Time to retire, industry veteran?

This industry has an issue with older employees, according to chief strategy officer of iProspect, Nick Kavanagh, and he believes there is a very simple and smaller change that can help turn the tide.

So, you’re a regular reader of trade press? Good for you.

From the moment I started my agency career in the early ’00s, it was drilled into me how important it was to stay up to date with what was happening in the industry through the trade press, which in the UK in those days consisted of several glossy magazines (yes, plural) delivered to your desk every week.

Another world.

The habit has persisted and is one I encourage in others. And as I’ve got older and more experienced (and perhaps caring less what people think), I’ve become an active contributor to the discourse. I’ve come to realise that not only do I have experience and opinion worth sharing – or not, as the case may be – but I’ve got a platform that I should use.

My experience, you see, is a good thing.

The major development of the last few years has been LinkedIn, which is great for its global perspective, and during a recent trawl of my feed I came across a freelance copywriter lamenting the current state of the industry. Nothing new there you may say, but among many valid points I was particularly struck by their frustration at how many experienced colleagues were unable to find work. That so much knowledge, experience and wisdom was going to waste.

And that’s because this industry has an issue with older employees.

And that’s not opinion, it’s fact:

  1. 18.5% of the media workforce in Australia is 40+ [national average is 62%]* 
  2. 54% of females believe parental leave has negatively affected their career in advertising [the figure is 7% for men] 
  3. Less than 10% of the industry has more than 16 years experience

With every document we write, every pitch we participate in, every client problem navigated, we get better and better and better. This industry never stands still, and I’d argue that the older you get the more adept you become at navigating it. Yet too many colleagues are finding it impossible to get back into work after a hiatus.

The Advertising Council Australia and the Experience Advocacy Taskforce are both calling for systemic change in this area. But there’s another, smaller change that may help turn this tide.

And that change is that we – and by “we” I really mean our colleagues writing in the trade press – stop referring to anyone over the age of 30 moving jobs as an industry “veteran”.

The term “veteran” is used time and time again in trade titles when an experienced media, advertising, or marketing professional moves roles. And it may seem like a minor point of grammatical pedantry – “so what?” you might say – but if there’s an industry where words matter it is this one, and do you know where “veteran” comes from?

The latin word ‘veteranus’, which means….? ‘Old’. In fact, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it doesn’t just mean ‘old’ but also ‘belonging to the past’.

Every time ‘veteran’ is used in the trade press in relation to one of our colleagues, a point is being made not about their incredible experience or achievements, or the challenges they’ve overcome in getting to a position of seniority. No. A point is being made about their age.

We’re drawing attention to the fact that, by agency standards at least, they’re “old”. Which, by the way, is anyone over 32 [the industry average].

With only 5% of the media’s workforce over 50 we have a major issue with ageism in this industry and plenty of work to do. But let’s start by retiring this small, but very powerful word, from the industry vernacular.

As an older, wiser boss of mine once said: “Everything communicates”.

*Figures from Experience Advocacy Taskforce, 2023 

Nick Kavanagh is the chief strategy officer of iProspect, a dentsu company.


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