives are filled with the digital channels and platforms that are part of virtually every media plan today, but didn’t even exist when most senior industry figures were learning their trades. Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn and Google are not just buzzwords to  magically sprinkle into client presentations. They’re part of their DNA. Their thinking is digital at the core.

Above all, they were not trained in the traditional structures, layers and protocols of our industry’s past that have no place in its future. They don’t think the media agency is only responsible for media ideas, the digital agency for digital and that creative should only come from teams. They are not schooled in the siloed thinking, outdated systems and dog-eat-dog politics of the agency old guard. So they don’t need to be retrained or upsold on cross-disciplinary collaboration. It’s already how they think and work. (And they are rightly baffled by the Friday lunch stories – if they have time for lunch – about the “glory days” of the 80’s and 90’s. They know their – and our – glory days are here and now.)

If there was any doubt this next generation of industry thinkers is also its future, we need only look to our clients. Not only are they demanding fresh, youthful, digitally articulate teams on their accounts. Their own marketing departments are already staffed this way: with a robust, but lean, head of senior marketing experience, supported by a broad, energetic and youthful base of multi-disciplinary marketing specialists.

McCann’s global CEO, Nick Brien, calls this the “clear head, narrow waist, strong legs” agency model. Others might call it less chiefs and more Indians. Either way, for our clients and agencies alike, it’s strategically and creatively smarter, faster and more digitally savvy. It’s also how the majority of our clients prefer to work with us – engaging directly with the people responsible for the thinking and doing on their brands, not just their more polished but less active agency managers.

The advertising and marketing industry, as much as any other, has felt the full brunt of our changing business world. It’s not just technology that has transformed the way we work, live, create, communicate though – everything has changed. And the traditional agency model needs to change with it.

So if it’s ageist to want only the best people for our changing client needs, then that’s a label I’m willing to wear.

Ben Lilley is the newly appointed CEO of McCann Worldgroup – he was
previously CEO of independent agency Smart


  1. paul
    15 Nov 11
    9:09 am

  2. Not a very convincing or inspiring argument. Doctors also need to be continually trained on new ways that weren’t valid when they were being trained. Does this mean doctors who are ‘old’ have to move on and make way for the younger doctors.

    And Ben with Australia’s population aging you’ve made a fundamental error by assuming that only young people understand digital…

  3. Logic
    15 Nov 11
    10:13 am

  4. young people = better rev. multiple

  5. jean cave
    15 Nov 11
    10:14 am

  6. Ha HA
    Same old oldie-bashing
    Who do you think invented, designed and popularised the digital platforms then sonny?
    Not the yoof . . . methinks

  7. This is going on the 'NOPE' board
    15 Nov 11
    10:27 am

  8. Sorry Ben, but if this is all you’ve got, then yes you are ageist.

    I see nothing here but sweeping generalisations and unsupported assumptions.
    And the one thing I don’t see here, is recognition that many clients are tired of inexperienced account managers confusing ‘creativity’ with business results. The drive to be quirky, out there and claim ‘media first!’ often seems to cloud the whole reason this industry exists, which is, to deliver business results for paying clients aka ‘to help companies sell stuff’.

    Understanding how communication strategy can unlock business potential is something that comes with the doing and the trying, and the learning from failure. (I could only find the word ‘business’ used once in your article, which if I was a client with KPIs to meet or a Board or shareholders to respond to, would ring some alarm bells for me.). Getting as many ‘likes’ as possible on your FB page, is irrelevant if it doesn’t translate into dollars earned, somehow or somewhere down on your client’s spreadsheet. And that includes ‘awareness’ and ‘affinity’ which after all are only concepts used to drive the ultimate endgame…selling stuff.

    Anyone who is a professional schools themselves on new platforms and opportunities, and age is an irrelevant factor to learning. You only need to hover around Twitter or any number of blogs for a while to understand who does it well, and why. The old fogies of (egads!) 40 or so are in my opinion, by far the most intelligent and interesting contributors. There is a lot to learn from experience and from people more qualified to answer a question than you may be. Those kinds of people are everywhere….if I can find them and get value out of them, why can’t you?

  9. version
    15 Nov 11
    10:50 am

  10. “…those who don’t know any better is our true competitive advantage.”


    I would prefer the people who know better to be on my business.

  11. Kirst
    15 Nov 11
    11:05 am

  12. Sorry Ben, your approach is terrible.

    That is a awful way of seeing this industry. It is people like you that make it into the ageist industry it is today. You should be ashamed…

  13. Rob
    15 Nov 11
    11:22 am

  14. I don’t quite get your argument Ben – Nick Brien’s “clear head, narrow waist, strong legs” model sounds like a small number of strategists and leaders, and a whole bunch of executors/implementors (who by implication are the youngsters). I don’t disagree with this if you have a largely globally driven client base that needs more implementation and less thinking done in markets like Australia where the client is a subsidiary. This model suits a whole bunch of doers or drones as it were, doing the hard yards to execute the clients plans, not create them. And of course they learn their craft on the way through, just like we all did.

    You however seem to describe a model where all these techno-savvy young people bring better ideas to the table. This is laughable and scary, and I hope your clients understand the implications of this. There’s plenty of evidence of crappy corporate websites/blogs/social creating a digital wasteland and to me that suggests some more experience and expertise (that is, balance) needs to be at the table, not a whole bunch of people spouting the latest fad.

    I’ll take the former view, and let the young people in my agency learn on the job while they follow the lead of experienced operators, and not to feel obliged to try to solve every clients business problem with a Facebook page. There’s no doubt youth are the future of the industry (of all industries of course) but they need to realise they have a lot of learning to do to get to the head of the table.

    I agree traditional agency structures are on the way out, but God forbid if they get replaced with a whole bunch of directionless 20-somethings.

  15. Groucho
    15 Nov 11
    11:32 am

  16. With this clumsy attempt to justify his earlier mistake Ben illustrates the very pitfalls of the inexperience he is trying to justify. If he was defending the accused with this argument even the dumbest jury would find him guilty. The entire approach is predicated on building a business with less expensive chiefs and more cheap indians. Its not unlike the car service place that has one or two mechanics and a whole lot of labourers and makes a profit by underservicing knowing most people won’t notice. The difference is this Ben: now everyone knows. Your clients who do their jobs well will be watching closely, not only their juniors on their accounts, but the loopy logic of their bosses.

  17. Sean
    15 Nov 11
    11:39 am

  18. I work client side and frankly it disturbs me when inexperienced t-shirt wearing youth come in to dictate digital strategy to our business. If you think clients want this you’d want to check your facts. I suspect you just like younger workers because they’re cheaper.

  19. Gezza
    15 Nov 11
    11:43 am

  20. Hi Ben , I think you got it spot on. I am older than you but I know for sure if I was CEO of an agency I would follow your thinking which you have articulated well. At least you have the gumption to actually say why you have a particular employment strategy and that is based on what you believe your clients want and will bring success. A mature (40+ or OMG even 50+) senior suit or ECD can easily watch over a whole tribe of indians and advise and guide when required. But most of the time let them get on with being creative and original. These ageist accusations remind me of when we used to pitch for public sector business back in the UK and the agency had to fill in a form stating the ethnic mix of the staff and also if we had any gay or lesbian staff. I dont think they asked for age data but that was no doubt becuase they simply had’nt added it to the list of PC stats yet.

  21. The Worst of Perth
    15 Nov 11
    11:47 am

  22. That he earnestly seems to believe he’s not ageist while writing this is hilarious. Perhaps the inability to see your own (blatantly obvious to everyone else) biases, misunderstanding and incorrect generalisation is a young person thing?

  23. Anonymous
    15 Nov 11
    11:50 am

  24. oops. slipping in to the McCann ways already!

  25. Mr Observer
    15 Nov 11
    11:50 am

  26. I can’t wait to see how McCann’s does with their walls filled with cheap 20 year olds.

    And isn’t W+K Portland and BBH London filled with loads of “old people”. Hasn’t hurt them. It’s not age, it’s about talent but then McCann would be hard pressed to attract that wouldn’t it.

  27. Peter Rush
    15 Nov 11
    11:51 am

  28. -It took a 10 minute lesson to learn how to write online display.
    -And It took me 2 hours to Google around and learn how to write effective web copy and why it’s not brochure copy.
    -It took me 15 minutes to learn how to write for Twitter.
    -Finding my way around Facebook took a bit longer – say 30 minutes.
    -Linked In was messy for some reason, say an hour.
    -Blogs were obvious, nothing to learn there, 15 minutes tops.
    -YouTube and Google, once again, too easy, 15 minutes.
    -Learning to come up with a short headline, compelling visual and 4 lines of copy that grab attention, entertain and persuade, took me around 3-4 years.

    Who are you trying to fool gen Y?

