Hank Wasiak is in his 60s. He’s been in the brand-building business since he was 21. In the more than four decades he’s been working, technology has made the field more vibrant than ever. Instant messaging, viral marketing and social networking sites could make his workplace uncomfortable -- even scary -- for men and women raised in a slower time. Yet Wasiak surrounds himself with 20-somethings and 30-somethings and loves it.
“There’s no rule that says 20-year-olds are better at this than 60-year-olds,” says this cofounder of the creative development company The Concept Farm. “It’s the approach that counts.”
In this multimedia age when technology can so fundamentally impact message, technology-steeped youth can be seen to have an advantage. But according to experts like Wasiak, flexibility of approach rather than chronological age is what's important. In fact, older workers can bring skills, insights and branding experience that younger workers lack.
You Can Learn It
Brand experts who have grown up with the Internet may understand the medium and its role in communications better than those who have had to familiarize themselves with the technology in later years. But “you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know how to use these tools,” says Wasiak. “All you need is the right mindset.”
Wasiak should know. At age 60, he left a high-level job at McCann-Erickson to join a firm filled with “next-generation” people. “I’ve done more forward-looking, progressive work here than in the previous 15 years,” he says proudly. “It’s all because of the environment. The mix of people allows this to happen, and that mix is what all employers should strive for.”
What Older Workers Bring to Marketing
Dennis Holt, chairman and CEO of US International Media, has a similar take. “Today, the world is moving faster than ever, and young people have incredible knowledge,” says Holt. “The ones blessed with common sense, information and technological skills are far ahead of everyone else.”
Yet many at the helm of these organizations are seasoned themselves. Surrounded by younger professionals, Holt and Wasiak bring a perspective that younger workers may lack. They understand consumers of all generations; they know how to craft brands and deliver marketing messages -- and they're not even technological dinosaurs.
“They may come in with arrogance,” says Holt of younger workers. “They may not have the experience to understand what works and what doesn’t.” In fact, “the very best online buyers are traditional ‘old buyers’ who have gone into the Internet. They’ve got negotiating skills the younger ones don’t have.”
Wasiak highlights the strengths older workers can bring. Twenty-year-olds “tend to get enveloped in technology” when building a brand or image, he says. “Technological bells and whistles are no substitute for an idea that’s built on a solid strategy and plan. Some younger people don’t have that perspective. They think flash is everything.”
Companies Need a Mix
And yet, younger branding professionals do understand the importance of using technology to build and leverage community, such as connecting through networking sites. “I’m on MySpace, and I’ve posted on YouTube,” Wasiak says. “If you’re in marketing and branding, you have to immerse yourself in the community. Some younger people may know how to do that better than others, but if you have a mix of people in the office, you learn how to do it. You find out where people hang out. And that mix is exciting.”
When Wasiak was in the alcohol-branding business, he says, “we went where the people who consumed our product lived and worked. That doesn’t change, even if you’re not talking about physical space.”
How to Get the Job
Wasiak says that an older branding professional looking for work must “walk the walk and talk the talk.” That means not just being conversant with technical terminology, but having Google alerts, posting on important sites and actually showing clients how they can use technology.
Wasiak notes that anyone seeking work in advertising or marketing should keep reminding potential employers that the field, ultimately, is less about technological wizardry than “the power of a great idea based on knowledge of consumer insight. Let everyone know you’re not afraid of that world. Instead, give examples of how you live it.”
Wasiak admits that 20-year-olds do have an advantage in execution: “I may not load video or do technology behind the curtains as well as they can; they have a better feel for that. But if you’re 55 and going for a job, they’re not hiring you for technical expertise. They want your perspective, your knowledge of the target audience. You can deliver that, and the younger guys can help with the technology you need to do that.”
Holt advises older advertising and marketing job seekers to “swallow your pride and learn whatever technology you need to compete. Your learning curve will be fast, and you’ll get up to speed quickly.”
Will communications companies take the risk of hiring an older professional who may not have all the technological skills of a younger applicant and who, because of his experience in the industry, may command a higher salary? “I am -- and I’m sure others are,” says Holt.
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