It’s been just under two weeks since erudite industry veteran Steve Allen was welcomed to a new role at Pearman Media, but industry fanfare continues, unabated, in celebration of the moment.
At time of writing, a single post from Greg ‘Sparrow’ Graham’s LinkedIn, celebrating news of Steve Allen’s appointment at Pearman, has at least 7,000 views, more than 245 reactions, and a comments section full of resounding praise.
“Youth is wasted on the young!!” Pearman Media founder and managing director Dominic Pearman wrote in response to the post.
“My first boss in Media and still the smartest. Congrats Pearman on an inspired hire,” another respondent, Mindshare Sydney contractor Kristin Muter, wrote.
What is it about Allen’s appointment that resonates so strongly within ad-land?
In an industry dominated by youth, some commentators have welcomed the news as proof that ‘ageism’ (and the idea that adlanders need to be digital natives) is “a load of frog sh*t”, as one put it.
But according to the man dubbed “Australia’s most experienced media guy”, ex-colleagues, compatriots, and other members of industry have responded to his employment so strongly because he hasn’t “popped out for a long while”.
“I’m a craftsperson,” Allen tells B&T. “I’m not looking for the limelight. I really like working on solving client problems, and developing client strategies, and I’ve worked very hard at that.
“I’m not out and about a lot—I’m not a networker—because I just concentrate on the craft side.”
On announcing Allen’s appointment as director of strategy and research at Pearman Media, Dominic Pearman said: “There is no one else in Australia with Steve’s ability and experience who could fulfill this role—we are excited to have him on board.”
His knowledge is priceless, and its something that can only be acquired with one thing—age.
Graham, a panellist at B&T’s most recent Changing the Ratio conference, believes there is a continued ageism within ad-land, highlighted by the fact that the average age of employees in media communications remains around the 30-years-old mark, and that there are no awards celebrating older adlanders.
“It’s very rare to have people [employed in ad-land at Steve’s age], let alone my age,” Graham told B&T, after sharing his support for Allen’s appointment.
“For him to be taking on a cool role, like strategy, is brilliant.”
According to the Media Federation of Australia’s (MFA) most recent industry census, the average industry person is 31.8 years old, more than likely a woman (61 per cent), has 8.1 years of experience, and is likely to have an average agency tenure of 3.4 years.
B&T has reached out to the MFA to determine how these rates have changed since the coronavirus pandemic. However, the association advised that updated data will not be available until February 2021.
“If you’re over 30, people think that you’re past it,” Graham said. “I don’t think the industry values experience or wisdom, and he’s [Allen’s] got all of that … there wouldn’t be anyone else that I think would have that depth of knowledge.”
Allen says that he hasn’t personally experienced ageism within ad-land, which he says could have something to do with having been self-employed for many years.
However, he says experience has shown that Australia does not have the same respect for “older fellas” that other countries do, particularly on the service side in media planning and buying.
“Most of the marketing departments,” he says, “are in their 20s, 30s and only occasionally in their 40s, and of course some of them want to deal with people like them.”
It’s also why there’s potentially some bias in where money goes by target audience, he says.
Allen adds: “Why are people over the age of 55 rarely targeted by any television brief? Given that Baby Boomers have got 80 per cent of the wealth, that doesn’t seem to make sense does it?”
Television isn’t alone in its prejudice: as revealed at Changing the Ratio last year, radio ratings currently stop at age 54, even though people in their 60s and above account for a large segment of the audience.
In addition to this, Nielsen stops their surveys at age 60.
Note: This article has been updated to reflect information obtained from the Media Federation of Australia.
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