No Country for Old Men (or Women)

By Thought Leaders Archives
Cover image for  article: No Country for Old Men (or Women)

I've heard it said, when referring to age, that 60 is the new 50.  Having passed the six decade mark myself, and still of sound mind and body (for the most part), I agree with that statement.  But when it comes to longevity in the media business, I believe 50 is rapidly becoming the new 60, and many who have spent their entire careers in the media business are now trying to figure out what they will do for their second act.

In the past week alone, I've met or talked with three senior media professionals who fall into this age category and are grappling with job displacement.  Two weeks ago, I ran into a senior executive at a major media company who indicated she "had maybe two years left."  She is in her early 50's. 

On the horizon we have a slew of pending media mergers.  The narrative surrounding these is always the same:  "We expect there will be synergies and cost savings."  Translation:  We're going to right-size a lot of people out of work.  Further translation:  Those people will likely be over 50. 

Then, we have the ongoing financial health of media companies as monitored by the Wall Streeters.  In today's volatile stock market, which punishes companies for missing forecasts, a company that can't meet its top-line revenue goals must reduce costs to meet earnings expectations.  Every fourth quarter we see a number of senior execs "retired" as their companies prepare for the next fiscal year.  The age of these folks is trending younger and younger.

There are other reasons for the forced exodus of the fifty-somethings.  Many who grew up in the traditional media world have not embraced the digital transformation.  They didn't recognize its growing importance, and they have not re-educated themselves on the complexities (or even the basics) of digital-media transactions.  With the massive shift in ad dollars to digital media, the job and salary growth opportunities for media folks are in this sector -- not in the traditional media world. 

The leaders of many media companies have also come to the conclusion that this is no longer a "relationship business."  For decades both agencies and media companies paid top dollar to their key buyers and sellers because of their strong relationships with those whom they were negotiating.   Today, in a world dominated by digital communication and migrating towards data-infused, automated buying and selling, those relationships (and the high salaried talent) become less valuable.

Ironically, an unintended by-product of the fifty-something purge is that the great majority of these personnel reductions are white males.  They have held the most senior (and certainly the highest paid) positions in our un-diverse media business for years.  As a consequence, the comparisons on male/female compensation begin to look better when they are eliminated.  Also, the diversity statistics begin to improve, as new hires today are certainly more diverse than they have been.

A not-so-great by-product of the fifty-something personnel right-sizing is the loss of people with real-world experience, the perspective of history and understanding that ROI is a real thing and not an acronym that is given lip-service.  They understand that advertising media is about helping clients build their business.  Impressions, big data, hyper-targeting, native content, programmatic buying, AI, AR and all else are unimportant unless you understand how they deliver business results.

When I began in the business, most people worked for only three companies over the course of their career.  Most worked until they were 65 or close to it.  You were only fired for malfeasance or complete incompetence, although even many of those folks survived.  All companies offered some form of pension or profit sharing that could carry retirees comfortably through to their "expiration date" … usually their mid-to-late 70s.   Nowadays, those in their early 50s will likely live well into their 80s or early 90s. 

As the famous British statesman and two-time Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, "I plan for the worst, but hope for the best."  As more folks approach age 50 in the media business, they would be wise to do the same with their careers and futures.

And now I leave it to Jack Myers to pursue this topic with his next book.

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