Forever Young: What’s Missing In The Workplace



I make no apologies for excerpting part of a much longer article by Tom Goodwin because he voices something many feel. It’s a bit patronising but hey, he’s in advertising (‘Head of Innovation’, poor guy) and has a point to make:

Living in New York and working in advertising I rarely see people over the age of fifty. My elders seem to be a secret population — a growing, sizable, increasingly healthy and wealthy group — that I’m never exposed to, let alone have the pleasure of working alongside.

As an industry we’re obsessed with youth, we’re endlessly trying to get “upwardly mobile Millennials” or “hard to reach youthful influencers” or some nonsensical and largely broke crowd who can’t afford the premium SUV we have on offer. Meanwhile we’ve not looked around the BA First Lounge or the Hyatt Hotel lobby, or the Emirates Business class cabin to see that all the people with money and influence are actually rather old. And wise.

Occasionally, on the rare events where I get to listen to some of the wonderful old folk of advertising, it quickly makes me realize how much we as an industry suffer from a lack of wisdom. We have incredible levels of vision, an abundance of precociousness, brilliant creativity, but as an industry we pretty much have no wisdom at all.


It started to happen in the early 2000s — expensive, wise people that hadn’t grown up with Blackberries and expected long lunches and business class seats that didn’t get open plan offices, were slowly removed from the business. We didn’t notice it for quite some time because we were too busy playing with our new toys — the internet, the banner ad, the microsite, and the iPhone. We had rallying cries to get digital folk on the pitch team. We’d fly hapless 24-year-olds around the world to ensure we had the voice of youth on the team, but we abandoned the voice of context.


Instead we get mobile marketing experts, who with their six years of experience are seen as mobile advertising opinion leaders. And how can they not be? They’ve lived this stuff for three times longer than anyone else. We get social media gurus who seem to just be people with the same common sense as everyone else, but with fewer more important skills to leverage.

It’s gotten to the point that it’s now possible to be in a room with 400 agency employees, earning tens of millions of dollars in revenue, without a single person who can remember the advertising world pre-mobile days, let alone pre-computer.

Tom then goes on to outline a vicious cycle of problems afflicting companies staffed only by Youngs, which include a lack of gravitas and business sense, thinking everything is new and not seeing change in context.

Just before I left my company, the new kids coming in asked me what our days had been like when we founded the company. They were slack-jawed with amazement when I described how we worked, who we met and what we could do. The level of creative control, originality and seat-of-the-pants accountability we had seemed unbelievable to them. They had not imagined a job where your ideas could go from a piece of paper to a TV screen or cinema in a day without a single change.

Without knowledge of the past the new generation are required to start over again, but this time without any say of their own. You can read the whole of Tom’s article on LinkedIn.



14 comments on “Forever Young: What’s Missing In The Workplace”

  1. Roger says:

    Surely in advertising it is only natural that “as an industry we pretty much have no wisdom at all”. The purpose of advertising is to persuade people they want things .they probably don’t need by manipulating their emotions.

  2. Brooke says:

    Interesting image for this post…a watch and day diary…haven’t seen those since 1999.

    Tom Goodwin and Mr. Fowler describe behavior that my business colleagues and I discuss ceaselessly because the behavior and attitudes cost us money and worse–time. From law firms to non-profits, organizations now have to build training programs to teach basics in office protocol (don’t get drunk at the office party), how to work with other people (!), appropriate email language, etc. And what is not calculated is missed business opportunity, as Goodwin points out.

    And senior executives have adopted the millennial attitudes; I could not believe an email I saw recently from an senior person to colleagues–ugh! The behavior in the White House is of a piece; the tweet is more important that good governance.

  3. SteveB says:

    I work in and part own a b2b publishing company.
    What I see is that people under say 30, as are many who are making the advertising and marketing budgets that drive our turnover, see little merit in journalistic content and see all magazines as mere channels for pr and paid content. I think a major reason is that they have grown up in an ocean of undifferentiated advertising and unanchored ‘news’ distributed by facebook and youtube and can’t imagine anything different.
    The significance of advertising budgets on information people get has always been much greater than most realise. It’s in danger of becoming total.
    Why I even bother to try to make a half way decent business when if I join the race to the bottom I can make more in the next three years than I made in the rest of my life.

  4. SteveB says:

    Sorry a bit of a cry from the heart there!!! And to be honest, since I can’t change the world, the question kind of answers itself doesn’t it… Shame not to feel proud of what I do though.

