Old or young, talent is the issue

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Ad agencies should fire older employees who don't get that the advertising game is changing. Agencies also should fire young people who don't get that the game is changing.

The issue should not be about age but about ability and, as an agency CEO said in Ad Age last week, "finding people who display intellectual curiosity."

The specter of age discrimination came to light in a lawsuit by 54-year-old George Hayes, a 30-year veteran of McCann Erickson and Universal McCann who is suing his former employer, alleging wrongful termination based on age.

Courts will decide the case on its merits. But there is a broader imperative for agencies and employees: Both must embrace change or face the consequences.

Advertising is a "youth-obsessed profession," as Ad Age's Matthew Creamer wrote last week. That's reality. There is a bias toward new and improved, not old and improved.

Agencies (and all employers) must not discriminate based on age (that's illegal) and should reward talent regardless of age (that's smart business).

Younger workers have a competitive advantage in a changed media world. They came of age in the digital era, growing up with wireless, the Net and iPods. Younger talent also comes cheaper than older workers, a critical issue when marketers are hammering agencies to work on lower margins.

What about older workers? The issue is front and center for aging boomers. The average baby boomer this year will turn 50, according to American Demographics. There will be no coasting to retirement; the onus on boomers is to perform.

So what should older advertising workers do? Embrace change; draw on experience, but be ready to ditch old methods; and stand with colleagues, regardless of age, who believe in a zero-based, media-neutral approach to marketing, communication and technology.

The game is changing, but there has never been a greater need for talent of any age with the intellectual curiosity to define the new rules.
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