Last September, industry icon Greg “Sparrow” Graham found himself redundant from WPP, leaving many to assume he’d retire for a life of discounted schooners at his local bowlo. But not so. With a new venture – The Nest Consultancy – and a new lease on life, in this guest post for B&T, Graham argues his experience highlights a real problem of how the industry treats its older employees. “Sparrow” will also be speaking at B&T‘s Changing The Ratio in May…
I’ve always considered myself lucky. I grew up on a farm in a small country town, dreaming of moving to the ‘big smoke’ and pursuing a career related to TV and media.
And that’s exactly what I did. I have been very fortunate to have worked in the media and advertising industry for 40-odd years and I’ve loved every second of it. I’ve experienced a lot of highlights along the way – launching Mindshare in Australia, an exciting seven years working in New York as marketing and new business director of Mindshare, and back in Australia for GroupM and WPP AUNZ.
I’ve helped win new business, led our industry’s prestigious awards program, participated in numerous industry initiatives, and proudly trained and nurtured the next generation of industry leaders, always well aware what a privilege it is to work in this industry.
I never thought much about ageism, and particularly not against me. And then six months ago it hit home. When it was announced in October last year that I was leaving WPP AUNZ, most people assumed, because I’m not a young buck, that I was retiring. Not just that, they also made many assumptions about my future and what I should be doing. But playing lawn bowls or bingo haven’t featured in my plans, I can tell you that much.
It’s generally accepted that the marketing and media industry is a young person’s industry. I get that. But youthful enthusiasm is nothing without wisdom, experience and good ol’ real life skills to complement and guide it.
So I’m joining the chorus of industry leaders who have recently raised awareness around the importance of diversity and the need for older experienced people to impart their knowledge and learnings to the younger generations.
According to the Media Federation of Australia’s own industry census, the average person working in media agencies today is 31.2 years old. In a world where we’re all living longer – and as a consequence, getting older – you don’t need me to tell you that 30-year-olds don’t exactly represent or even relate to the majority of our clients’ customers.
We talk a lot about the importance of training and development, and in my view one of the best ways to train up-and-coming talent in our industry is through mentorship with senior people and exposing them to a good dose of grey-haired wisdom.
Clients must take some responsibility for this situation, I was speaking to a CMO recently who was bemoaning the lack of experience on their business and how what they really wanted was a trusted adviser they could rely on. My question to the CMO was whether they were paying their agency a fair remuneration to pay for that senior experienced person.
Unless you’re willing to pay for the experience and quality, you’re part of the problem. And you’re going to get the young people on your business without the guiding hand of experience.
My other advice to everyone in the industry is this: stop labelling people. I was recently referred to as an “old timer”. I didn’t take it as a compliment, even if it’s a marginally better label than old-school – which is basically saying that you’re set in your ways, incapable of innovating or adapting.
But mindset doesn’t have an age. You can be just as adaptive, forward-thinking, resilient, creative and innovative at 60 as at 20.
Sure, I’ve been around for a while so if you want to call me something, call me a veteran and let’s all fight for real diversity against ageism and truly value experience.