Tackling ageism needs to move up adland’s agenda - People are taking notice - and "sorry" won't cut it anymore
WPP chief executive Mark Read has said sorry after he was accused of ageism for saying that the average age of staff is under 30 and "they don't hark back to the 1980s, luckily".
Read made his unscripted comment at the end of the company's 90-minute Q2 investor presentation last week and Campaign reported what he said in an introduction to our own interview with him.
He may have felt he was merely stating the facts. WPP is roughly in line with the IPA Census, which showed 44.8% of staff at UK agencies were aged 30 or under last year, down from 45.6% in 2018, and 6.3% were aged over 50, up from 6.2% a year earlier.
"I was wrong to use age to try to make a point," he said. "People over 40 can do great digital marketing just as people under 30 can make great TV ads.
Ironically, Read himself is 53. When he first joined WPP in 1989 it was a different world. The 35-year old company itself is under assault by a wide range of other communication companies including digital-only agencies, consulting companies, data companies and much more.
We've said it once and we'll say it again: Ageism is as corrosive and counterproductive as all other "isms". When an entire industry discards people because of their age, they shoot themselves in the foot as surely as when they discard people because of gender or race.