We asked two millennials what they think of their older colleagues

Alberico de Nardis of Blis and Chetan Muley of PHD Media share their—strictly personal—thoughts about their experiences working with senior staff

L-R: Alberico de Nardis, Chetan Muley
L-R: Alberico de Nardis, Chetan Muley

This article is part of Campaign Asia-Pacific's wider September focus on ageism within the advertising and marketing industry in Asia. So far, we have learned that over-50s need not bother applying for new jobs in adland, that certain stereotypes about old people hold up while others are complete hogwash, and that this 81-year-old app developer thinks senior people simply need to be more brave. Here, two younger members of the industry put pen to paper to tell us how they find working with people years older than them.

"Both generations could do more to work better together"
Alberico de Nardis, associate group head, Blis

I believe age has a part to play in the marketing industry the same as it does in nearly all other sectors. We are living through a technological revolution that started long before the digital marketing boom, and throughout history different generations have always embraced change in dissimilar ways.

The generation before mine had to adapt to significantly more than I have in my life, and I am not entirely sure it is fair to say that stereotypes of older people not being able to use new tech and being stuck “in the old days” are commonplace in today’s world. My grandfather, in his late 70s at the time, got an iPod before I did because he wanted to listen to Beethoven and Bach on his long country walks and CDs were inconvenient. My grandmother calls me on Skype every week, from Italy to Singapore, because she is cost-conscious and loves the fact she knows how to use a tablet. Both situations, although totally separate from the marketing industry, are simply testament to an older generation adapting to a new world to solve their daily issues.

Within the industry, I feel it is a similar situation. If new technology and new ideas help you with what you want or need to do, then people tend to try and accept them. Having said this, I know for a fact I am not the only person who has had to try and convince a brand that “digital is not just a fad”, and that “your teenage audience doesn’t buy magazines.”

It is everyone’s responsibility to help each other adapt and learn, and both the younger and older generations have a part to play here. The younger, and more junior, people in the industry have a duty to be knowledgeable on every new opportunity that arises. They should be first people to know what is going on around them and how it is going to benefit their company or client or brand. The older, and more senior, figures’ strengths and values lie in the vast experience they have witnessed over many more years in the industry. Their guidance is vital to help the young grow and allow them to learn quickly from mistakes they will not even have to make.

Exaggerated deference to more senior colleagues or clients irritates me greatly.

I do not believe one generation is doing this better or worse than the other but I do think both could do much more. I have ensured I have had multiple mentors at all stages of my career and the value that they have brought me cannot be underrated. However, working with a mentor can take time out of an already busy diary, and too many young professionals are more interested in the after-work beer than the long-term gains that a trusted mentor can offer. From my experience, our more senior colleagues are only ever delighted when you approach and ask for mentorship. It should be an honour to be recognised as someone who can benefit a young person’s career, and are trusted with the ability to do so.

Another point that irritates me greatly is exaggerated deference to more senior colleagues or clients. Not speaking up when you disagree is unhelpful, and not engaging in a conversation when you have an idea is just silly. Whilst politeness and respect are absolutely necessary from all parties, the younger generation must learn to stand and talk to their elders, who in turn must accept that sometimes it is healthy to sit and listen.

One big difference between the younger and the older generations that I honestly feel plays a part in all the above is the rate of employee turnover within the industry. Doing a job for a year or two before moving on and repeating this over and over means life is so fast-paced and short-term that the younger generation rarely slow down to think about what they’re learning and how they can improve. Once, people used to stay at companies for their entire working lives, learning and growing and driving themselves to the top. Whereas now, people look to change jobs for an extra $10 per month.

I was asked if millennials strive to leave a legacy behind. But how can we ever hope to do this if we aren’t prepared to speak out, learn from the best, and offer up our own loyalty first?

"Every Andy Dufresne needs a ‘Red’ in his life"
Chetan Muley, director of digital in PHD Media

I think I am one lucky individual. I work with the generation above me—my seniors—and the one after me—my warriors. It’s the best situation to be in because I get to learn via ‘experience’ and ‘enthusiasm’ both, even I have to have multiple personalities in order to cope with the change in schools of thinking.

Today, I wouldn’t think twice about crediting all the daily learnings and ‘rules of thumb’ I use to my seniors. But it wasn’t always this way. “Get busy living or get busy dying”: the wise words of Morgan Freeman as ‘Red’ in The Shawshank Redemption were the underlying message in all the briefs that came my way in my early days in the industry. I was struggling to become Andy Dufresne, and at that point I didn’t know that these senior people would eventually help me get there.

Back when I started my career in the industry, in 2010, I always felt people around me were being bullies by not allowing me to do what I learned in MBA. Management rules and principles were oozing out of me. I was ready to apply those in the real world, ready to watch the business growing multifold, as if the world had been waiting for me and the people before me had just been sitting around cracking nuts.

But for my seniors, I was Jon Snow. I knew nothing.

I had always pictured advertising with a halo around it. That fell down, crushed, as soon as I got on to the floor. All the glamour disappeared with the first excel file that came my way, with just one word written in the email body: ‘FYI&A’ (For you information and action). My mind was in overdrive—“Hello, what is this? Where is the email etiquette?”

I always recall this incident when I send the same emails to my team today, because this is what I learned from my seniors: “Work is no bullshit. Get straight to the point.” After that email, there was series of further emails and not even half were responded to because, I now know, I actually knew nothing.

The best war machine is not the one run by those who built it, but by those who know the war tactics.

The world has changed a lot since then and the need to adapt has grown. While the younger generation has a natural knack with new technology, older people have had to make an effort to keep up with the pace, with some stumbles along the way.

But this is how I see things now: the best war machine is not the one run by those who built it, but by those who know the war tactics. And only people who have fought enough wars know the best tactics. While we have to make our seniors understand how to work the entirely new things, we must recognize at the same time that they know best how to use them for the business.

All these new developments have empowered millennials to think big and try to do things on our own. Startup culture has engulfed the industry—but if we look closely at what makes them successful, all of us know the answer: every Andy Dufresne needs a ‘Red’ in his life. 

More on this subject? 

Ageism in the advertising world is Campaign Asia-Pacific's 'Front and Centre' theme throughout September. Look out for articles addressing the issue from different angles over the coming weeks, or click the links below for published stories. 


Campaign Asia

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