While it may be the tireless force that is bringing the world together, digital seems to be having an adverse effect in the advertising world, especially inside big Ad agencies.
A couple of decades ago, the generational-gap that existed at big ad agencies was necessary for defining hierarchy; senior execs were naturally “older”, and it took time and age (in addition to smarts) for one to rise to the top of the food-chain.
Back then, the chances for a younger “new-comer” to sit on top of the agency food-chain were very, very slim.
Well, the rules of the game have since changed, and after 16 years of witnessing firsthand the impact digital had on the hierarchy of global ad agencies, it’s becoming clear that age has officially become the barrier rather than the catalyst for career growth in the agency world.
Why? simply put: digital nativity. Are you, or are you not?
If you were born in the 60’s and take pride for having worked for 20+ years in the agency world, then good luck! … the only way is NOT up.
See, digital may have bridged many communication divides around the world, however – ironically – inside big ad agencies, digital has actually widened the communication divide.
The way I see it, Digital has split agency people into three groups:
Group A: People who are trying to do their jobs: usually the Gen X,Y, Z digital natives. Those see digital as an enabler.
Group B: People who are trying to rejuvenate their jobs: A fraction of baby boomers and Gen X. Those are the ultimate winners; capitalizing on their seniority while working closely and openly with the digital natives to learn and adapt to the new ways of digital.
Group C: People who are trying to protect their jobs: mostly Baby boomers and the Gen Xs who missed the digital train. Those see digital as a threat to their seniority (luckily, they stopped seeing it as a fad!)
This of course is creating a daily conflict between Groups A and C, and causing a heavy bleeding of productivity and talent in the big agency world.
This is also why many big clients are shifting their digital business to smaller, digital-native shops (Thank You!)
I worked at big agencies for most of my career and I understand the argument that some might make around “traditional business still keeping us afloat”, but the truth of the matter is both your audiences and your employees have shifted to a mostly digital environment, even TV has become on-demand, and my prediction is that the final crash of “traditional push media” is not going to be a gradual one like we’ve been seeing the past decade, it will be a collapse, more like an avalanche.
So a plead to all the reasonable CEOs of big agencies who may be struggling with the widening generational gap: there still is room for change.
Your best bet to stop the bleeding and stay on top of your agency’s food-chain is: empowering your Group As and Bs, taking a comfy side-seat at the boardroom table and doing your best to learn.
Enjoy the ride!