  5. Katharine says:

    What a relief to read the above-mentioned thoughts. I am now facing millennial co-workers who feel it is their right after 3 years to take the position and department I created 25 years ago. They succeeded by threatenig to leave the company. Why did they succeed? “We need to keep our upwardly mobile millennials, they are our future..”said my CEO. The result that I see? “The voice of context” is gone, working outside the box, gone. Accountability missing. And an amazing amount of texting and surfing instead of exploring new avenues of business. To keep my job I am creating another new department. .. yes I am an “older” person. Fortunately I am also part owner of our business.

  6. Joel says:

    This is everywhere. Workers older than the manager are seen as expensive dinosaurs, only pretending to keep up. Newer employees can be made compliant for less money, then fewer of them. Those left in the workplace know less about what they’re doing, and more where to find what to do. They too will be old one day.

    In the UK alone, the over-60s already outnumber the under-16s; more people leave the workforce by age-related departure than are coming into it, and across Europe (do they still count?) half the population will be over 50 by 2020.
    However, in an ageing population, what will be ‘old’ for them to reach it?

    I retired five and a half years ago, at 60 and wouldn’t go back (not by choice). I’ve watched expertise draining out of my former industry as accountants take over. Talking occasionally to those left, and asking (mostly in benevolent malice) ‘how do you do X now?’, my former work colleagues and I try not to laugh. Not only can they not answer but even sadder is that I can’t get across what ‘we’ once did, and did it effectively.

  7. Stephen says:

    Ageism seems to be widespread these days.

  8. Vivienne says:

    Sounds terrifying. Are the young really turning robotic?

  9. jim says:

    Today’s advertisements strike me as boring and insulting. They lack wit and creativity. I watched a few cartoons with my grandson and saw the same thing–stupid or non-existent plot lines, poorly drawn characters, and no humor at all. I’ve been a teacher for over 30 years, God help me, and I see this same lack of thinking in so many of the youngsters today.

  10. Peter Dixon says:

    I started working as a graphic designer for a local newspaper in 1976 aged 20. The regional trade union rep dropped in to see us one day (he’d just moved to print from a textiles trade role), his first question was; “What do you do with your old artists? I’ve visited 20 companies and no one is over 40”. So its not new, a lot of creative stuff is based around young people because they catch trends quicker – the fashion industry is the same.

    In some creative businesses people can burn out quickly. Or else they leave because they can’t stand putting a gloss on other people’s lies anymore.

    Or as someone said “I worked in advertising but I told my family that I played piano in a brothel so as not to upset them”

  11. Jan says:

    Well I’ve read this bunch of comments through a couple of times and am still scratching my head and wondering if these are not the words of a generation growing old and that forty years ago other old codgers were saying that about us! Or has the technology changed so rapidly that we’ve actually got a point. Bit of both I suppose.

    Here I worked with a smashing bloke who had worked in advertising for about 10 years and having slipped down from a top ad agency to a slightly less than top one took a whole new
    Career direction. And looked what happened to him. So Spud if by any chance you get to read this…..

  12. Helen Martin says:

    CBC radio has a program (which is podcast as well, I believe) called Under the Influence with Terry O’Reilly. He has been in advertising for a good long time and does a half hour of advertising through the twentieth century with radio and tv clips and horror stories from the industry. He still seems to be enthusiastic, although I believe he either owns or part owns his Toronto agency Pirate Toronto.
    My husband was in trucking for 40 years and that industry goes through all sorts of phases and changes, partly due to changes in government regulation and partly due to massive increases in costs, increases the customers refuse to cover. They end up re-inventing the wheel as they try to make income cover outgo. It’s a bit like pulling up a too short blanket to keep your shoulders warm only to have your feet freeze. The interesting part is that he still gets calls from the office asking about procedures and what is really required as opposed to merely advisable. That will likely change since one of his specialties was handling cross-border loads and now we’ll have Mr. Trump’s regulations to deal with.

  13. Jan says:

    Very difficult to come to terms with being part of the generation that’s “getting on”. Maybe that’s particularly true if you are creative and part of that industry hinges on an awareness of what is upcoming and fashionable. Setting of trends and styles does seem to be a part of being young. Peter Dixon said it best I think. The interesting thing to take us forward now is the greater numbers of people in the older age brackets. What is interesting is thinking about the changing demographic bring long term. Pensioners now have more disposable income than youngsters and young married. Will the silver pound bring a discernable change to advertising for example?

    There’s no escaping it though folks although there are young people contributing regularly to this site in the main we are fans of a writer in his sixties (Sorry for advertising this Chris don’t get the hump)and,we are likely to be in that age bracket ourselves. This is us now heading toward conversion.

  14. Jan says:

    That last sentence sentence should read heading toward codgerdom. Bloody predictive text.
    Can’t blame it for dreadful failings of grammar though –

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