What ageism looks like from where I sit

After sharing her thoughts about marketing's ageism problem on LinkedIn, Anne Miles received a comment which got her thinking about the one discrimination nut adland can't - and won't - crack.

There is no hiding it – I am obviously aged above the big 4.0, right? Being appointed to head of TV at 21, I was on the upside of our industry’s ageism issue at one time.

My observations are also flavoured from being a former business coach and assisting a number of creative businesses, which I consider a fairly useful perspective when it comes to ageism.

Last week, I commented on a LinkedIn post that shared Bob Hoffman’s article about the ‘Age of Creativity’. In the article, he shared that creative departments employ 0% over 50, despite 42% of the adult working population being in that bracket.

The Pulitzer Prize in creative categories had been awarded to a ridiculously long list of people over 50 and there was a claim that not one would likely be given a job in an ad agency today, despite their talent.

Hoffman’s article makes it clear that there’s no shortage of 50+ creative talent

This data is interesting, but my experience online is where it really lit up. I commented to say how I felt at the ‘top of my game’ having hit over 4.0. To me, that means I have more experience and qualifications under my belt now, beyond what I ever did when I held senior roles in agencies.

The comment thread included this, and it says it all: “I love it how all the grey creatives get the shits with articles like this. You guys are luck[y] you lived and worked in the golden time of advertising. In a content driven world that is fast paced the oldies ‘no offence’ don’t have the energy to keep up…so make way for the new talent and embrace the fact that young brands don’t like old people ‘full stop’. You are the reason this world we live in is turning to shit…’ and it rants on.

Around this time, some big agencies announced ‘departures’ of some of the best talent in this industry. They all seemed to have greying or receding hairlines.

This started much discussion in the industry about the fiscal viability for agencies hiring less experienced people in order to make a profit – independent marketing management consultancy TrinityP3 pitched in with their thoughts on the matter. I agree that the ageism issue is not just a mindset, and that it is about profitability. But it is definitely both.

I’ve seen production and creative teams refuse to hire senior people at the same cost of younger talent, so there goes the fiscal argument.

Less experienced people felt ‘too intimidated’ to hire mature talent. Sometimes this turned into a reality because they ended up looking like they didn’t know what they were doing – and they didn’t.

Agency profitability is wired for bias, and I believe the root of that is the time sheet model. There is no benefit for efficiencies or proven experience. In an ironic twist, this is exactly the same issue that is causing agencies to be unsustainable and to lose profit in the long run. More on the fiscal calculations here for anyone interested.

My week also included a meeting with a head of department in an agency who looked through me across the boardroom table as if I was invisible. He even played on his phone instead of meeting me eye to eye for an uncomfortably long time. (Would he have done that to a man?).

There was no way he could ever see that my business model would add value to what he does, because he wasn’t willing to see.

Another meeting involved a well-meaning creative director looking for new ways of doing things, but feeling trapped in the cycle of having to use less experienced and less competent people because he had mouths to feed.

Oh, and the other bunch of people who don’t even answer a call or an email at all.

The other side of the coin here is the experiences I had on the client side of the fence. How about the CEO and marketing director who approached me, unsolicited? They looked up to my experience. They even said ‘wow’ at some point.

How about the brand that said that their agency wasn’t delivering enough actual content and all they got was a time sheet charge? I remember those $20K meetings when client side!

It’s time something changed and we stopped simply talking about it. I’ve hit a tipping point.

If anyone wants to join me, check out the anonymous Big Ideas Challenge here. It’s an avenue for the best talent to be found, and for there to be no consideration to age, location, gender or culture bias – just great talent, relevant experience and great ideas.

Let’s change the model, let’s change our attitude. I’m fed up with being invisible when I know I have the most value to offer.

Anne Miles is managing director of international creative services, an artist collective and full service creative projects company.


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