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Wisdom just got hot

07 October, 2014 - Source: JWT

On 07.10.2014, Kate Bruges, Co-Director of Talent JWT London, spoke at the IPA Talent Adaptathon. The IPA event tackled how to recruit and retain talent which is less one dimensional, more diverse, and leads to better commercial creativity. Here is the amazing speech she gave.

  • kate bruges
    kate bruges

 Less than 6% of IPA agency staff are over 50, 45% are under 30 (and this figure is even higher for media agencies). So why does this matter?

Firstly it is a trend that is in absolute opposition to that of the population and specifically the critical high-spending consumers of the next 10 years. The so-called grey pound is crucial to the UK’s economic recovery - not surprising when hitting 50 is a bit like leaving school again. These are a lean-in, physically active bunch, not settling down for an afternoon with ITV3, they want to eat life and enjoy all it has to offer: travel, hobbies and interests that range from marathon running, bike racing, being musicians, adventure travel, volunteering, to starting their own businesses-laterpreneurs. In fact since 2008 6.5% of over 50’s started businesses, overtaking the 18-29 bracket in start-ups.

So why would agencies choose to populate the greater proportion of their workforce, whose job it will be to create ideas that will connect and sell to this group, with staff that are young enough to be their kids?

Is it because older staff are seen as having less to offer - they are stale, out of touch, and less productive?
In fact numerous research studies repeatedly demonstrate a strong business case for older workers. Their impact and experience enables better customer service, enhanced knowledge retention and they help transfer skills and knowledge and develop talent rapidly through mentoring, leadership and coaching.

Is it because their brains are a bit tired?
In fact all the evidence demonstrates that the brain’s mental capacity does not begin to slow until post 70 and that a person’s age bears no relation to their ability to perform the vast majority of tasks and they are at least as productive as younger colleagues. Often more so.

So is it because old people just aren't as creative?
Let’s take a look at the top performers in other fields of commercial creativity: The average age of the top 10 grossing actors last year was 46. The top 8 were all over 40, 4 were over 60. Robert Downey Junior, 49, Dwayne Johnson, 42, Sandra Bullock, 50, Billy Crystal, 66, Steve Carrell, 52. Just Chris Hemsworth, 31, and Jennifer Lawrence, 24, made it into this select group. And let’s be clear, Robert Downey Junior’s movies grossed $1.2 billion, a staggering 45% more than Jennifer’s.

What about music?
The average age of the highest earning musicians of 2013 was 48. (If the Rolling Stones had been touring it would have hit the over 50 mark). 60% of the top 10 were over 40, 5 were over 50. Madonna at number 1, 56; Jon Bon Jovi, 53; Bruce Springsteen, 65; Elton John, 67. Just 3 under 30’s made it into this group: Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, and Madonna’s income was 50% more than Lady Gaga, second in the rankings.

And what about best-selling authors:
The average age of the top-earning authors in 2013 was 56. 9 out of 10 of the top earners in 2013 were over 40: James Patterson at number 1, 67;(incidentally Jim’s first highly successful career was as Creative Director at JWT New York), Dan Brown, 50; Danielle Steel, 63; Janet Evanovich, 71; Stephen King, 67. Veronica Roth (Divergent trilogy) is the sole under 30 to make it, with earnings of $17m compared to James Patterson’s $90m.

So, it’s the over 40s who dominate in every sphere of commercial creativity. They continue to produce creativity that sells, and guess what, it’s no coincidence that their age is more closely aligned with the boomer demographic that drives consumer spending.

And just to finally nail the misconception that creativity is a young person’s game, reflect on some of the world’s greatest artists: for example Picasso, Matisse, Rembrandt –all of their greatest and most innovative work was the work of their old age. Why? They had experienced more of life: painted more, seen more, done more: their technical ability, their craft honed over decades, and their life experiences came together in the later years to produce their finest work.

