Young white males dominate UK ad business says new IPA survey – but is it all the fault of agencies?

The IPA has just produced a report on diversity in UK ad agencies and, surprise, surprise, there isn’t much.

Age-wise just 5.3 per cent of those working in the ad industry are aged 50 or over and 13.5 per cent are between 41 and 49. Almost half are aged 30 or younger and 35.7 per cent between 31 and 40. The average age of an employee in 2010 across all agencies who are members of the IPA was 33.7, the same as in 2009.

Just ten per cent are non-white, up from 8.9 per cent last year while women occupy only 22.4 per cent of ‘senior management’ posts, however they are defined, up from 20 per cent in 2009.

Which will give incoming IPA president Nicola Mendelsohn from Karmarama (the first woman to hold the post you won’t be surprised to read) something to chew on.

Agencies certainly can be blamed for what is clearly age discrimination. Everyone has known for years that every time a handy recession comes along the oldies are booted out to be replaced with cheaper young shavers or freelances (the number of freelances in IPA agencies doubled in 2010 over 2009).

It’s no wonder clients don’t pay as much attention to their agencies as they used to when they’re confronted with 24-year old account directors. Virtually the only people over 40 still working in advertising in the UK are agency bosses or department heads.

So that’s a disgrace although it’s hard to see what agencies, or indeed the IPA, can do about it immediately apart from handing out tubs of instant grey hair dye.

On the white/non-white issue agencies are just paying the penalty, assuming they see it that way, for their insistence on hiring graduates from a UK university pool that is increasingly dominated by privately-educated young people.

Who happen to be, mostly, white (although not exclusively male of course). To his credit Trevor Beattie of Beattie McGuinness Bungay is trying to remedy this at his agency.

But the good old days when jack-the-lads could start in the post room or production department and rise rapidly through the ranks, as Sir Frank Lowe did, have long gone, alas.

There is even such dull uniformity at the rougher end of the trade as media agencies (also IPA members) insist on hiring only graduates. Yet these outfits were built by a group of rascals including Paul Green, Chris Ingram, David Reich and Mark Craze who’d never seen the inside of a university until they went there for a boozy conference.

As to the gals, or lack of of them in top jobs, maybe they’ve got better things to do. As we’ve just outlined, life in a UK agency these days is one of either getting the very top job or something very close to it (by definition there aren’t many of these) or waiting for the inevitable redundancy.

In these circumstances it’s probably better to do something else if you can. And given the brutalism of their hiring and firing practices it hardly seems likely that agencies are very welcoming to mothers wishing to return to work in their thirties or forties.

So, to answer our question, the make-up of agencies is defined to a degree by the nature of the graduate market from which they choose to recruit.

But it’s clearly compounded by an attitude to older people in particular which is verging on the criminal.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.