Where to marketers go to die

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Where do all the old marketers go to die?

This might sound like the intro to a bad joke. Maybe it is. I’m in my mid-thirties and have been working in marketing since my early twenties and it’s occurred to me over the last few years that I’m starting to become one of the older marketers (I’m including in this SEOs, PRs, Advertisers in my catch-all term marketers). If this trend holds true, I reckon I’ve probably only got another ten years left in my career as an employee.

In my day to day role as a marketing manager, I struggle to find people under the age of 45 in marketing roles. There are the marketing directors, however, a high proportion of those are roughly around my own age and there’s only a limited number of managing director roles on the market. So that’s clearly not the career route most marketers take when they get to a certain age, so you can see why I’d ask the question: “Where do all the old marketers go to die” or finish their careers at the very least!

With digital media investment representing the bulk of advertising spend in some mature economies, it’s perhaps not surprising in a sense that there are fewer and fewer older marketers in marketing departments. After all, their old methods of marketing have been completely blown out of the water by the digital age. So, perhaps what we’re looking at is a new wave of marketers and I’ll start to see people getting older. On the other hand, the digital revolution has been with us for over 15 years, with marketing really getting to grips with online over the last decade, so you’d think this would be a trend I’d have already picked up on.

There has been quite a bit made of the digital skills gap. As a marketer who started his career in the offline world and who had the foresight to move over to digital marketing quickly, I recognise how difficult it must be for someone with traditional marketing skills to migrate over – but it’s essential – otherwise it’s likely they’ll be out of a job, if they’re not already.

I don’t think that’s it though; if it where we’d still see a large number of older marketers managing marketing departments, using their old skills and benefiting from the knowledge and skills of the new marketing generation. But that’s not what I’m seeing.

We consume media through a cavernous number of channels each day and so it could be hard to keep up with that change, however, the subtleties of behavioural science and the creativity that goes into crafting something incredibly special remains relatively similar, no matter how you apply it. Although new media offers the game of marketing new surfaces to play on, in essence, we still play the same game, by the same rules.

Every day I find myself passing on my years of experience to younger marketers and every day I’m surprised how often they have to learn from their own mistakes. The mistakes that I’ve warned them about, they make, or they just forget or think to ask me. Maybe that’s the way I learnt my craft. I certainly made a lot of mistakes at the beginning of my career. I think it’s really important that more senior marketers do pass on some of their understanding and try to qualify, if not codify, some of the learning they’ve had throughout their career.

Let me spell this out: I’m ageing, I’m putting weight on, I’m going grey, my forehead seems to get larger on a monthly basis and there are newer, younger marketers chomping at my heels. Good luck to them, most of them have years to go before they’ve learnt the type of things I’ve learned. I suppose some of them will inevitably catch up and overtake me though.

I was thinking that one day in the future, I could set up an agency that exclusively employs old marketers; I doubt you can do this, however, I’d position the agency as “we only employ marketers who have more than 30 years’ experience in marketing”. Could you imagine the gems of wisdom they’d have, could you imagine the pure tacit understanding they’d have of the way media interacts with customers? I am sure that would be a thing of beauty. But then again – would they have been overtaken? Or would no one buy into the concept of giving a bunch of old-time marketers a chance to help them market their business? I’m not sure.

Maybe there’s a bit of the answer as well. Many of the older marketers I encounter seem to have set up their own businesses, acting as consultants for various organisations. Through GrowTraffic and as a freelance SEO consultant, I’m very fortunate to have set up a client base and a vehicle from which I am able to ply my trade. No doubt when I get to the ripe old age of around 45, I’ll start to think about moving over to GrowTraffic fulltime (I’m hoping Rachel will have turned it into a huge agency by this point and I can just wander around, doing some thought leadership etc).

I’ve tried to look into this by doing some desk research, however, there doesn’t appear to be a huge amount of research into the demographics of the marketing sector. All of this is based on my own perceptions and experiences, however, I thought it was notable that there are a couple of other blog posts out there that ask the question “where do older marketers go?” This seems to suggest my general perceptions isn’t far off the mark.

There’s some old research that was carried out in 2004 by CIM and reported in Marketing Magazine, which suggests the average age of marketers then was 32, with the average age of Marketing Directors being 42 and the oldest 10% averaging around 53. The Institute of Leadership suggests the average age of a business manager is almost 46, which is considerably older than the ages of those in marketing. This could, of course, suggest that marketing management manage to migrate their skillsets to other areas of business throughout their careers.

It’s hard to say what these figures really demonstrate for certain, however, it’s something that all marketers should bear in mind. We’ve got to stay creative, ambitious and I’m confident we’ll have a longer career, but it’s not a career that’s likely to last until retirement for the majority of 30-somethings working in marketing today.

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