And surprise….some of the most successful businesses on the planet have recognised the value of experience and reap the rewards:
The recently published Forbes Most Admired 2014, which is the definitive report card on corporate reputation makes for interesting reading: At Number 1, Apple. Tim Cook, CEO, 53, who took over from Steve Jobs who was 56 when he died. Jonie Ive, Apple’s Chief Designer, is 47. Amazon, number 2 - Jeff Bezos, 50; Google; Serge and Larry are both 41 but they chose to hire Eric Schmidt in 2001 as CEO when they were 28 and he was 46, rather than a fresh-out-of-MIT or Stanford whizz kid and Google’s global success is as much Eric’s, as the founders. The legendary Warren Buffett still runs Berkshire Hathaway, in at number 4, and by a mile with the most consistently highest value stock, he is 83. Starbucks’ leadership - 61, likewise Coca Cola’s; Walt Disney’s C suite average age 54, the list goes on.
Close to home, Facebook chose our own Nichola Mendelsohn, in her 40’s, to head Europe rather than a techie young gun.

So having made the case for the commercial value of the over 40’s to our business what strategies can we employ to keep this valuable resource in our business and leverage it to maximum effectiveness?

Here are a few starters for 10:

Flexibility: this life stage brings with it a far greater degree of flexibility due to reduced family commitments which can be used to both employer and employee’s advantage. Part-time positions, job shares, shorter hours and flexible working arrangements keep employees engaged, giving them the freedom to pursue other passions and interests and reduce the cost to the employer of a what is sometimes seen as a relatively expensive older employee.

“Off ramping”: positive opportunities to transfer to jobs with reduced responsibilities and pressures, and reduced pay. While employers can be nervous about presenting this as an option, in fact many older employees would welcome this, it keeps crucial experience in the building that might otherwise be offered redundancy and represents better value for the business.

Managing performance is just as critical for older employees as it is with younger staff to keep engagement and maintain effectiveness. Regular appraisals, clear goals and identification of training needs are the cornerstones. Younger managers often feel nervous about conducting appraisals of older staff, so they need to be given the support to do this. Simply sidestepping performance appraisals, which can often happen with older staff, causes problems: they may disengage from the organisation and culture, they feel no-one cares, and their productivity declines; then their perceived value decreases and either the business chooses to exit them or they exit themselves.

Training is often ignored for older employees, they are “not worth investing in”, or have nothing to learn. In fact in an industry with close to 30% staff turnover the return on training investment is likely to be far higher with a longstanding older employee. Skills must be kept up to date and employees must be given the opportunity to upgrade. Partnering older and younger employees in programmes can work brilliantly: team working, emotional intelligence, negotiation skills learnt from years of experience can be shared and in return IT and digital skills and insights from the younger generation. Patrick Collister was hired by Google and brings a lifetime of generating ideas to share with a young tech savvy group, all to Google’s advantage. Speaking about his appointment, Collister said: “I have been a creative director for 25 years now and the fact that an organisation like Google is looking to a grey-hair like me is very interesting because I think it shows that good old-fashioned understanding of brands, ideas and – dare I say it – people is important.”

Teaming creative pairs across the age bands might be a really interesting way of generating new kinds of comms ideas - the collision of two very different perspectives and skill sets.

Finally, if we don’t always keep the wisdom in the building how about networks of retirees/alumni who can be drawn on as consultants, trainers and mentors.

I’ll end with one-liners from Jaspar Shelbourne, 51, JWT Global Creative Director, & formerly the ECD in London: “there are no wise young people”, and “wisdom just got hot” (I’ll pass on “young is the new shit…”)

So some food for thought and to help kick start your discussions.

You will now find 4 questions posed under the heading
“You Can’t Put a Price on experience”
1.Why are so many 40+ leaving the industry?
2. Is this really a problem? If so, what are we missing out on?
3. How can we make better use of the collective wisdom of experienced staff?
4.What could be some things to try?

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