  29. Martin Walsh
    15 Nov 11
    11:53 am

  30. Wow, after having picked myself up from the floor I have to agree with many of the comments on here.

    What a misguided, narrow and naive view!

    As a CMO who has spent the past 11 years immersed in digital, working with some of the best traditional and digital agencies like Razorfish, Spring Creek Group around the world and many others, I can tell you that young, inexperienced digital natives who only ‘get’ the latest ‘bright shiny objects’ and have no broader MARCOM experience are why 83%+ of social media marketing efforts fail. Overwhelmingly, the most successful campaigns have all been totally integrated campaigns with a strong emphasis on strategy, planning and understanding target audiences.

    The biggest problem I have faced in global and local roles over the past 11 years is not enough integrated or broader communications, strategy, planning, analytics and multichannel experience at agencies. Almost every experienced and very successful digital professional peer of mine around the world is over 30 and in many cases over 35+. The means does not determine the value and simply being a user of a channel or technology does not make you an expert.

    Most underlying tenants of marketing have never changed – one of which is understanding your customer. I have yet to meet a digital ‘professional’ at an agency (particularly in Australia) who truly understands why certain audiences use certain channels and technologies and when, in the buying cycle and the psychology, drivers and other characteristics of those audiences / users. Absolutely a critical first step!

    I’m sorry to say this but I feel so strongly about your views that I will say: if this is the way you’ll run your agency then as a CMO I’ll be steering well clear and telling all my peers to keep looking for an agency staffed with more integrated experience.

  31. Kirst
    15 Nov 11
    11:53 am

  32. @Groucho – Well said!!

  33. free for all
    15 Nov 11
    11:59 am

  34. Hey Ben, might be a good idea to take down the clients page on the McCann website

  35. flesh peddler
    15 Nov 11
    12:02 pm

  36. and Sean, if agencies like these people because they are cheaper, ultimately the reason for that is that this is all their clients will pay for. How many times have you/your bosses started an agency fee negotiation by saying that you’re happy to pay more?

    let’s not go through the same hysteria as last week. We all have to stop talking in absolutes

    Not all young agency people are energetic and open minded or have all the answers in Digital. Some of them are lazy and inflexible

    Not all old agency people who are out of work are out of work because they’re old. Some of them aren’t good enough and don’t have what it takes to succeed in today’s industry,

    Not all women who don’t make senior management don’t make it because of their sex. Some of them aren’t good enough or don’t want it enough.

    etc etc

    to say anything else is patronising.

  37. Baba Ganoush
    15 Nov 11
    12:14 pm

  38. I wish people would stop talking about the wonder of social media, like it’s some foreign language.

    Being ignorant of these things is deadly, sure, but knowing how they work isn’t a ticket to paradise.

    Far more important is the ability to read people. To know what they may or may wish to know about a brand or service. To know the tone in which they want to be spoken to. To know the right time and place.

    That ability is what our clients don’t have and ultimately what they are paying us for. And it’s not the province of the young or middle aged, the female or the male, the single or the married.

    That’s where the gold is. Working that out into a TVC or a facebook campaign, that’s where the commodity is.

  39. michael
    15 Nov 11
    12:30 pm

  40. Answer? Ageist.

    A patronising attempt to make himself “cool” with the youngsters, methinks…….and of course no one over 40 (Watch out Ben!) can comprehend the new digital world….

    “Their personal lives are filled with the digital channels and platforms that are part of virtually every media plan today, but didn’t even exist when most senior industry figures were learning their trades. Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn and Google”

    By your own definition at the age of 40 you should magically vanish to be replaced by a 22 year old clone…n’est-ce pas?

  41. pig of the night
    15 Nov 11
    12:52 pm

  42. The nub of your premise is:

    1. ‘These younger minds have not “tried that”, “seen that”, “done that” before.’

    So they’re going to see and try and do things without the wisdom of hindsight and your clients will pay for their experimentation and on-the-job training.

    2. ‘Their thinking is uncluttered by the “won’t work”, “too hard”, “that’s dumb” voices that can hinder more seasoned souls.’

    As a client, I would seriously want my agency teams to apply the “won’t work”, “too hard”, “that’s dumb” filter before they presented strategies and ideas for my investment.

    3. ‘And in an industry built on new ideas, the unconstrained thinking of those who don’t know any better is our true competitive advantage.’

    If your true competitive advantage is inexperience, then I assume you will be replacing your people when they become experienced. Lucky the agencies who hire them after they’ve gained their experience at your clients’ expense.

    I think you need to re-think this. But good on you for clearing out an unecessary layer which tends to come between clients and the people who work on their business.

  43. Gezza
    15 Nov 11
    1:21 pm

  44. What’s so wrong with a Lunch if ya can plan it in with work.
    If your clients are getting results and company is bringing the $ in what’s the problem.
    I rarely see any baffled looks on gen y faces when they get invited to a free lunch especially when you work your ass off.

  45. Sam
    15 Nov 11
    1:34 pm

  46. This guys attitude is terrifying. Thank GOD client’s can see past such ridiculous statements (thank you especially to Martin Walsh!).

    Peter Rush, you have it right there. How hard is it? Really? Not very… and these young’un’s reckon they have it all over us “oldies” (bear in mind that I’m at the ripe old age of 39 and most agencies reckon I’m too old … lucky I found one that respects my value to the client’s business).

  47. Gezza
    15 Nov 11
    2:15 pm

  48. @ Gezza 1.21 You are not me!

  49. Ben Lilley
    15 Nov 11
    2:33 pm

  50. Thank you for the comments.

    It’s encouraging to see so much debate, not just about so-called ageism but also about our agency structure.  It’s interesting, however, to note that most of these comments associate a more youthful workforce with an Indians-are-cheaper-than-chiefs approach and solely identify “youth” with inexperienced “twenty-somethings”. I am advocating a shift from the traditional agency structure, not a witch-hunt against every senior in the industry, so these comments are missing the point.

    As I’ve argued before, McCann is globally reinventing itself as a transformational agency with digital at the core. Our focus is on bringing innovation, creativity and performance to the forefront of all we do.

    Ageism cuts both ways. I refuse to accept that youth means inexperience. Particularly when partnered with a senior management team with a proven track record in delivering strategically and creatively effective campaigns for a broad range of clients.

    And for anyone who thinks creating digital-centric solutions for clients means collating “likes”, then we’re operating in different worlds.

  51. jean cave
    15 Nov 11
    3:01 pm

  52. However you do seem to be saying anyone over forty is incapable of moving with the times!!!!! which is utter tripe of course.

  53. adam sutherland
    15 Nov 11
    3:04 pm

  54. Perhaps someone should start an agency of “oldies” that talks to the market with THE CASH … ‘The oldies’, they are the ones buying the big TVs – it isn’t all about FMCG !

    As our population is getting older, so are the peers who market to them…

  55. Tom
    15 Nov 11
    3:13 pm

  56. It seems to me that Ben has just made the case for an action for age discrimination for any person who applies for a job and doesn’t get it with him.

    “We do, after all, work in an industry distinguished by its youthful strategic and creative professionals. And rightly so. These younger minds have not “tried that”, “seen that”, “done that” before. Their thinking is uncluttered by the “won’t work”, “too hard”, “that’s dumb” voices that can hinder more seasoned souls. And in an industry built on new ideas, the unconstrained thinking of those who don’t know any better is our true competitive advantage.”

    it seems Ben has a bias and prejudice that older workers cannot be a competitive advantage and good workers.

    “So if it’s ageist to want only the best people for our changing client needs, then that’s a label I’m willing to wear.”

    it seems in the above sentence Ben is hammering in the final nail of imminent discrimination claims.

    Essentially he is saying youth is our competive advantage – they’re better than older workers and so if I only want youth, tough.

    Well no, it’s not tough – it’s against the law.

    I wonder if his clients agree with his stance that older workers have less value and if they support an agency that so openly and brazenly states its disinclination to hire mature workers.

  57. This is going on the 'NOPE' board
    15 Nov 11
    3:25 pm

  58. Ben, if you think that everyone commenting here has missed the point, perhaps you might consider whether your point has been well made?

    See this is where the sage advice of a mentor (who’s been there, done that) might have come in handy to avoid your point about agency structure (btw, who are these clients gagging for their accounts to be driven by “those who don’t know any better”?) being lost in a debate on ageism.

  59. Anne Miles
    15 Nov 11
    3:26 pm

  60. I’m in a mixed place right now as I read this article having been made Head of TV in charge of $20 million in production spend and up to 7 full time staff and any number of freelancers on multiple projects at a time when I was just 21.

    Now after 27 years in the business I can know now with certainty that what I know now truly adds value to the client’s business more so than ever before. I pay for myself many multiples above what I cost the agency and all the more above what it costs for a junior. The juniors I see don’t deliver this IMHO. I don’t bring up my own experience for playing my own drum but as an example of the insights I have being in both situations and from consulting with businesses of all different types, filled with all age groups.

