Our youth obsession is throwing gems in the waste bin

Our industry must end its obsession with youth. By overlooking older staff, we compromise creativity and alienate much of our audience.

I have just had my windows restored. I had a couple of quotes. One from a young lad who’d never worked on a listed building before but was totally competent. And one from a man in his fifties with 30 years’ experience and evidence of his craftsmanship. No brainer, right?

Craftsmanship with experience wins. But not in our industry. Have we gone bleeding mad?

The average age of staff in IPA member agencies is 33, 83% are under 40, 45% under 30. And just 5% over 50. Why? We are discriminating against the very people who have made our industry brilliant.

An industry that is built on the great idea.

So why do we suddenly think the power to be groundbreakingly creative resides with only the young? 

Claude Monet was 59 when he painted The Water Lily Pond. Ken Loach has just won the Palme d’Or at Cannes aged 79.

I feel like we are throwing diamonds into the waste bin and it’s really peeing me off.

I’ve been worried for a while that we are hiring clones of ourselves. The grads we get are from families like ours. The students from ad schools are all learning to the same tune. Most of our audience is aged 50-plus. We are in danger of having agency folk who reflect us rather than the people we are marketing to. And age is a biggie. 

There are 23.6 million people over 50 in the UK. That’s 46% of all adults. 

Germaine Greer said: "Because I’m over 60 nobody wants to sell to me." A FastMap survey found that 68% of British 65- to 74-year-olds "don’t relate" to advertising. It’s not that the over-65s aren’t getting our "clever shit". We are not getting them.Here we are dismissing the wise in our own creative departments when we could be enriching our work with brilliant first-hand insight.

I asked Adrian Kemsley, creator of the legendary Solid Fuel Advisory Council ad and all-round top bloke, if he has experienced discrimination. He said: "I went freelance in 2000 when I was 42 and pretty much gave up trying to get work from agencies and headhunters after about six months. Instead, I began introducing myself directly to clients and started to get briefs – some are still with me after ten years.

"A creative partner and I once sent a mailer to agencies in which we masqueraded as two young creatives (Adriana and Johanna) from LA looking for freelance opportunities. We got the best response ever. And we did get a couple of briefs out of it. But did we need to go to those lengths?"

The self-preservation society

We’re shooting ourselves in the foot. I want to be doing this amazing job for as long as I find it amazing. There are practical reasons too.

By 2030, women are expected to live to 88 and men to 86. If I’m out of here by 55, not by choice but because of my choice in music (what’s wrong with Dean Friedman anyway?), I need to make my retirement stash last for 33 years. That’s the same amount of time I will have worked as a creative.

And then we have the millennials. They are taking out 40-year mortgages. How are they going to pay them if they are out of full-time work at 50?

We must bring back the teachers. The word "diversity" is being bandied about as a badge of honour for us agencies. We are consciously hiring the young, the black, the gay and the female. Campaign has made it one of its criteria for Agency of the Year. It’s great if that’s changing the stats.

But how can we look at ourselves in the mirror when we are consciously discriminating against the over-50s?

I’ve been talking about this to my mates in other agencies for a while now. And it’s great to see that Emma de la Fosse has introduced a non-age-specific internship at Ogilvy. But a placement isn’t a job. It’s not a commitment. Initiatives like this will earn agencies a few brownie points in the Agency of the Year stakes but it’s not enough.

We need to keep our talent in the department and give jobs back to the people we can still learn from. Team them up with the younger talent and that team will cross-mentor. The craft will remain, the new world will inspire. Just think about the work we could see. 

So that’s what we’re doing at my place. We’re hiring now. If you are over 55 and an industry legend, who’s fed up with freelancing and happy to work with someone in their twenties, drop me a line.

Let’s get on with it.

Nicky Bullard is the chairman and chief creative officer of MRM Meteorite

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