Claire Beale On Advertising

Anyone who thinks adland is only for the young needs to think again

If you're over 40 and you work in advertising, congratulations to you. You have beaten some really quite frightening odds. Because did you know that the over-40s make up less than 20 per cent of the advertising workforce?

Of course you did. Take a tour round pretty much any London agency and you'll find a meagre smattering of grey hairs and laughter lines among the armies of "bright young things". It's what makes adland adland.

The fact is that almost half of the people who work in British advertising are under the age of 30, and for those middle-aged ad execs not on the management floor, the ad industry can sometimes seem like a lonely place.

True, it's this staggering demographic skew that makes advertising one of the most vibrant and energetic industries. But it could represent a ticking time bomb as agencies face up to the new age discrimination legislation that has just come into force.

The new rules will bite at all stages of employment, from job applications through to retirement. And as so many of the industry's departments consider over 40 to be over the hill, ad agencies and media owners could find themselves on the sharp end of age discrimination claims.

While the new law allows for a tightly-defined set of "legitimate aims" to justify age-based employment decisions, getting round the rules could prove a major headache. If you reckon you need a hot young creative team to work on a youth brand, you could be in trouble. And forget briefing headhunters that you're looking for "dynamic" or "energetic" staff - if an older candidate loses out in the interviewing process, such terms could come back to haunt you. And think before you sign that colleague's birthday card with the beer-bellied baldie on the front and the words "welcome to the home straight" etched inside. You might not have heard of ageism harassment, but you will do.

The new rules do threaten to strike at the heart of the existing advertising culture. Yet the truth is that advertising is not a rampantly ageist business. It's a meritocracy, where success can come early and if you haven't made it by the time you're 40 it's easy to get disillusioned. For every John Hegarty (though unfortunately there is only one), or wily Robin Wight (62), or age-defying Tim Lindsay (50 and not so long ago voted sexiest man in advertising), there are armfuls of happy ex-admen who are now running wine bars, antique shops or art galleries.

It's also an industry where salaries can skyrocket early on and older executives can be earning some pretty eye-watering packages. At a time when the industry is hardly booming, that represents a problem - you can hire three fresh-faced junior teams for the price of a seasoned art director.

Undoubtedly, advertising is a business that fails its workforce by undervaluing experience - and the rush to grab digital credentials is exacerbating the problem. Ironically, though, the complexities of the new, fragmented media order mean that wisdom borne out of experience has more of a role to play than ever. Now, with a talent shortage at the bottom and punitive age laws bearing down from the top, it's inevitable that the average life expectancy of ad execs is lengthening. Slowly. So perhaps experience will, post-rationally, come to be something of an agency USP. Heck, maybe we can even charge more for it.

WHEN IT comes to French advertising, there are two key requirements for success: be French and be part of the business ruling-class that seems to run the entire country.

So when it comes to the grands fromages at that most French of advertising companies, Publicis Groupe, Gallic blood is a major selling point on the CV. It's not surprising, then, that Maurice Levy (a man who knows how to wear bespoke tailoring) should warm to the similarly suave Olivier Fleurot when it came to beefing up the management at the Publicis network.

Fleurot is little known in advertising circles but wields an impressive list of qualifications for his new role of executive chairman. He started out his career in water treatment engineering, and a knowledge of sewerage will be an undoubted advantage in the political quagmire of French advertising. A former CEO of the Financial Times and the man who took the paper digital, he has been a close adviser of Pearson chief Marjorie Scardino and chairman of the FTSE. And he's most definitely French.

But is he being groomed to take over from Mr Levy? Opinion remains divided on the matter. Not because observers are unsure how Fleurot will play in advertising circles. But because it's almost impossible to imagine Levy abdicating.

With Publicis' COO, Rick Bendel, heading off to be marketing director of Asda and the unquestionably capable Richard Pinder moving across from Leo Burnett to be Fleurot's number two, Levy's key network now has a new management team in place that will no doubt be looking for some autonomy.

Will Levy give them their heads and accept that his empire is now so large he must start to loosen his autocratic grip? It seems unlikely, but there's no doubt the time has come for a more devolved management structure if each unit is to reach its full potential.

ADVERTISING'S AXIS of evil - booze and food - has been a topic of foaming debate throughout party conference season. But a dangerous new threat has also emerged: all advertising and marketing to children is now under attack as the lobbyists have dug their claws even further into commercial freedoms.

Even adland's most passionate liberalists are surely flagging now under the relentless onslaught. And it doesn't help that the issues have moved from the practical to the deeply political and advertising has become the whipping boy for an entire pressure-group crusade.

Tony Blair found the time in his valedictory conference speech to take a swipe: "Ten years ago... I would have balked at restrictions on advertising junk food to children. Today I say unless a voluntary code works, we will legislate for it."

Then an unlikely, unholy alliance of the Church of England, Labour activists and parent groups decided to go for broke, demanding a full clampdown on all forms of advertising to children under 12.

Meanwhile at the Tory conference representatives voted 52 per cent in favour of the motion: "It's time to consider a ban on marketing to children." Apparently they reckon the stance could help the party win the next general election.

The good news is that the Advertising Association has just persuaded Baroness Peta Buscombe, a Tory minister and former commercial lawyer, to be its new director-general. The bad news is that the rest of the advertising industry seems to be losing some energy for the fight. But let no one be mistaken, this is a war that the advertising and marketing industries, and British industry at large, cannot afford to lose.

Claire Beale is editor of 'Campaign', claire.beale@haynet.com

BEALE'S BEST IN SHOW ITV

The new M&C Saatchi adverts for ITV are not guaranteed to tickle awards juries, but they've certainly been tickling commuters in London.

The campaign is for Trinny and Susannah Undress. Yes, it's another example of beleaguered ITV1 failing to have an original programming idea of its own. Or at least one that isn't a decade old... like Cracker or Prime Suspect, which are now back on screen.

Anyway, we all know the channel's in a bit of a bind (falling audiences, falling ad revenues), and it's unlikely that Trinny and Susannah can sort this particular dog's dinner out. But the ad delivers a real clout.

The photography is powerful, quite monotone and nicely shot. Oh, and there's flesh. Quite a lot of it. Dangly and hairy and rather disturbing when you're not expecting it. The people who complain about these things have, predictably, complained. So the ads have already scored some real points on the PR-ometer (nothing like a bit of controversy for cranking up the publicity and making your ad budget work harder).

All in all, it's a cheap, cheeky trick, of course. But watching the amused and bemused responses the enormous cross-track Underground ads elicited from jaded commuters at home time last week, I'd say that this is a smart exercise in impactive advertising. And you don't often find 'ITV' and 'impactive' snuggling up together these days.

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