A regular feature that gets most folks talking is the ‘People Movement’ section in any trade journal worth its while. The minute news breaks, messages flood in and the phone starts ringing. Anything for a good round of gossip on dissecting and tearing up every juicy detail possible on someone’s exit! The theories, details and nastiness all roll in together for a tart, malicious conversation.
Of late, a regular refrain is “She/he was too old, ya! (Read seasoned professional who threatened the CEO with her/his talent)” And the need is to replace her/him with a young and hungrier talent (read cheaper cost and audacious behaviour)! When was the last time we read that a seriously talented person was given a role simply because they were that - seriously talented? Not too often. We only hear of portfolio rationalization of agencies, mashing up of brands and erosion of the best talent. This trend has gained a greater momentum in the pandemic, and we often hear clients and marketers say that they are left with talent that doesn’t make the average cut.
THE AGE OF AGEISM
Sometime back, a certain leader of the industry made a remark on how ‘youthful’ their group was and the backlash that followed opened up another skeleton firmly tucked in the adland cupboard - that of ageism. Globally, there has been much uproar about the prejudice, and it seems to be doing its rounds here as well. The question to ask is, if gender disparity has been a problem that needed fixing, what about ageism? In the business of ideas and creativity, does talent come with an expiry date? Or is the industry falling into the predictable slot of ‘newer, shinier, better’? We are so quick to label and scoff. An example one saw recently was the change of guard at an Indie creative agency, which was once a top shop, but has lost its sheen. The leader - not the conventional one - went and brought back a big talent. Instead of looking at it with interest and hope, most folks start by sniggering. The labels and prejudice jump straight up. We are so quick to condemn anyone with fresh thinking. I’m quite sure that this agency will soon make the scoffers eat crow.
Again, is it not about balance? Of talent and capability. Of freshness and wisdom. Of enthusiasm and maturity. The real reason to be in the job is that you are relevant. And you are doing justice to the role. Some agencies out there have got it right, bringing together folks on the basis of their talent and not gender or age. Smarter marketers are reaching out to them. If we look at the new business win records of a few agency groups, we will see that there is a trend, where the agency with the right talent mix is attracting far better traction versus the mega houses which have obvious boys club imagery or the kind of teams that are not helping build confidence.
NO ROCKET SCIENCE
If we nurture talent and bring together the right variety, the product will be worthwhile. Age is just a number. There is no proven record that only a certain age group can do justice to a certain type of thinking. Creativity, thankfully, is not bound by this. Enough examples are available of seasoned leaders who are building on new future-oriented ideas. Sooner the business takes note of this, the better. The moot point is, why this obsession with age? Is any other industry getting into this trap? While the age-old hierarchy has evolved and it is no longer necessary to have three decades of experience to be a leader, simply writing people off due to their age is the other extreme.
What the industry truly needs is to bring back some imagination with a sprinkling of bravery. This again goes back to leadership. Simply changing leadership is not the solution. Or giving newer designations to people for doing the same job. It is about thinking different. To have the capability to step back and assess how each leader is shaping her/his company. There are a few leaders who hear what others have to say. Both old and young. The companies they lead are usually the ones with the right mix of talent and success. Their clients are their partners and say good things behind their back. The need of the hour is to perhaps bring back the right mix. Let a whole bunch of people thrive, never mind their age. C’mon, adland! Make way for multi-generational teams!
(The author is an independent brand curator, coach and consultant)
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