    A worker at the top end of their game can focus their thinking in innovation and the results space because that’s the fun part. The everyday actions may be more automatic, but I think that there is that kind of work for any age. Playing at the top end of experience now, I can therefore really appreciate an innovation that is going to bring a client results rather than innovation for the sake of it and see it very quickly – like author Malcolm Gladwell in ‘Blink’ talks about the way an expert can see through the cloud in an instant – this is what experience brings.

    I’ve been first to introduce many innovations to this industry and so I can say that it is not the youthfulness that brings this but individuals by personality type regardless of age. There are ways to measure innovative thinking scientifically now and I can guarantee that age is not one of the criteria for a successful innovator.

    So, having had the opportunities at a young age and comparing that to what I can offer a business now I think the best business model is having a number of ‘youthful’ and cheaper people to do leg work every day, with a solid head of the team to guide them and make their work results focused and on track for the client.

    I agree that having a lot of senior people in the one team can be a heavy overhead but I disagree that the team can do without the leadership of a highly experienced person with a good open mind to innovation.

    I think @Sean proves that clients can see through a half baked service or innovation for the sake of it rather than being results focused.

  61. Nick
    15 Nov 11
    3:36 pm

  62. As a recruiter within the industry and ageing creative myself, I can’t help but marvel at the level of vitriol. Are you guys unaware that Ben is espousing the employment principles held by virtually every other major player in the market? The difference is that he has simply had the balls to articulate it. Couple that with the mandate of “make our agency smarter, more efficient and more relevant” I simply struggle to understand why anyone can’t follow the logic. It’s a business for god’s sake.

    It’s a damn shame older creatives aren’t held in the same regard as they used to be, but unfortunately the industry’s yes mentality (“yeah we’ll pitch against 7 others, why not?”) has continually devalued our offering. Our relegation to supplier status in an increasingly commoditised marketing world ensures that cost versus talent is a war that’s hard to win.

    I think at the end of the day Ben’s argument is about relevance, and underpinning that, is the need to be cost effective. If that means employing younger people then so be it.

  63. sven
    15 Nov 11
    3:58 pm

  64. Wow. I’m client-side and as a GM of Marketing I am gobsmacked by Ben’s lack of understanding of what clients really want.

    I couldnt agree more with the criticisms posted here – particularly Pig of the Night’s

    While clients want fresh ideas, the more important thing is an understanding as to what is likely to work and not waste the millions i’m spending on advertising.

    To this end i was extremely aggravated recently by a young digital media buyer telling me about how much learning is occurring on my nickel. I said i expected that he would know his job before spending my money.

    and Ben’s claim that ignorance of what’s gone before is a competitive advantage is mind-boggingly stupid.

    Is there any other industry in the world that loves broadcasting its complete inability to learn and build on knowledge like the advertising industry does?

    really, to a marketing industry outsider like me this viewpoint is simply amazing and would be ridiculed in any other industry.

  65. Jeremy Smith
    15 Nov 11
    4:04 pm

  66. Martin Walsh – how many digital professionals from Australian agencies have you met?

    There’s about 100+ agencies. Your comment deriding Australian digital is as narrow minded as comments about ageism. But hey, thanks for the vote of confidence, and clearly all those 35+ people you know are all from overseas.

    So, which Telecom should I use now? And, how many of my digital professional colleagues will I tell not to host with Macquarie.

    Glass houses; maybe it’s time for this industry to grow up. Ha… get it!

  67. paul
    15 Nov 11
    4:04 pm

  68. Ben, no one is saying youth equals inexperience. There are so many broad brush strokes in your opinion piece. Specifically;
    a) The young being fresh thinkers; Maybe you should have a read of some historical figures who weren’t young – Aristotle, Socrates, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Einstein and Da Vinci to name a few. These guys were no oil paintings (well maybe Da Vinci) and they still fresh thinkers
    b) The assumption that only younger people get digital…surely advertising isn’t about digital only. It is about reaching people to sell a product or communicate a message in it’s simplest form. Wouldn’t you prefer to have people regardless of age who know how to tell a story and sell that product? I know clients would love that

  69. Sara
    15 Nov 11
    4:09 pm

  70. An interesting read. I’ve worked both agency and client side. Most agencies are predominantly youth based and there have been a couple of reasons (and no, not related to fresh ideas!). Young advertisers can be, and often are, paid an absolutely pittance to work the hours they do – many older advertisers sensibily convert to client side where they are better appreciated, better paid and often have better hours. I know many who started working in advertising in the past 5 years at wages lower than they earned working as full time retail sales assistants (that’s full time not casual rates).
    The other thing I think is worth mentioning is that even client side at the moment, the economy is acting against hiring senior experienced staff meaning that many client companies are hiring juniors and letting them sink or swim – the successful ones go on to do well in the client firms. Have a look across all job types and you might find the same thing. The economy starts performing, you might find experience starts to win out over cost to hire again.

  71. Meh
    15 Nov 11
    4:27 pm

  72. I work with a couple of fossils who don’t know shit about digital, but I’d gladly take them into a meeting any day of the week over a social media strategist who’s fresh out of FBU.

    FBU! FBU! FBU! Goooooooo Facey!!!!

  73. Jenni Beattie
    15 Nov 11
    4:38 pm

  74. Ben,

    I take issue with your simplistic assessment: “Younger agency workers are also immersed in the media landscape in a way their senior counterparts are not “.


    1.Teaching Social Media at UTS I see tech savvy older post-grad students and those in their twenties that struggle with both the practical and theoretical side of social media. Age does not appear to be a deciding factor.

    2. Back in 2006 along with some colleagues we developed a social media strategy for Paramount Pictures one of the first in Australia and yet! the average age was getting close to 40 – it certainly didn’t hold us back from innovating in the space. Our business acumen from years in the industry didn’t hurt either.

    3. Looking at a range of social media crisis case studies over the years some of these could have been avoided if a more experienced person was at the end of the Twitter dashboard. Companies often make the mistake of thinking that they can put the most junior person on the account because ‘they get it’.

    Finally I should say I am all for youth, heck I was one once and even spent some of it with the Sydney office of McCanns having some of those ridiculously long lunches in the 1980s :)

  75. Tony Simms
    15 Nov 11
    4:50 pm

  76. With Ben’s brazen and defiant stance I thought it would be all too easy to take a
    vitriolic swipe at him but I have grown to dislike anything other than constructive discussion on forums such as these.

    Given the stance I have taken myself over the past week with my sandwich board and online campaign, I must admit I found it offensive. But rather than launch with “shots from the cheap seats” I decided to call him.

    I discussed my concerns and asked if he had considered that such a stance flew in the face of tough discrimination laws from the Human Rights Commission and was an outright breach of these laws carrying tough penalities for both individuals and companies.

    Ben believed that he was not ageist at all and was simply hiring the best people for the job. He also suggested that there were two camps and perhaps an open debate between the two camps was necessary. I think he may have missed the point completely and being devisive is not being constructive and solves nothing.

    From the response and enormous encouragement I have received it becomes incredibly clear that there is a much bigger picture than soley the elimination
    of senior people. Here are just some of the groups who have contacted me:

    * Graduates who are not being attracted to the industry as they have far better long term career choices.

    * Those who have recently entered the industry and are struggling to see their career path

    * Those who have chalked up a few years but have very few mentors to guide them to the next level

    * Of course senior people who have built significant experience and are a valuable assett but find themselves being pushed out of the industry

    * Clients who are fed up with not receiving the depth of skill they have every right to demand from their agencies; particularly in tough times.

    * Recruiters who find themselves struggling to find candidates to fit presecriptive briefs from agencies who want so much from less than senior people.

    We need some open healthy discussion to bring about positive change for all groups outlined above.

    Our industry is looked upon somewhat cynically by other industries. Perhaps this is an opportunity to be seen as leaders, innovators and reformers and leave
    the T-shirt stereotype behind.



    PS Remarkably enough, I still need a job.

  77. JJ
    15 Nov 11
    4:54 pm

  78. Hey Ben, bet you wished you hadn’t written the post….!

  79. Heidi
    15 Nov 11
    5:10 pm

  80. While I am Gen Y, I own and operate, a leading job search site, advocate and online community for experienced jobseekers over 45. I have personally benefited throughout my career through working with people from different cultures, economic and religious backgrounds and ages. All have helped me to become not only a more effective worker, but a more informed citizen. Organisations need to promote diversity not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it makes good business sense. This seems to have been won for the gender and race debate yet age discrimination is still largely accepted (see comments by Ben Lilley above). Take for example if you were to replace every word referring to ‘youth’ above and replace it with ‘male’ and any reference to ‘old’ and replace it with ‘female’. There would be an absolute outcry – actually, I’m sure even Ben would know that is commercially suicidal. What I don’t understand is why organisations, recruiters and advertisers continue to neglect what is the fastest growing labour market segment and spend the most money and time online? This is an opportunity – not a threat! And remember, age is the only thing we all have in common. Feel free to email me with any comments relating to mature age workforce to

  81. The Worst of Perth
    15 Nov 11
    6:02 pm

  82. Yes Tony, the fact that he totally and utterly doesn’t get it is the problem. Much like – in fact exactly like all the “Well I’m all for women in the workforce, but a man is more suitable for THIS job…” types of decades ago. They sincerely believed it too just as badly didn’t get it.

