Grey hair is the exception at media and advertising events in Australia. The industry is young and, allegedly, discriminates against the older worker.
The average age of a media agency person is 32.1, according to the latest census by the Media Federation of Australia (MFA). They are also 63% female with seven years experience and a tenure of 2.6 years.
The Experience Advocacy Taskforce (EAT) says it is a sad, and frightening, statistic that only 5% of the media's workforce is aged 50 or over,seven times less than the Australian average.
Why is the average age crowded at 30? Are we burning and churning, overwork forcing out those with experience? Or is the career path more attractive elsewhere?
And is the industry enthusiastic, energetic and innovative because it is young?
“The simple and uncomfortable truth? Money,” says Blair Kimber, executive creative director, KEEP LEFT.
“We are an industry obsessed by new and shiny, often at the expense of experience and knowledge. Older, experienced people cost more and are often replaced by younger cheaper options.
“But to be truly successful we need diversity of thought - no matter age, gender or cultural background.”
Jasmin Bedir, CEO at Innocean, says this is a complex question, and the answer is therefore not a simple one.”
"I think to get to the answer, if we rephrase the question: Why are there so many juniors in the industry," she says.”
"Let’s start with the pop culture reason: We think we’re cool, we pitch our clients that we are cool, and our clients most definitely want to see the latest and coolest trends. So, we keep hiring the young and cool kids.”
"If we now add the financial impact of the equation we get to the full picture: With ever decreasing fees and ever increasing demands, it’s not a surprise that we end up with junior staff. No experienced senior comms specialist will put up with some of the tedious tasks and demands that come with the job.”
"Now follow the breadcrumbs and look at the make up of marketing departments these days and you’ll see this is not an isolated problem…."”
Gai Le Roy, CEO at IAB Australia, is always surprised and disappointed when she looks at industry data on age..
“Much like the age distribution within media agencies, only 5% of people within local digital and ad tech companies are aged over 50,” she says.
“There seems to be an unspoken belief that more mature workers are less likely to be up to date with tech knowledge and skills as well as in-tune with the cultural zeitgeist.”
There is also a presumption around money expectations of a more experienced work force.
“As one of the 5% and an industry leader it is definitely a topic that I dwell on and the IAB does it’s best to support people as they move through their careers with the hope that they stay in our industry, but the numbers speak for themselves and there is more that we can all do to reduce bias and improve age representation,” says Le Roy.
“Also it is just good business to have people who understand the highest spending consumers in the market!”
Recruiter and industry figure Simon Hadfield says marketing as a whole still doesn’t have a seat at the exec table and is seen as necessary evil in (some) organisations.
“Marketing is the first budget to be cut. Agencies are the first to be negotiated with when times get tough and therefore agencies need the ‘worker bees’,” he says.
“Agency remuneration has been an ongoing battle since the beginning of time and remains that way. To get clever people you need to pay.
“Secondly, at a certain seniority / age agency people start to look for a way out as the long hours and supplier mentality wears thin.”
Hatched CEO Stephen Fisher says asking why the industry is so young is the wrong question.
“Whenever this comes up, it's kind of framed as a criticism,” he says.
“Let’s be honest. Our industry is brilliant and vibrant because of its youth. We are energetic, innovative, future-facing and equipped to embrace change faster than so many sectors. Not just because we are young in age, but most importantly in mentality.
“The only way to stay relevant in this industry is to be infused with a mindset of curiosity, learning and constant development.
“Being youthful – while guided by great leadership, mentorship, development and clear career progression – is our industry's superpower. It's the greatest asset we have.
“Asking why the industry is so young naturally leads to a bigger and more problematic question. As a sector rich in innovation, why do we struggle to create an environment that allows over-40s to thrive, especially parents returning to work?
“This is a more important question considering we regularly hear from prospective clients and partners that they want to work with media practitioners who have the knowledge and the wherewithal to navigate challenging times in a dramatically changing landscape. That takes resilience, curiosity, experience and knowledge. All of which are built over careers.
“It's been our business strategy since long before I joined Hatched to employ senior leaders. An integral part of employing senior people is being flexible and trusting about when and how they do their work.
“Currently, 20% of our team is part-time and we're the business we are because of that. It has enabled us to be top-heavy by intent because we want long-term client relationships built on having experienced people leading experienced teams.
“There is no doubt the industry needs to up its game in creating conditions that enable those coming back to continue to grow their careers and not just sit in roles that under utilise their skills and the contribution they can make to a business.
“But there is an elephant in the room. One that we have heard a lot about but hasn't, until recently, been fully acknowledged.
“This industry has placed massively unfair demands on the physical and mental well-being of its people. It has done so for such a long time under the guise of a work hard/play hard culture to explain late finishes, the rigours of pitching and work encroaching unapologetically into personal lives.
“The reality is that media agencies are young, in part, because we burnt a heap of brilliant, experienced and curious people out. And the industry has done an ordinary job of creating an environment where their changed lives could fit back in.
“We can only really re-address that balance by enabling the things that will bring people back and understanding whether they actually do want to return at all.”'
Jasmin Bedir, CEO at Innocean, said it’s a complex question, and the answer is therefore not a simple one.
"I think to get to the answer, if we rephrase the question: Why are there so many juniors in the industry," she said.
"Let’s start with the pop culture reason: We think we’re cool, we pitch our clients that we are cool, and our clients most definitely want to see the latest and coolest trends. So, we keep hiring the young and cool kids.
"If we now add the financial impact of the equation we get to the full picture: With ever decreasing fees and ever increasing demands, it’s not a surprise that we end up with junior staff. No experienced senior comms specialist will put up with some of the tedious tasks and demands that come with the job.
"Now follow the breadcrumbs and look at the make up of marketing departments these days and you’ll see this is not an isolated problem…"
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