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Age-profiles in advertising reveal uncomfortable truths

Updated: Sep 5, 2020

‘What happens to everyone over fifty here?’ we joked when we were young and hungry in agencyland.

The current brouhaha caused by Mark Read's comments (CEO of WPP) on age prompted me to look at industry age profiles outside advertising and marketing to see if there is anything we can actually learn about our industry.

This article compares how IPA members, WPP employees, Accountants (via FRC), Teachers (via Dept of Education) and the NHS workforce (via NHS Employers) stack up when it comes to age profile.

It reveals two uncomfortable truths about advertising and marketing.

Let’s start by looking at the age profile of IPA member organisations. The IPA conducts an annual census with its members that includes data on the 25,000 people employed by its members.

Shows profile of IPA member employees

According to the latest IPA census, 6.3% of member staff are over 50, compared to 6.2% in 2018, with 44.8% aged under 30 [1]. Average age is about 34 [2].

This is significantly higher than Mark Read’s WPP stat of an average of ‘less than 30’. It looks wrong compared to 2017/18 public data on WPP which suggests their average age is above 30 [3]. This is how WPP stacks up using comparative data:

WPP has at least a third more over 50’s than an average IPA member organisation, which makes it look good within the industry.

If you compare with the 472,000 teachers in England [4], things start to look very different.

And if we roll CIMA (the world’s largest professional body of management accountants in the UK) up with ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants in the UK), and include accredited or 'studying for accreditation' people, we have a a group of about 300k people of all levels of seniority in accountancy, which looks like this: [5]

This is a similar shape to England's teachers that is very different to the IPA and WPP group. A lot more people stay in teaching and accountancy a lot longer than most people in advertising and marketing (through the lens of IPA and WPP).

Finally, the NHS workforce of 1.4m people looks like this: [6]

Here we see nearly half of people are over 45, using a a diverse dataset that includes everyone working in the NHS workforce.

I think this data reveals two uncomfortable truths for our industry:

(1) People in advertising and marketing leave permanent employment up to a decade earlier than peers in other industries. This deserves exploration by employers. Is it the business model, the culture or something else?

(2) We are a strategic, business critical industry skewed to a high proportion of young people directed by a tiny group of elders.

Neither of these should be a surprise to experienced people in the industry, however in uncertain times we should all be concerned about what these say to our clients, and people considering a career in advertising and marketing.

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