  83. Anonymous
    15 Nov 11
    6:39 pm

  84. Heidi and Tony Simms are right.

    Replace age with gay, women, black and people would be appalled.

    I am sure that the HRC and local equal rights organisations would be interested in Universal McCann and Nick the recruiter views.

    Nick, I appreciate you have commercial concerns, but if you complied with a request from one of your recruitment clients for no woman, no blacks etc, you may also be exposed to the equal opportunity laws.

    Anti-discrimination laws apply to all.

    Saying its my clients who discriminate not me, is not a defence.

    I am appalled at the ageism on display here.

    And I quite understand commenters strongly opposing such culturally and legally dubious practices

  85. Betty
    15 Nov 11
    6:39 pm

  86. Heidi and Tony Simms are right.

    Replace age with gay, women, black and people would be appalled.

    I am sure that the HRC and local equal rights organisations would be interested in Universal McCann and Nick the recruiter views.

    Nick, I appreciate you have commercial concerns, but if you complied with a request from one of your recruitment clients for no woman, no blacks etc, you may also be exposed to the equal opportunity laws.

    Anti-discrimination laws apply to all.

    Saying its my clients who discriminate not me, is not a defence.

    I am appalled at the ageism on display here.

    And I quite understand commenters strongly opposing such culturally and legally dubious practices

  87. Logan
    15 Nov 11
    6:40 pm

  88. It’s 2011 and on the surface, it all seems to be an idyllic society. Living in a city where inhabitants are free to pursue all of the pleasures of the advertising industry. There is one catch however: your life is limited and when you reach 30, it is terminated in a quasi-religious ceremony known as McCannousel. Some, known as runners, do try to escape their fate when the time comes and it’s the job of Ben Lilley to track them down and expell them. Logan is such a man and with several years before his own termination date, thinks only about the job he does – he is exceptional, stays on trend by staying up to date with all the latest trends. Soon after meeting a young woman, Jessica-6, he is ordered to become a runner himself and infiltrate a community outside the dome known as AdMan Out To Pasture Sanctuary and to destroy it. Pursued by the ageist Ben Lilley, Logan and Jessica find their way to the outside. … to be continued….

  89. Doug
    15 Nov 11
    6:51 pm

  90. Hey Heidi 15 Nov 11 5:10 pm
    totally agree… imagine if he said “white”!!!!
    and what about “immature” 47 year old experienced people?

  91. Baba Ganoush
    15 Nov 11
    9:36 pm

  92. Ben,

    I don’t know you but I have huge admiration for anyone with the nuts to hang out their own shingle. And then sell it. So good for you for that.

    But the premise that hiring youth is somehow challenging the ‘traditional agency model’ is nonsense.

    Hiring youth is hiring youth, nothing more or less. It’s neither revolutionary nor a silver bullet. It keeps the wage bill down, keeps the dissonance to a minimum and keeps the agency full on Saturdays.
    It works well if you’re selling jeans or music, not so well if you’re selling mortgages or nappies.

    Phrases like ‘clear head, small waist, strong legs’ are beancounter piffle. It’s no different to the current reality of most Australian agencies where the time of senior management are sold one-and-a-half to two times over (clear heads) and the juniors (strong legs) are left on the weekend to make sense of their underprepared instructions.

    I’ve had the privilege of working with the founders of both SEEK and in my time. They challenged the models of their businesses by changing the fundamentals not tinkering with the demographics.

    And none of them are especially young.

    The challenge you have with McCann is huge, perhaps insurmountable. Good for you for taking it on.

    But don’t kid yourself either.

  93. Denise Shrivell
    15 Nov 11
    10:20 pm

  94. Let’s get down to it – we live in a youth obsessed culture created by the very industry we all work in.

    Why should we be surprised the head of one of the largest creative agencies in Australia is applying this culture?

    It is the manifestation of years of successfully selling exactly what we’ve created.

    BTW – I’m 46 and so very proud of it. I am hoping my age ‘problem’ gets a lot worse for many, many long years to come.

  95. Anonymous
    15 Nov 11
    11:09 pm

  96. Dear Ben,

    I am a proud Gen Xer who in their twenties also declared the tradional agency model dead, but it was in the mid-nineties. Working with the late boomers, our generation/s pioneered Digital platforms, new ways of communicating, social networks and true innovation. (As a time capsule, there is no better reading then the Clue Train Manifesto, which you can still find online. Talk about ahead of its time!)

    Our rally cry of youth, was that digital should be at the core of everything and that older people just didn’t get it. So Ben, I get what you’re saying, it’s been said before, but then came 2000 and the blood bath that was the sound of the bubble bursting. It was painful, but frankly, it was well deserved.

    What was left though, was the passion for innovation and a restless spirit. It’s what drove Steve Jobs, Jonathan Ive, Jeff Bezos, Reid Hoffman etc. And it will be what drives future pioneers.

    What I personally learnt from the experience, when I dusted myself off, was it’s not the passion for a channel that matters, but the passion for a new idea that can change the way we see/experience the world. So I took that mantra and ran with it, and what I found was the channels quickly became secondary. Sometimes the channel was digital. Sometimes it wasn’t. Whatever best served the idea and my client won through. I got more creative. I got more stragetic and my clients got the benefits straight through to their bottom line.

    So age is irrelevant and spirit is everything, which means you can be 25 or 45 or even 65 and still be innovating and on top of your game. That spirit of wanting to push what seems impossible never leaves you. The beauty of technology, for those of us who are passionate about it, is that it’s constantly evolving – changing day-by-day, and back then, sometimes minute-by-minute. At 43, that’s just as much a part of my DNA as it is a twenty-something. In fact I don’t care how old you are. If you have that passion … come sit next to me because I will always want to hear what you have to say, think and imagine and I hope you’ll listen to me too and not ask for my birth certificate.

    PS Ben, if you’re interested in where digital is really breaking new ground. It ain’t in social media, but in the blurring of real and virtual worlds, but you should be doing that on your own dime and not your client’s, but hang on … isn’t that just a fancy way of saying integration …

  97. Young Dude.
    16 Nov 11
    6:26 am

  98. Hey Ben,

    Wass Up Bro? Got any work going for me, got the arse from my last crap job. The old dude’s said I was lazy, and had no idea when it came to delivering on time, they should just chill out, you should have seen the surf, it was epic, dude……

    I’d love a job with you, it sounds ‘rad’. I’ve got heaps of experience in Social Media. I’ve got over 2000 Facebook friends now.

    Any chance you can throw in a new IPAD? I had one, but i cracked it, jumping off a moving train. It was an express service to McCann’s. Had to bail fast. You’d have to be to ‘cracked’ to work their.

    Surely you are ‘Smarter’ than that, Ben?

    One month at McCann’s and they have you drinking from that same
    ‘Homogenised Cow” then all drink from, a poisoned Chalice, for sure!

    Here’s a hot tip from a kid…….. I wouldn’t go out of my way to rub up your own industry so early into your new ‘gig’. Your task is going to be difficult enough, without adding your words of wisdom. Try this…..Focus on getting your client’s message heard, not your own.

    In all honest, after reading that ‘trash’ not many people care to hear ‘your message’.

    Haven’t you realised the only reason you’re there, is because no one else wanted it.
    Plus, the only way to pick up some new tricks for the client list is to buy them.

    Good luck and Hold on tight! The ride ends quickly there, everyone falls off. It was built by young dudes, who couldn’t see and appreciate the value of safety aspects of the ride.

    It’s gnarly Bro!

  99. Anne Miles
    16 Nov 11
    6:42 am

  100. Great litmus test @Heidi.

    As far as commercial realities go I can also guarantee that there are older and more experienced workers that would take on the role at the same price as the ‘youth’ too given the opportunity to be working or not to be working. It doesn’t mean you’d keep them long term nor is it conducive to a healthy relationship but it means they’re working.

    I trust that this is something @Tony Simms has considered if this is the barrier to feeding the family.

  101. Ben
    16 Nov 11
    8:41 am

  102. Couple of points. First off to Anonymous (6:39 pm) sadly one of the reasons so many people use the services of recruiters is that whilst they may not openly say ‘only hot blondes’ they can knock back as many people as they want for no reason. It’s up to the recruiter to dodge the discrimination bullet for them.

    My ex is still in recruiting and I still recall the horror stories she’d tell me about sexist/racist clients. Admittedly different industry, but I doubt there’s a huge difference.

