Age is irrelevant to what marketers must learn immediately

Lucy Handley is a key member of the Marketing Week features team and has also worked in advertising agencies so can bring a unique perspective to client-agency relationships when writing on this topic.

A senior figure worries about the ‘ageing population of marketers’, but this isn’t an ageist debate.

When I met with Christoph Michalski, the president of global hygiene at SCA, the maker of Cushelle, Velvet and Bodyform in the UK, and with a worldwide turnover of £5.7bn, he talked about what he called the ‘ageing population of marketers’, as well as his worries about keeping up with all of the developments in digital marketing and innovation in general.

He also said that he has seen brand managers growing old with their brands in the companies he has worked in, which include Unilever and global dairy manufacturer Fonterra.

“We have a lot of people of my age who are in consumer jobs where most of the consumers have changed profoundly,” he said.

“You have a generation who grew up a little bit with the internet and the 30 second [TV] commercial, still in a role doing their jobs and doing them well – but then you ask yourself, do they actually comprehend what Facebook actually does, because I don’t.

“I ask younger people and teenagers about it. The question is how you ensure that despite your ageing population of marketers, you keep the freshness and also the drive of wanting to win?” he said.

It was a refreshingly honest chat and one which has attracted a lot of comment online.

One person said: “I am a 48-year old ‘veteran’ automotive marketer who can digitally and socially mix it up anytime with the ponytails at my agency.”

But Michalski wasn’t being ageist, which many suggested, he was stating the fact that a marketer must make sure that, if the brand’s target audience is aged 25 for example, then whatever age a marketer is, he or she must make sure to keep in that mindset.

When I trained to become a journalist, our tutors warned us about not becoming old with our readers.

This wasn’t an ageist statement, it simply meant that if we became the editor of, say, a glossy magazine read by women aged 18 to 30, we had to accept that as our readers got older, they would be less interested in our magazine and would move on to something else.

So the lesson was to make sure that we kept the content relevant for that audience and not try to extend what we wrote about, at risk of alienating younger readers.

I was speaking to Michalski at the Festival of Media Global last week, where much of the debate was around how to keep up with and make the most of digital developments.

Speaking at the festival, Charles Courtier, the global chief executive at media agency MEC praised his senior clients at Colgate-Palmolive for spending several days in Silicon Valley, meeting with some of the most technologically advanced companies in the world, to immerse themselves in digital media.

This is something everyone, regardless of how long they have been in their jobs, needs to think about.

To read a Q&A with Christoph Michalski, click here.

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