Don’t throw the baby boomer out with the bathwater

Ageism is rife in adland. Headjam's Mike Preston makes the case for why agencies should take a long, hard look at their hiring policies in order to combat this invasive form of discrimination.

I started my first job in advertising as a junior art director at a time before mobile phones, personal computers and the internet. As a result, I was the beneficiary of the social change that happened in the 1960s and 70s.

A new generation had taken over the advertising industry. Bill Berbach’s creative revolution began on Madison Avenue, changing creative departments around the world. It introduced the concept of a creative team, made up of an art director and copywriter, opening doors to young people from all walks of life.

The key reason this happened was that nearly 50 percent of the American population was under 25 years of age, forming a new market of consumers, and traditional advertising wasn’t cutting it with the young generation.

Today, nothing seems to have changed, according to Avi Dan’s Forbes article about ageism on Madison Avenue. “The median age of staff in agencies is 38. More than 60 percent of employees in the ad industry are aged 25-44. Just five percent of ad agency employees are over 50 and most are not in the creative department.”

What has changed is the consumer: “Boomers, those in their 50s and 60s, are poised to become half the US population by the end of next year and control 70 percent of the nation’s disposal income. However, when the average age of a creative is 25 and the average age of a car buyer is 52, you know you have a problem.”

It’s not that agencies need to fill themselves with baby boomers, but representing the society we live in would be good idea.

Don’t throw the baby boomer out with the bath water | Photo by Lubomirkin on Unsplash

Three years ago I was offered the role of executive creative director at Headjam by the owners of the business, managing director Luke Kellett and senior designer Sarah Cook.

Luke and Sarah are around the same age of my two children, so I was very interested to know the reasons why they offered me the role.

They said: “It was a no brainer. We were young, and we recognised that. Mike is a brilliant creative director (old or not!) and his experience is an unmatched quality that we were missing. If you’ve done something before and learnt from it, you’re going to be more clever than the next cookie.

“Mike’s curiousness and grace at adapting to new technologies means he isn’t scared of things that are new. Sometimes we forget that technology doesn’t change the fundamentals of human communication, they’re all just new avenues with new tricks but the underlying idea that reaches the audience is the gold and that hasn’t changed.

“We’re not so big headed that we think we can come up with a better idea just because we grew up with a phone in our hand.”

There are really solid reasons for companies to stop practicing ageism along with all the other isms. Not only business reasons, but societal reasons.

Today societies across the world are more connected than ever whilst simultaneously being more divided. We can’t just rely on politicians to fix this issue. It’s up to companies and organisations, big and small, to take the lead with positive hiring policies and show the way forward by hiring with diversity in mind. Diversity in ideas, gender, age, race and beliefs.

Let’s start real social change in Australia by considering who we are hiring and making sure we have diverse teams that challenge the status quo of our businesses and provide different perspectives on the work we produce on a daily basis.

Mike Preston is principal executive creative director of Newcastle creative agency Headjam.


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