    Secondly, the sooner ‘oldies’ realise digital isn’t some magic bullet, golden ticket and perfect answer to an agency’s woes (or more importantly a client’s brief) the better. Youngsters don’t have anything over you. Digital is a vehicle, a facilitator. Sure you can do great things with it but just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it works any better that any other form of media.

    The idea’s the thing that works. That’s never going to change.

  103. Anon
    16 Nov 11
    8:58 am

  104. Whilst totally disagreeing with everything that Ben has said in his article, his point about being a realist is true , as a recruiter in the industry (i can see the eyes role), I cannot tell you the number of client meetings that I have sat in on to be told “we are a young office” “our average is under 35” or more disturbing “she was a bit mumsy” .or we want a “girl” It seems to me that Ben may have inadvertently shined a light on an issue that is very common in our industry and I suggest that McCann are not the only ones doing this. in my experience it does seem to be a uniquely agency thing to do.

  105. Ben Lilley
    16 Nov 11
    9:02 am

  106. I see there have been a lot more comments since I checked in yesterday. It’s a shame so many are anonymous though (to pick up on another theme running concurrently on Mumbrella right now).

    It makes it difficult to respond effectively to such strongly worded but for the most part very well expressed arguments, when it is not clear who they are really from or how genuine or authentic they are.

    Tony Simms is an obvious exception in clearly putting his name and voice to this argument. Clearly his is a message that is resonating with many in our industry and he and I had a robust discussion about this yesterday (which I think ended with us agreeing to disagree!)

    Like Tony, I have been fortunate to have received many direct messages of support for the rebuilding work we are doing here at McCann – including several enquiries from new clients, which I must say has been an unexpected but welcome outcome.

    Above all though, I have been inundated with CV’s from (dare I say it) people of all ages and levels of experience – and this has been a brilliant.

    What is clear from this thread though is that there is a message here that does not appeal to a large number of people in of our industry. The work we are doing to reinvent McCann clearly is not and will not be celebrated by these voices.

    We are fortunate though that there are so many agencies to fit us all – as both employees and clients. I’ve worked in many – both as as a creative and in management – and know better than most how much the culture and philosophy of each affects the working experience for staff and clients alike. And this is the key to what I have tried to express in this opinion piece: what it is we now stand for at McCann.

    This will not be right for a lot of people – staff and clients alike. And that’s fine. There are more than enough traditional agencies across Australia for them to choose from. But for those who do see the merit and value in the new model we’re creating here, MCann is now offering something better.

    So I am happy to encourage further debate. And I welcome further direct contact from the many people who evidently are interested to know more about McCann’s new offering.

    But if you really want me to address a point you are making in this thread, please do it under your own name so I know who it’s really coming from.

  107. Lawrence
    16 Nov 11
    9:14 am

  108. @Peter Rush, no doubt there are people who can pick things up quickly, but I doubt you will impress a client if you present your digital skills like you have done here.

    Another consideration is that digital is forever evolving. So if you carried out your digitalisation exercise last year you may want to go through it again soon.

    That said, I agree with you and what Ben says -“Digital is a vehicle, a facilitator.”

  109. Gezza
    16 Nov 11
    9:46 am

  110. @Tony Simms. Did you tell Ben before your conversation or after that you planned to interpret and paraphras his private comments to you in a public forum? Not sure I would appreciate such lack of discretion from a potential job seeker.

  111. Client
    16 Nov 11
    9:51 am

  112. I’m amazed at Ben’s insecurity that he reads the comments, and keeps digging a deeper hole for himself. I suppose that comes from his lack of experience…which is ironic. McCann will never appear on my pitch list with that attitude.

  113. Groucho
    16 Nov 11
    9:51 am

  114. Ben, quite why is it more difficult to respond to a post that is anonymous rather than identified? It is that sort of loopy statement that reveals the lack of maturity that seems to be your aim in the pursuit of profit at Mc Thingy.
    Like , well man , you know!
    I don’t give a fuck whether or not you address my point because there is no defence for your position that makes sense. Realism is a limp excuse for prejudice .

  115. John W
    16 Nov 11
    10:06 am

  116. Ben, you got it wrong in your first agency re-vamp announcement a couple of weeks ago. Then you went and repeated the same ageist, closed mind clap-trap in your latest collumn. Not a good look for the MD of a purportedly hot, new creative agency. Ask Dave Trott if he supports your ageist proposition.

    Sadly, I have the feeling you’re going to ask someone “who’s Dave Trott ?”

  117. Hages
    16 Nov 11
    10:18 am

  118. You put up a guest post Ben on Mumbrella did you not expect to get anonymous comments who disagree with you??? Seriously man what world are you living in.

    With you wanting to be all honest and upfront Ben tell us who your new “ageist clients” are and we can add them to the web site,FB and Twitter pages or better still how about you get the CEO of Taubmans to get on here and back you up or Kleenex??? I’m sure millions of “oldies” would love to know who not to spend their money with.

  119. Anne Miles
    16 Nov 11
    10:26 am

  120. I wonder how uncomfortable the 40 something creative director, or the other ‘older’ staff at McCann are suddenly feeling?

  121. Chico
    16 Nov 11
    10:41 am

  122. @Groucho… the problem is it’s falling on deaf ears. As always, no matter how well Ben or anyone else for that matter says the wrong thing, it’s still wrong.

  123. 32&FeelingAncient
    16 Nov 11
    10:45 am

  124. I am presuming that you don’t have a HR Manager Ben or alarm bells would be ringing! I am also thinking that if you haven’t got a good solicitor you better find one because if, over the years, you have let anyone go over 30 who reads this article, well I’m thinking you could have a law suit coming your way and all the evidence they will need is a print off of this article!

  125. Ben
    16 Nov 11
    10:59 am

  126. As an aside raised by the Ben and other commentators (and indeed the Communications Council) I’m not too sure why anonymous posting is bad.

    I didn’t realise as advertisers we knew the names of those watching or reading our ads?

    Why does it matter who says it? Isn’t it the content that’s important?

  127. Michele Teague
    16 Nov 11
    11:45 am

  128. Ben – you lost me at “when I was running a younger agency with a handful of youth brands requiring, not surprisingly, young people to work on them….” What kind of logic is this?! Where then are all the Boomers in your office working on cars, insurance, travel etc? Where are all the women in your office working on fashion, health and beauty etc? What are your planners doing if not giving you insights to the consumer group? And in terms of understanding media/channels I would say that one of the biggest issues I have had as a client is agencies lack of understanding of media and their reluctance to co-operate with media agencies.

  129. Chico
    16 Nov 11
    1:53 pm

  130. As an aside, when I was a young blade I worked on Taubmans and the then Old Fogey Boss actually knocked back the avant ideas and bought the mature-er concept… Lesson Learnt…

    So, yep, where are the McCann Clients commenting here? Mr Taubmans, are you still there?? I too would like to boycott their products if they concur with Ben L.

    I actually think Mumbrella should contact McCanns clients for some comments – really investigate this issue – what about it Tim and Robin?? You’d add to your already believable street cred if you did.

    As for anonymity, it is the life blood of this blog. I should know as I get moderated off quite regularly. especially when I get cranky about the MD C***t who refuses to pay me, (but let’s change the conversation) … or the well-known ECD who took credit for my idea and those of others on his way up the greasy pole (at least I still have my mojo)… or the a***hole who even in retirement confuses being creative with being a mad man (ah forget it, this post won’t get out) – and that’s how it should be!!

  131. Zeppo
    16 Nov 11
    2:40 pm

  132. @Chico, you’re on a roll!

  133. Tony Richardson
    16 Nov 11
    2:44 pm

  134. I hope Ben remembers all this when one day HIS phone stops ringing … and it will.

  135. Speak Slowly and Sound Important
    16 Nov 11
    3:03 pm

  136. I thought amusing that Ben wrote in saying he’s encouraged to see debate.

    From what I can tell all he’s encouraged is mostly condemnation.

  137. now a client
    16 Nov 11
    3:33 pm

  138. I would not want a bunch of 12 year olds working on my account. i would not want my junior self. Do not forget that clients appreciate wisdom of those who have been there before.
    I look foward to Scam ads for youth brands coming out of McCanns before they get a more mature CEO on deck.

  139. Sabrina
    16 Nov 11
    3:53 pm

  140. The older innovators are worth two youth any day. innovators get better with age and the older ones are at the top of the game like Steve Jobs. Many of the younger ones resort to BS to get ahead and have to fudge through every monday and friday day Not as concerned about the hangover, std’s or pregnancy teminations or partner blues or how much money they spent on stuff. I’m 32 and the older ones (guys especially) are indispensible. give me some grey anyway.

