It’s March Madness, For me ‘Maddeness,’ Time Agencies Temper That Madness in the Workplace Called ‘Ageism’

It’s time to adjourn ageism, to get rid of the concept altogether in all professions. The fact is we don’t just age.  We become smarter, more experienced, wiser!

Today in advertising, marketing and many businesses, when you reach that foreboding 50 mark, some smiling shadowy figure in finance will invite creatives out to that cliff.

That cliff is a lot closer to many of us in the U.S. than it is in Asian cultures, where age and the experience that intertwines, are considered sacred.  Revered!

When I started out, which seems today like a couple centuries ago, I was far from that cliff of ageism as you can get during my short-lived advertising agency career at Lennen & Newell, Inc. 

I had landed on smoking-hot Madison Avenue in one of my first few jobs after graduating college. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was young and spreading my creative wings. 

There I worked on the Kent Cigarette account promoting its inglorious “Micronite filter,” not knowing it would turn out to be more harmful than the tobacco.  Sorry smokers.  I was one of you back then, inhaling the asbestos advertising.

The agency was a pioneer first in radio advertising and then in television bringing actors John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, and Clark Gable to radio for the first time before its ascent to the rank of 13th largest advertising agency in the U.S.  

Fortunately, I had moved on into journalism before Its sudden bankruptcy in 1972, the worst agency financial disaster the advertising world had ever seen.

The fallout from that event led to the overturning of the nearly century-old, time-honored policy of agency sole liability for payment to media, causing a disruption in the entire client-agency-media ecosystem. 

In the years that followed, I noticed older (40 and above) creatives in their prime entering the freelance pool at the agency, like war casualties entering a Red Cross tent, with a slim chance of ever seeing action again.

While freelancing paid well, they felt robbed of emotion toward the work they loved and were so good at, but now they were like mercenaries and nomads who didn’t belong anywhere and they felt betrayed.

A colleague of mine asks how does an industry that touts itself as a creative business and spends millions on award shows have a culture of treating its creatives so callously?

Ageism is a byproduct of holding companies coping with diminishing business margins and pressures from Wall Street.  Unfortunately, the easiest way to meet analysts’ expectations is to jettison older people—who are the main expense—not to mention the savings in health care costs with a younger workforce.

As owner of a PR firm, I too feel an attraction financially to the benefits of hiring younger people whose health insurance costs are friendlier, not to mention salaries at more affordable levels, yet experienced older publicists tend to keep clients happier, longer, so it’s a catch 22 if there ever was one.

One benefit of the persistent remote-work trend that has carried on from the Covid-19 pandemic may be jobs for not just people with disabilities working from home, but older folks, whose only disability is their age.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 21.3% of people with disabilities were employed, up from 19.1% in 2021, and represents the highest rate since BLS started tracking the metric in 2008.

The tight talent market has also helped, prompting employers to broaden out of traditional talent pools to new ones that remote work as opened.  So, gramps, there may still be a creative job you love working from home.

Or you can look at it differently and take the approach of Monica McDonough who keeps “a list of people who have no business being younger than me” as she wrote recently in The New Yorker.

“All of my present and future co-workers must be older than me,” she said.

Life coaches, therapists, and spiritual leaders must all be my elders, she writes adding:

“I happen to know a thing or two about science, and even my brain is not, to use technical terms, done cooking. You youngsters barely have a prefrontal cortex to speak of. You cannot help people make sound decisions when you just acquired impulse control. People who give advice should be wrinkly. Or, at the very least, haggard.”

To that I say amen, haggardly yours,

Tom Madden, CEO
TransMedia Group