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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Update: The Over the Hill Gang

It is a bit hard for me to believe but I launched Media Realism six and one half years ago today. Nearly 300 posts later, I have tracked readers in 139 countries and heard from people involved in advertising, media and marketing in 96 of them.

My first post was on January 4, 2009. It was entitled “Integration problems? Maybe the “Over the Hill Gang can help.” It covered the issue of how much digital one should use in a media plan relative to conventional media options. I suggested that you go to very mature people in the industry who may be retired or about to retire to get a straight answer.

Now, that several years have passed I think this group of people may be more valuable than ever to serve as consultants or mentors to younger media strategists. My original group consisted of several men and women who were 58-62 years old with over 30 years experience in the media wars. None was what I would call rich but all were millionaires. They were the type profiled in the 1996 book, THE MILLIONAIRE NEXT DOOR or what famed economist Robert Heilbroner dubbed “The Common Millionaire.” So, each had or has a net worth of $1.5-5 million. Not rich but not struggling either.

As the years have passed a few people have moved out of this group but many new acquaintances have entered who fill the bill nicely. Some of my original kitchen cabinet demurs now when I ask their opinion on a media topic as they say they are too far removed from day to day activity to give an informed point of view. All, however, remain sharp eyed analysts who watch changes in the media world with interest.

Why go to these people? I have found that people who are too close to a problem tend to get very defensive when you talk about the future or possible threats. The value of these graybeards is that they have run the marathon and are now entering the stadium for the last quarter mile or they have recently crossed the finish line. Nothing can hurt them now.

So, my best sources and most objective colleagues and more insightful critics tend to be those about to retire or those who have left the business in the last two years. Many still consult a bit, and a few trade media and advertising shares quite aggressively so they still have money in the game despite the lack of paycheck.

One friend told me that a young person now refers to him as an “eminence grise” which he says beats an executive vice president or sales director any day.

Here are a few comments from people whom I correspond with frequently and I find invaluable sounding boards:

--"Don, I have my house paid for as well as my beach house. My kids are through college and I paid for my daughter’s wedding. My 401k is low seven figures. If I get whacked in the next corporate belt tightening, so what? So, I call things as I see them and am candid with my CEO (privately) about everything. He is in the same boat as I but a lot wealthier.  We both know the game we have loved is coming to an end and fairly soon”.

--“I got downsized last year. They were afraid of a lawsuit given my age so I got a nice severance package. My wife and I spent a few months in Paris last year and I have yet to touch my rollover. I sleep better than ever but maintain a lively interest in all aspects of advertising and marketing. When you ask me to comment on blog topics, I love it. I am as objective as I will ever be”.

--“Consulting is hard. Everyone asks me to be candid and then get super pissed off when I call it as I see it. I am cutting back. It works best when top management asks me to analyze a problem or give a P.O.V. I do a write up and then meet with them face to face. Some only ask me back if I echo their opinion going in but others seem to appreciate my brutal candor”.

--“No one can do much to me anymore. My major bills are behind me and how much golf can one play? I see things more clearly than I did five years ago. When I retire in a year or two, I hope people seek my counsel. If not, I will be fine. I would like the money but I do not need it. That independence is my greatest strength”.

So, to all of you younger people out there, may I suggest that you find one of these type of individuals as a sounding board for ideas, the state of the business or for career advice.

Who to avoid? There are three types to run not walk away from. They are:

1) Anyone who is remotely bitter. If someone talks about how they got “screwed” by an organization, I would avoid them. You do not want someone who looks at life through a rear view mirror. I know people in their 80’s who buy stocks that they think have a great future and want to leave them to their grandchildren. This is the type of optimistic thinker you want to cultivate.
2) Someone who repeatedly tells “war stories” of advertising’s golden age. I find it fun to reminisce for an hour with an old friend or colleague but you have issues in front of you and problems in the future. Look for forward looking types.
3) Avoid all whiners. There are still contemporaries of mine who talk about how great things were when one could buy three TV stations in a market and get a 90% reach. Great. Those days are gone and are not coming back. Ever. Such harmless losers cannot help you.

You will find that these older pros are usually flattered when asked for advice. Let then back inside the tent for a day or two and you may learn something.

To all my United States readers (approximately half of the Media Realism audience), may I wish you a Happy Independence Day weekend.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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