  141. James Vosper
    16 Nov 11
    4:10 pm

  142. Digital isn’t solely the domain of the young. Looking at the statistics of social media you may be surprised.

    The following shows the breakdown by age of Facebook:-

    13-17 13%
    18-24 24%
    25-34 26%
    35-44 17%
    45-54 11%
    55+ 9%

    Twitter numbers skew slightly older.

    As expected Linkedin skews older still . Check out:-

    Early stats on, recently launched, Google+ show that suburban affluent parents are the early adopters. Ironically Mark Zuckerberg is in the top 5 being followed.

    Just thought I would post this data. I am on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and Google+.


    James Vosper

  143. Nick
    16 Nov 11
    4:44 pm

  144. So let me get this right people. You’re appointed to transform an agency that’s sadly lost its way. It’s your mandate to reinvent it and to bring about a digital offering which the old agency had decided wasn’t necessary. Dramatic steps are required. You get rid of half a dozen people – a tiny cull compared to what would be expected and you talk about embracing a more youthful approach.

    The problem is what exactly?

    Why is everyone so hysterically outraged by this? And if cultural policy is discriminatory then you may as well start ranting about every fashion store, bar and every other employer that requires cultural relevance in their staff. You’ve all probably taken advantage of this very thing at some stage of your lives.

    There are some sensational older creatives in this town, I’ve worked with many. And the good ones stay relevant and by and large stay employed. It’s tougher – sure, but hey Advertising is a tough business. And I emphasise business.

    Thank you Tony Simms for some grace and maturity in a counter argument. I’m touching 50 myself and feel well qualified to say…. “it’s time for a cup of tea and a nice lie down”.

  145. Doughboy
    16 Nov 11
    4:52 pm

  146. Mumbrella viewers,

    Just did a quick search on Google+ for Ben Lilley and he is not there.

    Google+ opened up for businesses last week so McCann would be there right? Nope.

    Not real smart for a company that is “digital savvy” and full of “youthful digitally articulate teams”. LOL!!


  147. Smarter?
    16 Nov 11
    6:47 pm

  148. McCann has been a third tier agency in Australia for some time now, and Smart a very marginal player as a ‘digital’ agency. This ‘new agency model’ is PR spin for a desperate attempt at a reinvention, and without top creatives and producers with the savvy to execute great ideas across all content, then they won’t even be able to pitch for better clients, more or less do great advertising once they have an account worth mentioning. Juniors creating digital campaigns for the internet, telephony, and all manner of other channels will not win clients’ nor consumers’ attentions, will not produce revenue and will not make the agency a player in this market or any other. Great creative wins, and talented people are paid well for their services.
    Smoke, mirrors, and juniors earning junior salaries producing amateur work; that’s the future model at McCann Smart Whateveryoucallit under Ben’s leadership of mimicking the company line out of NY.

    Aside from Holden, Uncle Tobys and a marginal amount of Specsavers, none of the international brand work of note (Coca Cola, L’Oreal, Mastercard, Nestle, and Xbox), is created in Australia, and this trend with this cost cutting direction will continue.

    With all of the talk about a digitally centred agency model, one tends to forget that the great campaigns are still idea driven, and all of these have content that can be viewed across all media, including tvc, and that content requires talented people to create it, people and artistry that costs money, has team-built infrastructure to support the constant flow of ideas and to service big clients’ marketing needs. Smaller, cheaper, tighter, just means capturing the painful retail bottom. Digital is not the cure all for the problems of an agency like McCann; creative ideas might be, but management restructuring will be the tired analogy of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Try out WPPing WPP and you’ll end up with the success of 303.
    Good luck though, and keep those ‘internal’ memos coming, as your disgruntled employees send their resumes everywhere and your memos to the ‘digital’ press.

  149. Trevor
    16 Nov 11
    7:43 pm

  150. Maybe a few older and experienced people would have explained to Ben that “McCann is globally reinventing itself as a transformational agency with digital at the core” in 2011 says they have really missed the bus as lots of people started putting digital at the core in 1996/7. Gobsmacking really when the customer moved online ages ago and all of a sudden 17 years after the start of this revolution McCann announce they’ve finally worked it out. I’m sorry I don’t believe any prospect is going to phone you up with a view to be part with their advertising budget so you can give a few kids some work experience.

  151. Betty
    16 Nov 11
    8:25 pm

  152. @ Nick 72 – the problem Nick is that age discrimination is against the law.

    Plain and simple.

    Regardless of whether its the real world or not.

    Ben has put his foot in his mouth something fierce and is just digging himself deeper with most of his comments.

    And its not hysterical but more outrage at how brazen you and Ben seem to be.

  153. Anne Miles
    16 Nov 11
    10:28 pm

  154. I read the front page of Adnews just now and it seems Holden is doing a review of its digital agency. Pity this ‘youth’ spin, which was probably aiming at the digital-ness of McCann, will a have backfired.

    Unless the team at Holden have got a whole lot younger these days and don’t care about breaking the law, this may have gone right up their nose.

    In the 80’s and 90’s the scandals that got up Holden’s nose were different though I must say – plants strewn across the agency, people being head butted at a boozy lunch, CD’s thrown down stairs, things I can’t name going on in the office, celebrities who were wanted privacy than being schmoozed by the Marketing Manager, men with their shirts off beating their chests (those who were there will be having a giggle with me here), being pushed over and the CD sitting on you, the other CD folding someone’s breasts uninvited, the MD with his hand down the pants of the AD, the sleeping under the desk and camping in the office, the dead prawns in the phone. I could go on. Saying something that is un-PC like this just at review time is true to form, but relative to the time I guess. It must be in the agency’s blood 😉

  155. Ben
    16 Nov 11
    10:28 pm

  156. “Digital at the core”. When TV came (which was apparently going to kill radio), did Madison Avenue agency CEO’s say “we’re going to go for youth and make TV our core?”.

    I don’t think so. Digital agencies I understand, they specialise in digital and it’s all they’ve done. But a multinational getting all ‘transformational’ and digital.

    Me, I’d aim for a creative agency that delivered sales/changed opinion/answered the brief. But then I’m a weird one. I’m almost old but only just go into the industry. I’m torn, should I be all youth or old and wise?

  157. Anonymous
    17 Nov 11
    2:31 am

  158. wow your young dudes are so SMART they built your website in FLASH!
    Was it just to ensure it couldn’t be viewed on the mobile or tablet devices young people access content on today?

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to be a smart arse. Bu I do think, Ben, you’re so much more talented, and have got so much more to offer in terms of real solutions, you really don’t want to get bogged down by a debate like this.

    Who cares if the solutions came from a 20 year old or a 50 year old. As long as they came! Learn from the debate, close it, move on.

    Apologize as well though – your comments are not cool – or youthful – they’re old and jaded and have no place in McCann’s future or yours!

  159. Rosscoe
    17 Nov 11
    6:16 am

  160. “Digital at the core of the business” I have heard countless agency heads bleat this meaningless line for the past decade … It meant nothing to me as a client and means less to me when working in agencies… but what would I know I am one of those fossils who remembers fondly the days when the best creative thinking was at the core of the business. As far as this obviously ageist stance Ben good luck pitching to anyone over 40… Marketing Heads read this stuff too even when its in the digital space even though they are passed your used by date

  161. Harrington
    17 Nov 11
    7:44 am

  162. Dear bitter, older advertisers,

    The majority of these posts slam Ben for ageism, yet there’s a huge portion that also slam anybody in their 20s for being lazy, stupid, deluded or without the ability to think strategically. NEWSFLASH: These generalisations are also ageist!

    @Adam Sutherland – there are grey agencies already, They’ve outsourced mobile and social media work to me before (funny that)

    @Paul – Actually, a number of posts have said that youth = inexperience

  163. Mandy - Digital Designer Aged 40
    17 Nov 11
    9:12 am

  164. And how old is Ben?

  165. Anne Miles
    17 Nov 11
    9:34 am

  166. @Harrington – Inexperience is not the same as incompetence, but experience comes from doing something for a long time. I was very young in a senior role and therefore gained experience young but I don’t that is particularly common.

  167. nuradical
    17 Nov 11
    10:03 am

  168. Using an innovative technology doesn’t necessarily make for an innovative idea, age aside, the issue here is the assumption that the channel drives the solution not the other way around.

  169. Rob
    17 Nov 11
    10:14 am

  170. @Mandy Ben says he’s not yet 40 in the piece but I’d reckon he’s aged 10 years since this was published

  171. Mark Schroeder
    17 Nov 11
    10:48 am

  172. It’s hard to add much more in the way of constructive crticism to the torrent of justifiably incensed reaction to Ben’s misguided post and subsequent wafer-thin defense. But I’ll try!

    One aspect of all this that hasn’t been touched on is the appetite or otherwise on the part of the clients we serve for a diverse agency workforce. If Ben’s ageism is matched on client-side corporations (as I think often is at least in the sub-director level of marketing departments), it’s perhaps less surprising that agencies would feel pressure to keep their average ages down. After all the power balance between agency and client is a delicate thing – that young turk brand manager might feel threatened working with somebody vastly more expreienced.

