Digital Media Needs Older Professionals

Success in Interactive Industry Is Not About Age

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There is a tremendous amount of ageism in our industry. Don't get me wrong: There are many talented and knowledgeable younger people in our industry, but we need many more people to meet the demand of the interactive-advertising industry, and writing off people older than 40 or 50 is a grave error.
See the wisdom: A card-carrying AARP member herself, Ms. Laredo says marketers must hire more 40- and 50-somethings.
See the wisdom: A card-carrying AARP member herself, Ms. Laredo says marketers must hire more 40- and 50-somethings.

I know a very experienced interactive sales pro who is out of work, and despite dozens of interviews, he believes he isn't hired because he is over 50. Someone once told him that he would not be able to relate to the young media buyers on whom he'd be calling. I know many others like him, too. But I also have heard many success stories from professionals age 40 and older who have changed their careers, finding new love for their work in interactive media.

My personal and professional experiences make me a credible commentator on ageism in the digital world: I sold local video text ads in 1982, then spent six years selling for Prodigy, then was engaged in a few other online stints before starting Laredo Group 10 years ago. I have a great perspective from the more than 16,000 media professionals whom we have trained.

More important, perhaps, is that I admit to being a member of AARP. I love my job and love the industry and all the great people I am privileged to have met and to have worked with over the past three decades. I really feel much younger than my age, and I am grateful that I have my health and can travel and work as hard as I do.

That said, here's what I've come to believe about older professionals working in digital media:

1. They're very savvy. Our ages would keep us from being hired as employees by many companies in our industry, but we are more wired than almost any 20-something. In our home, we have a wired and wireless LAN, a Slingbox, SqueezeBox, PlayStation 3 and multiple TiVos. The Slingbox software is on our laptops and Treos; we even have broadband access (Verizon VCast and soon MediaFLO) on our other mobile phones. So, like many others, our age is not indicative of our interactive-advertising IQ.

2. They can help meld assets. Media companies have to do a better job of making their assets seamless and synergistic to their communities without destroying their brands, and it will take experienced (read: older) editorial and publishing people to accomplish this.

3. They're ready to learn. Interactive professionals are a very privileged subset of the media community. The rest of the media world is far behind us. I am disappointed in how traditional-media companies have not done the most basic things (such as invest in training) to help all of their employees -- regardless of age -- understand the profound and extreme change the media world is undergoing.

4. They excel at client relations. We need to rewrite the rules of buying and measuring media in the world of multitasking, engagement and technology-driven creative. We need more time to discuss and understand what clients need and how to execute against those objectives. And yes, this exchange has to happen without the bad practices on both sides of the table of changing meeting times, keeping people waiting, not returning phone calls. Practices that young people are -- with all due respect, and based on dozens of first-hand experiences -- far more prone to than seasoned professionals.

5. They're role models. I don't believe traditional measures that come from a world in which media was created and trafficked within silo organizations can work today. The faster the silos break down on both sides of the equation, the better clients are served. We need updated professional development and college curricula, and we need to reach out to the colleges with this new view of the media profession, so that more young people will want careers in interactive advertising. Then at least the young people that are hired will be better prepared and more likely to become seasoned professionals that much sooner.

6. They're more than their age. Age is a state of mind, and so is the hiring and training of people -- regardless of age. I have met 75-year-olds who think and act and adapt to new things like 35-year-olds, and I have met 25-year-olds whom I respect because of their knowledge, maturity and perspective. I've also met some who, despite their youth, don't seem to have, or are able to get, even the first clue about what new media is all about.
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