Wednesday, August 27, 2008
5871: Adweek Examines Ageism In Advertising.
MultiCultClassics has regularly blasted Adweek/Adwhite for its consistent cultural cluelessness in recent years. But now there’s a topic where the staff does demonstrate credibility and expertise: ageism. Noreen O’Leary presents the in-depth report below.
War of the Ages
How a host of new agency realities are pushing boomers out before their time
By Noreen O’Leary
The ad biz has always been a game for the young. But has ageism become the norm?
Earlier this month, a judge set a December trial date for a $30 million age-discrimination suit by a Universal McCann media exec, George Hayes, against the agency and its corporate parent, Interpublic Group. Hayes says he was fired by a younger boss who believed young people at the agency “got it” when it came to new media in a way that older staffers did not. In addition, Hayes claims, his former boss viewed “age and experience as a hindrance, rather than a benefit.”
The two sides seem ready to go public with the private concerns of a generation of industry execs fearing displacement at a time they should be in their peak earning years.
Valid or not, the contentions of Hayes -- a former evp, client services let go at age 53 -- ring true for a large number of other executives on the street who are arguing their relevance.
Even within the youth-obsessive traditions of the ad industry, there’s a new sense of gloom about the career prospects for mid- to upper-level employees.
Creative executives, who have obviously always felt the need to exude a hipness born of cutting-edge culture, now feel it tenfold thanks to the fast pace of digital technologies and emerging delivery channels. Now others are feeling youthful pressures in a media world and larger consumer society informed by technological change. But the issues are more complicated; they’re as much about compensation and changing skill sets as they are about tenure. Factor in the current economic downturn and client budget cuts that create an incentive to lose higher-salaried employees, and it’s no wonder some in the industry see an overt ageism taking hold that could make a new minority: those over 50.
“Baby boomers always say that 40 is the new 30 [and] 50 is the new 40. In advertising, 50 is the new 65. As soon as you hit that barrier, you’re considered old,” says Dorothy Higgins, 54, who is consulting after being laid off earlier this year from one of the industry’s media companies.
That barrier, in fact, may be dipping even lower. Says one of Higgins’ peers: “It’s now starting at 40 or 45. Unless you’ve gotten to a certain stage in your career where you have one of those bullet-proof jobs—where you are extremely key to a client—you’re vulnerable.”
Not to be discounted in all of this is the fact that with “CMOs getting younger, you have a casting issue,” says Nancy McNally, 53, a former top executive at agencies like Ammirati & Puris and clients like American Express.
Industry observer Rick Kurnit, a partner at law firm Frankfurt, Kurnit, Klein & Selz, agrees that client-casting issues play a role and points out that it cuts two ways. While younger CMOs may relate better to agency staffers in their peer group, he says, older ones look for the agency perspective on new media creative they themselves may lack. There may also be an element of being in the wrong career place at the wrong time. Boomers climbed their careers ranks in a different agency world. Amid new unbundled economic realities, CFOs, demanding that 75 percent of payroll come from client income, can attain cost savings more readily by cutting higher-salaried staffers. The newly empowered client-procurement people look to buy agency hours at cost and young staffers are obviously cheaper. “None of these factors reflect the merits of these [older] people, unfortunately,” Kurnit says.
[Read the full report here.]