Age is just a number

A hat tip to the senior advertising, media and marketing executives who kept it all spinning when the world was falling apart.

About a year ago, I wrote my first blog post as Campaign US editor. Our annual 40 Over 40 list had just come out and the world was saddened by the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

I talked about how the advertising industry is obsessed with youth, chasing it often at the expense of being authentic or connecting with their customer base (did you see the latest campaign from Tiffany?). Ginsberg, a cultural icon through her late 80s, showed us that “young” isn’t the only thing that equates to “cool,” and vice versa.

Now, the next class of Campaign 40 Over 40 honorees has been unveiled, and while conversation about advertising and youth is still as relevant as ever, it has also evolved.

As diversity and inclusion efforts throughout the industry grow, there has been a shift in focus from diversifying only the bottom ranks of employees to including, retaining, promoting and celebrating talent of color in mid- to senior levels. 

We can see some of that effort reflected in this year’s list, which is more than half represented by women and more than a quarter by BIPOC executives, such as Triller’s Bonin Bough, eos Products’ Soyoung Kang, Netflix’s Husani Oakley and many more. 

That shows slight progress from last year’s list, which was 50% female and 22% BIPOC, but it’s not enough and there’s still a ways to go. Campaign holds the industry accountable for tracking and being transparent in its metrics and it’s important for us to look in the mirror and do the same.

For clients, working with senior talent is rarer and more desirable than ever. Marketers, sick of agencies cycling entry-level staff through their accounts, yearn to work with experienced folks who can cast a more strategic eye over their business during a time of rapidly shifting consumer habits and new business priorities. 

New agency models are springing up around this concept. Said Differently, for example, launched by AKQA vets in March, is built around offering clients face time with senior talent and staffing up and down for support through a freelance network.

But as demand for experienced talent grows, so have the demands on experienced, talented people. In addition to meeting client clamor for more speed, agility and customization than ever, many of the people on this list juggled family dynamics, home schooling and the uncertainty of a global pandemic with being leaders at their companies and mentors in their fields. They set an example for talent working from home, creating boundaries, norms and protocols for an entirely new working model that they were also learning along the way.

It’s no wonder, then, that this list is full of CEOs and leaders who led bravely through dark times, from FIG’s Judith Carr-Rodriguez, to Havas North America’s Stephanie Nerlich, to The Martin Agency’s Kristin Cavallo. It also represents marketers who led the way for their brands as business realities rapidly shifted, such as Diageo’s Sophie Kelly, Goldman Sachs’ Fiona Carter and OkCupid’s Melissa Hobley, just to name a few. 

The people on this list are valuable multitaskers who met a dark time with grit, determination and fresh ideas. They adapted to a new market and guided their clients and teams along the way while looking out for the health and safety of their people.

A special shout-out to the women on this list, who were most affected by the pandemic and the shift to working from home, and still managed to shine through as invaluable to the industry.

Advertising will always chase youth. Young and fresh sells.

But paying homage to the experienced people behind the scenes — the coordinators, hand-holders and example setters — is just as important.

Because it’s only when we celebrate our own experience and wisdom that we can start to put out more authentic, diverse and age-inclusive advertising into the world.

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