Advertising History

Ageism in Ad Land

jayne-260Advertising is still obsessed with the young and the beautiful, but when it comes to their employees they expect certain tenure. ‘Paying your dues’ is par for the course in climbing the ranks of ad agencies, but savvy, young admen and women are finding bigger roles elsewhere thanks to the increase in startups in the media space. Now, we’re seeing a lack of strong mid-level agency folks and an ever-changing managerial structure within media startups. The industry is in a schism among the young workforce and the two parties involved can do something about it before it changes the industry for the worse.

I’m a Gen Y so I can say that we are an entitled, narcissistic, shameless generation. The hardest job I’ve done to date was managing interns and people my own age. Managing people older than me was easy. I remember one of my media planners telling me the reason it’s easy to manage people of his generation was because “we’re too old to know everything”. Although the young agency workforce has traits that aren’t conducive to the most seamless management structure, they are the first generation to truly be “digital natives”. I was born with a computer and TV in my room and remember bringing an RCA Lyra to school with a 32MB memory filled with songs I ripped off from Napster. My friends and I would pass around the earbuds during recess to listen to Limp Bizkit and Backstreet Boys. For my 8th grade Math project, I used my iMac G3 and the native Exel-esque software to create nifty charts and poll the entire middle school on their favorite shoe brand with mostly ‘skater’ shoes, Adidas, and Nike to see if their brands resonated with this audience. DC Shoes and Emerica won with Nike at the very bottom. I ended up sending the results to Nike with the recommendation (thanks to my teacher) to focus on this younger crowd that has fallen out of favor with Nike and opted for more ‘lifestyle’ brands. Moreover, that they should launch a lifestyle line for the alternative sports crowd. Nike mailed me back saying that they didn’t consider alternative sports a core value of Nike – that skate shoes were not something they’d be investing in, but thank you. I kept the letter.

The Onion put it best when the Publicis-Omnicom deal was announced, “Merger Of Advertising Giants Brings Together Largest Collection Of People With No Discernible Skills”. They did it to themselves. On a call between a director-level agency employee and a potential hire wanting to get back into the agency world from startup land the following was said, “You’re too young to make that much if you want to go back to an agency. Great experience; but just so young to be hired for this role”. Aside from the fact that there’s an HR violation with stating age, Agencies are turning down capable candidates. With media holding companies becoming more and more infatuated with startups in the space to invest in, consult, and introduce to clients – you’d expect the culture to change; to accept a workforce regardless of age to drive an agency with innovative, disruptive ideas and fervor.

Media startups are using agencies as their workforce farm league picking the high potential prospects (account managers and media planners). Agencies are becoming the ‘public sector’ of advertising – slow, low pay, and redundant workforce while startups continue to steal the innovation, creativity, and efficiencies that agencies used to pride themselves on. Like I said in a previous post on my blog – agencies are big (i.e. the hippo, elephant), and in order to attract and retain young talent they need to create a startup culture within each team. Be the middle school math class and allow the young workforce to change a big brand.

Jayne is a contributor to The Makegood and leads Business Development for Adaptly. Look for her post the first Wednesday of every month.