    Several respondents pointed out the flaws Ben’s argument about needing youth to market to youth by noting the rarity of boomer-populated agencies targeting older demographics. Examining other -isms that appear rife within agencies, what about ethnic minorities? I have no figures on this, but my sense is that ethnic minorities would be under represented in agencies – despite the fact that we market client’s products to them.

    Equally troubling, I observe that younger female account service staff in agencies tend to be more attractive than you’d find in many workplaces….are we employing these women because they are better qualified to target other attractive women? Or are we appealing at a baser level to male-dominated agency management and client-side teams?

    Dangerous, subjective stuff this, I know, but it’s worth being aware of prejudice in all its forms. Shallow measures such as those discussed by Ben are common and all too human, although one would expect a more mature view from management. Oops, Ben doesn’t do mature!

    It seems incredible that I feel i need to say that we should all be judged (ie employed) on our ideas, experience, craft, intelligence, dedication, creativity, energy and so rather than age, race, gender or any other afctors are taken into consideration. These are not new ideas and surely it’s self evident that these selection criteria are in the interests of the agency and the client.

    One last comment: with attitudes like Ben’s around, is it any wonder our industry churns out so many crass stereotypes in the communication we produce?

  173. Hmmm...
    17 Nov 11
    12:55 pm

  174. Guys, Ben just described the hiring policy of just about every agency in the world.

    This is not an old person’s game.

  175. Joker
    17 Nov 11
    1:50 pm

  176. So I just checked out the McCann Sydney website.
    Going by the professionally shot images of your team it looks like your all pushing mid 40’s – 50s so maybe you do need some youth around your studio, so you guys can feel young and hip again!
    Variety is the spice of life….

  177. fraser
    17 Nov 11
    2:15 pm

  178. As some one on the right side of 40 and working on the client side I haven’t had the displeasure of ageism yet although I am sure it won’t be long.

    Ben is getting a lot of flak, some of it I feel justified re digital at core and only young people getting/living/breathing the latest digital fad. However, on the topic of the post ageist or realist he deserves credit for honesty as @Hmmmm says all he is describing is the model that is globally used within agencies. The reason being that regardless of whether you are an Todd Sampson Idealist or a George Howcroft capitalist agencies exist to make money. Since agencies are hell bent on winning new business by bending over backwards and slashing margins then the only hope of making money is to employ low cost staff e.g youth. To get a larger percentage of older staff in agencies they will need to get clients to pay more for their services.

    Additionally, I don’t think agencies could survive with a larger share of older staff. With age comes experience and also egos. Could you imagine an agency full of people who have seen it all before, no one would ever agree on the idea/strategy.

  179. Ron Mather
    17 Nov 11
    3:12 pm

  180. Ben,just hire great people,its as simple as that.And to attract great people you have to be doing great work.

  181. old fart
    17 Nov 11
    3:38 pm

  182. I bet if Ben had run his article past a 50+ MD he would have been counselled to think about the consequences of his comments.

    Hopefully he thinks about this when he’s making comments to his clients in future.

    I’m reminded of the adage “if everyone thinks you a fool then don’t open your mouth and confirm it”.

  183. Rob
    17 Nov 11
    4:05 pm

  184. Seems like the new advertising cliche – a whole bunch of funky young people creating “digital-centric” funky campaigns for young people who “like” and “tweet” and “wank” about them…….the whole time spending the client’s scarce marketing budget to get it done.

    Meanwhile, companies, boards and shareholders need the marketing budget to get products/services onto shelves/into minds and sell the shit out of it.

    Everything else is a waste of time.

  185. Rushdie
    17 Nov 11
    4:52 pm

  186. I’m 93

  187. Mark
    17 Nov 11
    5:31 pm

  188. Did I miss them Ben?

    I still haven’t seen any of your clients CEO’s back you up on here yet. Considering that they all agree with your ageist views I would have thought they would have been on here en masse supporting McCann “Ageist” Worldgroup

    ACUVUE / Bushells / CSR Bradford / Freeview / Holiday Inn / Kleenex / LEGO / MasterCard / Michael Hill / MIDAS / MILO / Newington College / Pfizer / Stayfree / Taubmans / Uncle Tobys / XBOX

  189. Trevor
    17 Nov 11
    9:13 pm

  190. Nice one Mark. Apart from XBOX, Stayfree and Lego all those clients would be getting most of their business from the over 45. I imagine they want a few older heads on their business.

  191. Harrington
    17 Nov 11
    10:07 pm

  192. @Anne Miles – I agree, however that’s not the sentiment Paul raised.

  193. Paul Mortimer
    18 Nov 11
    1:23 am

  194. Who cares?!

  195. Chico
    18 Nov 11
    10:37 am

  196. Michael Hill is run by a couple of old farts marketing to a young demographic… Oh, but aren’t they looking for a new agency??

  197. Creative Old Fart
    18 Nov 11
    10:38 am

  198. Sorry, I just got my second wind

  199. voice of experience
    18 Nov 11
    10:55 am

  200. Good point Trevor, wonder how Ben’s clients feel about their agency heading off in a direction diametrically opposed to their own needs?

    So let me understand Ben’s model better: Hire a bunch of young guns who aren’t bogged down with the “tried that it doesn’t work” baggage.

    Sustained by their magnificently youthful vigour and unimpeded by those ancient naysayers, they try it and it doesn’t work.

    They continue in this manner for 10 years, getting utterly disillusioned and frustrated until those exhausting, fruitless years catch up and they’re over it, hate clients, cynical about the industry, holding back the youngsters…and suddenly they’re too old.

    Woah, time to make way for the next generation, waiting in the wings just busting to spend client’s money …trying things that don’t work.

  201. Ridsy
    18 Nov 11
    1:05 pm

  202. I have read all the comments. I need a nanna nap.

  203. Rob
    18 Nov 11
    1:16 pm

  204. Why don’t McCann kill two birds – hire Tony Simms to replace Ben Lilley and knock the ageist debate off the agenda. Ben can go work for the modelling agency that thinks a 16 year old is past her prime.

  205. Mark
    18 Nov 11
    2:39 pm

  206. Hello Ben,hello anybody there?We can’t hear you.

    Did Nick “clear head, narrow waist, strong legs”Brien gag you??? Just for the record haven’t seen his opinion on here either.

    Guess those clients weren’t that enthusiastic after all

  207. Creative Old Fart
    18 Nov 11
    2:52 pm

  208. @Paul Mortimer.. I thought you cared… but if you’re busy getting through recruiter gatekeepers, the phone’s running off the hook, and you’re knocking back gigs coz you’re fully booked then I tips me lid to you… IF

  209. smarter and younger than the lot of yers
    18 Nov 11
    3:15 pm

  210. @Paul wades in at comment number 97…

    ….and – with stunning insight – asks “who cares?”

    Must be one of those switched on young digital geniuses McCann’s after!

  211. Client
    18 Nov 11
    5:28 pm

  212. Ben
    I would never hire any agency which proudly says: Digital is at the centre of everything we do.
    I want only to work with agencies who understand that: The customer is the centre of everything we do.
    If they can’t make the distinction between the target and the channel, I doubt that have any smart ideas to proffer on anything else.

  213. Doughboy
    19 Nov 11
    12:14 am

  214. Notice that the Client post is 5.28. I am still working.
    Maybe Tony should apply for a job at McCann’s, get turned down and sue them?
    Problem solved!

  215. wow
    19 Nov 11
    6:23 pm

  216. Is this thread still going?………….oh and for the record there are more cuts/changes to come. Just saying! you heard it here first folks!

  217. Client
    21 Nov 11
    3:59 pm

  218. Agree @wow…cuts will occur bc they won’t be invited to pitch. So for Lilley to get his $ staff will continue to go. He’s shrinking his way to greatness…genius creative/strategic/digital strategy.

  219. An oldie but goldie
    21 Nov 11
    7:33 pm

  220. My fave cold call DM for a job from a young writer:

    Some people will do anything desperate to get into advertising.
    I know. I worked at McCanns

    It was a Gold One Show Pencil

  221. Cringe
    22 Nov 11
    10:37 am

  222. Is this McCann’s first step at placing Digital at the Core?

    Disgraceful and embarrassing for all, I’m cringing for McCann’s staff and the advertising industry… please keep your thoughts to yourself Ben.

  223. Ricki
    22 Nov 11
    10:57 am

  224. @an oldie but goldie

    Reminds me of the long time CD who used to refer to them as “McCann ‘o’ Worms”

  225. Doughboy
    22 Nov 11
    12:25 pm

  226. To those over 30’s working at McCanns. You are now in a great position if your job is threatened. Your CEO has openly declared himself to be ageist. To those that have been fired already I hope that you get a huge payout.

