by Alistair Mokoena (@AlistairMokoena) All you ad execs who are 50 years and older, please stand up so I may come to you for wise counsel?!

Lion. Photo by Alistair Mokoena
“Recently, I was recently in the bush, photographing wild animals. After impeccable spoor tracking and what felt like the longest 10-minute drive ever, we finally spotted a larger-than-life male lion with a beautiful dark mane, standing tall and proud a few metres from a watering hole. This was Simba, the rogue nomadic male who’d been recently jettisoned from his pride by younger male lions, and now found himself alone and vulnerable in the wild. For a moment, I imagined casting a lion for a Heads & Shoulders ad.” — Words and pic by Alistair Mokoena.

One of the things that strike you when you join the advertising industry is that it is full of young people, as well as a preponderance of women, just like a pride of lions:

Older male lions always get jettisoned from a pride by younger ones, leaving the pride with lots of females and cubs, and these evictees struggle to face life on their own — traditionally, lionesses do all the hunting, so males can’t fend for themselves, and the dark brown manes of the males also make it difficult for them to camouflage themselves and avoid other predators.

Their only chance of survival is in partnering with other males, with whom they socialise and they hunt.

Bad indictment on our industry

But why is the industry hostile to older and wiser folk? Because they are expensive and probably not digitally savvy. This, in my view, is a bad indictment on our industry and needs to be addressed. As someone once said, “You judge a nation by how it treats its senior citizens.”

The typical agency employee is a woman who is just under 30, and it’s a battle to find ad people 50 years and older. If you’re over 50, chances are that you are a non-executive chairperson, an agency founder, a driver or the newspaper guy.

So where are all the men and where are the senior citizens who have 30 years or more experience in advertising? Have they crossed the fence and joined corporate because the average agency doesn’t have a pension fund? Have they jumped ship and started a competing agency or have they become pitch consultants? Have they formed training companies or have they traded their sketch pad for a classroom chalkboard?

Flawed agency model

An agency model that says your salary-to-revenue ratio should be a certain percentage and no more is flawed. Undoubtedly, a series of 5% salary increases and promotions over a 30-year career will definitely result in you being a top earner. But does this make you a liability?

There are exceptions to every rule. I do buy the principle that an agency should not be top-heavy. I also buy the principle that you should have few giants and many juniors; however, wisdom and experience should not be easily turfed.

Lessons learnt are a valuable asset. Young bright-eyed, bushy-tailed advertising folk need mentoring and coaching by a seasoned pro who has faced tough challenges such as constant rejection, peer pressure to sniff the proverbial white powder, and peer pressure to have more malt than blood in your body. Who’s gonna tell young creatives that it’s not cool to miss reviews and rock up late to client meetings?

Throw more responsibilities

If our preoccupation is to sweat our human assets, why don’t we throw more responsibilities at these older folk instead of rejecting them for being ‘expensive’? Add training, mentoring, staff morale and new business to their day job. In other words, make them do three people’s jobs so you can justify keeping them.

You will be surprised at how easy this will be for them. Given the opportunity to draw on all their years’ experience enables them roll many positions into one.

When all is said and done, every agency needs a moral compass, someone who keeps them honest and focused on what matters. Who will you pick for this role, a youngster who relies on theory for counsel or an old and wise ad exec who’s seen this movie a million times over the years?

My money is on the latter.

Alistair MokoenaAlistair Mokoena (@AlistairMokoena) is a Unilever-trained Chartered Marketer with lots of blue-chip marketing experience. He’s currently MD of FCB Johannesburg and one of his favourite pastimes is driving around in the bush, photographing wild animals. Alistair contributes the monthly “The Switch” column to

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