Older media industry talent should be celebrated not sacrificed

This last year has been brutal. The way Covid-19 decimated our economy is unprecedented. Businesses have had to relook the way they operate, and costs have had to be cut. As staff are often a company’s biggest overhead, many have lost their jobs or if they have been lucky, they have kept their jobs but had their salaries reduced.

Virginia Hollis writes

My thought is this though – don’t sacrifice your older, more experienced people in favour of keeping younger people because they are cheaper!

When it comes to retrenching, many businesses adopt a principle of ‘last in, first out’, but others will look at how they can cut back the least amount of people to save the most money. This invariably means cutting senior staff.  From a business perspective one can understand this logic and no one can condemn a business for doing this as they are in survival mode.

But let us hold on a second and take a bit of a step back.

Prior to the heinous Covid-19 era we were already seeing many senior people leaving South Africa’s shores for ‘greener’ pastures or just leaving the agency environment. Now, even more have left and with this goes all their skills and knowledge. Their positions are being taken up by Millennials and Gen Zs who have truly little experience, and no one to guide and correct them when they are spending millions of client’s Rands.  

Therefore, it makes logical sense that we need to keep our industry oldies; it has taken years for them to garner their extensive knowledge.

There has also always been this fixation in the advertising and media industry that the right target market for top end brands is 25-49 or 35-49. Really? Think about it, women are having babies later and later; I have several friends who are in their late 40s and early 50s who have tweens. 

So, is 49 the end of the road? I remember Barbara Ross, an industry research legend, yelling that because she was over 50 did not mean that she was no longer a viable consumer! 

50+s are still consumers of all the everyday normal stuff and in fact, at this age you are more likely to be able to afford that expensive car or that trip overseas. Think about it, this group is often bond free, the kids are out of school, so all they need to worry about are themselves; they are an economic force! 

Personally, I would think that this is a market that most advertisers would want to talk to. How many other age type target markets have this much disposable income?

The most accomplished people in the world tend to be older. Look at Nobel Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners to name just two categories. It takes years and years of work to achieve what these people have. The same goes for the advertising and media industry. It takes years to hone your craft and to become respected. Overnight successes are few and far between in any industry and the truth is that it takes years to become an expert in anything.

Our industry is obsessed with youth and I am sure that the Millennials and Gen Zs do not believe that us older folk can be innovative. I will personally challenge any young media person, if they are willing, to a strategic showdown, to prove that innovation does not solely reside in the domain of Millennials and Gen Zs!

So, should we be leaving the advertising and media industry to young people? I say an emphatic “No”!

I think that agencies should take a step back and stop conflating innovation and vivacity with youth. Client budgets are shrinking, and agency remuneration is declining, so you need the best combination of creativity, experience, and innovation to deliver the right results for clients. Both age and youth have a valuable place in the industry.

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Virginia Hollis is founder of media agency, Magnetic Connection. She is a senior media strategist/director with over 35 years of experience in all aspects of media – buying, planning and strategy. Hollis has worked on a multitude of major clients across all sectors including: Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Famous Brands, SABC, Eskom, Peugeot. She has also lectured at the AAA School in Johannesburg, helping set the syllabus and the final exam. Hollis was awarded Media Legend status by the industry’s MOST Awards in 2011 and most recently won the AdFocus Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.