  227. Todd
    22 Nov 11
    4:25 pm

  228. @Doughboy, not to mention all the CV’s McCann’s will be getting now from older folk – it’ll just be discrimation actions non-stop..

    Ben – you have just opened your company up to a heap of potential litigation and bad PR which really you think a company’s boss would be bright enough not to.

  229. 20-something Planner
    22 Nov 11
    5:13 pm

  230. What an interesting read. I think we should all stop talking about age and accept that we can all learn something from each other.

    As a 20-something planner I think there is a lot older (by older I mean 40+ – which come on, isn’t even old) ad-people can learn from me, maybe in terms of technology, new behaviours etc, but I would say there is a hell of a lot more that I can learn from my older counterparts. Such as, how to develop my thinking, how to extract and shape insights to produce a killer creative brief. That’s something that comes with years of thinking and experience.

    After all, great work comes from a great insight, not because I use Facebook everyday.

  231. John McMaster
    22 Nov 11
    5:55 pm

  232. Well, well, well! Another all you need is to understand the media advocate with little said about ‘RESULTS’!!

    Understanding the ‘media’ has been the life blood of mainstream advertising since David Ogilvy pointed out in 1985… “It sometime happens that advertising campaigns enters the culture”… Word of mouth [advertising] “This kind of thing is manna from heaven, but nobody knows how to do it on purpose” NOW WE DO!

    The new media has indeed taken us all by storm and the learning curve has put a lot of presure on all of us but lets not throw away the baby with the dirty bath water here.

    Advertising is still judged (as it always will be) on RESULTS! Doesn’t matter how young or old you are if your creative ‘genius’ doesn’t sell products it’s all a crock.

    There are now too many wannabe creative people who think that because you grew up playing computer games that you’ll be the best person to sell them.

    The SCIENCE behind great advertising will always be the only way to get great results and I’ll choose a great scientist over a philosopher any day when it’s my cash on the line regardless of how long they spend on Facebook chatting with their friends ;))

    My clients money is still important to me and I prefer to draw on tried and tested models that get results and employ those who understand the media I’m targeting to guide the ‘real creative minds’ regardless of their age.

  233. John McMaster
    22 Nov 11
    6:04 pm

  234. “Their thinking is uncluttered by the “won’t work”, “too hard”, “that’s dumb” voices that can hinder more seasoned souls.”

    Thank god you’re not spending my hard earned advertising dollars to redesign a well developed wheel. “No let’s try square as it looks ‘cool’!”

  235. Linda
    22 Nov 11
    6:27 pm

  236. Man, with so many people expressing their contempt here, why aren’t more people pushing for us seniors? Surely not everyone on this thread is without a full-time gig???

    Is there anyone out there who’s in a position to actually make some changes?

  237. Eli
    23 Nov 11
    2:15 pm

  238. John McMaster – Shameless use of the comment stream to promote your own agency.

  239. Gezza
    23 Nov 11
    3:03 pm

  240. @Ben Lilley Probably no-one will read as this stream is almost puffed out but you might like it anyway .

  241. John McMaster
    23 Nov 11
    5:04 pm

  242. Eli I don’t remember mentioning ‘an agency’ in my post. In fact I don’t have an agency at the moment but I did start one yesterday in 4 hours to show some others how it’s done.

    I’m actually enjoying the fruits of many years of labour ‘out’ of the advertising business.

    I now build businesses and sell them for a living after I discovered there were few people who actually know how it’s really done.

    Step one: Work with people who are passionate about what they are doing and are not just scrambling to protect the small piece of turf that they stuck their flag in to ward off potential advisories.

    However I do think Ben Lilleys shameless attempt at promoting his own business seems to have seriously backfired 😉

  243. John McMaster
    23 Nov 11
    5:08 pm

  244. Sometimes spell checkers screw with my head 😉

  245. Gezza
    23 Nov 11
    11:26 pm

  246. Hey the other gezza on here, the fan of Ben and his views,
    are you trying to get job at McCanns?

  247. Gezza
    24 Nov 11
    9:31 am

  248. Can you just call yourself OtherGezza – I think I staked this name first. BTW I’m on the wrong side of 50 so I’ve got buckleys.

  249. Doc
    24 Nov 11
    4:49 pm

  250. Hey Ben
    You’re an idiot for letting us clients know that to trust you with our hard built brands, is to hand it over to people with no experience, no responsibility, and no care – just filling in time for the next gig. Thanks though – you’re agency is SO not for me!

  251. Sabrina
    25 Nov 11
    9:07 am

  252. Ben your agency is shaping up as a waste of intellect and a waste of hot air , old, young or in-between don’t you get it you need all of them! Older to to get the strategy right and implement, innovate with a chance of getting it right, young and dump to experiiment and help the older ones tune in to youth demographic’s and older ones to help the younger ones understand the older ones demographic and to learn from their mistakes. And you need the in betweenness to offer a bit of both. Don’t forget that most of the real money is on the older side of the coin. wisdom and a steady hand is worth two numb nuts ambitious to make mistakes.

  253. Glenn Mabbott
    25 Nov 11
    12:32 pm

  254. Ben, why did you post the response “It’s encouraging to see so much debate”? Have you actually read any of these comments?

    I don’t see much rebuttal from “yoof” anywhere above.

    Seems your new agency model has no supporters beyond perhaps the bean counters at McCann global HQ.

    Meanwhile savvy clients will seek advice from talented agency staff of any colour, age or ethnicity that can deliver them a better ROI.

    I look forward to seeing the recruitment ads for McCann when your clients start to tire of bad ideas by untalented cheap labour.

  255. another gezza (why not)
    25 Nov 11
    1:23 pm

  256. Ghaddafi as he bolted the door at his hideout ready for his last stand, the sound of gunfire and the charging mob getting ever closer:

    “It’s encouraging to see so much debate”

  257. wow
    28 Nov 11
    9:15 am

  258. So any more staff changes since my posting? I think you will find the answer is yes……

  259. John Douglas
    30 Nov 11
    1:55 pm

  260. I’m confused. Maybe it’s my age. Or the meds. (Funny how the meaning of that changes as you get older.)
    When did the argument ever have to do with age?
    I know some old people who can still run creative rings around anyone.
    And I know some young hot shots who wouldn’t recognise an idea if Steve Jobs appeared to them in a dream and said, “This is an idea.”
    Advertising is about energy. Isn’t it?
    I love advertising.
    I love it for the good it can do. (Full disclosure. I am a paid up member of the Consumer Army. I believe in the good that business can do. Call me wacko.)
    I love the good ads.
    Wherever they appear.
    I love ideas that connect – shit, that was close, some fucker saw a cliche and fired, almost took my bloody head off.
    I love ideas when they’re done by some razor-sharp, whip-smart young Turk.
    I love ideas when they’re done by some old-as-the-mountains, grumpy old bugger sitting alone in an office smelling slightly of old tobacco and yesterday’s whisky.
    And I’m sure I’ll love them when McCann do them.

  261. Glenn Mabbott
    30 Nov 11
    2:06 pm

  262. Indeed John, as several older creative directors instilled in me decades ago when I was still a “young Turk”, nobody cares who had the idea if it’s a good one. The important thing is to be in the room at the time.

  263. John Douglas
    30 Nov 11
    2:25 pm

  264. Or part of the email trail.

  265. Glenn Mabbott
    30 Nov 11
    2:38 pm

  266. …or included in the credits of the award entry. Ask Graeme Smith about that one, being a co-creator of the Dunlop aircraft carrier spot counts for nought on your resume when the other partner fails to put your name on the form.

  267. Wayne Miller
    30 Nov 11
    5:32 pm

  268. This is funny!
    Recently I did a short stint with a major agency – for the time that I was there, I tried very much to get my colleagues (which most were at least half my age), to wake up to the current changes taking shape in social media, online marketing etc – do you think they would listen?


    They didn’t want to know about any of it – claiming that I was not a regular SEO consultant – they decided to show me the exit:)

    Personally – my observation is such these young professionals were not up to speed with new trends online marketing wise.


  269. Bystander
    1 Dec 11
    11:31 am

  270. This is so funny.

    Try navigating the People section of the McCann Australia website on a Mac.

    You can’t. It’s broken. It doesn’t f***ing work at all.

    (edited by Mumbrella)

  271. Mark Schroeder
    2 Dec 11
    9:49 pm

  272. For those with a longer than 5 minute attention span, here’s a fascinating interview about the role of experience in decision-making. It doesn’t relate to advertising, but is worth a read.

    “These are intuitions that are based on 10, 15, 20 years or more of experience that has allowed them to build a repertoire of patterns that allows them to quickly frame situations, size situations up, and know what to do…if we have a lot of experience and we see things, we can sense typicality, that means we can see anomalies, and that means that we have a sense something is not right here, something doesn’t feel right..”