#everydayageism – what’s the brand of the over-50s?

As I got closer to my 50th birthday I started to collect newspaper stories about the over-50s.  I was going to put them into a light-hearted post with some self-deprecating jokes about putting the punk LPs into storage now I am old enough to go to tea dances, and how I’ll soon need help getting out of the bath.

Then I hit 50 and the joke started wearing thin. I deleted the links I’d saved.  I wish I’d kept them, there were some crackers in there which, radicalised by the recent  Age of No Retirement conference  I could send to the #everydayageism campaign, calling out examples of ageism in the media.  I might start by sending them this from yesterday’s Guardian readers’ Q&A with Tracey Emin:

#everydayageism

Why “old dears”? – and why shouldn’t they be within touching distance of a Tracey Emin exhibition?

What’s the brand of the over-50s?

In an advertising-drenched age we are used to weighing-up brands whenever we make a purchase.  What’s the brand image of the over-50s?  What values do you associate with being older? I bet it’s not powerful and dynamic, sexy or daring. And that matters.

“We live in an age where people pity older people and think old women are funny”

commented  one debater in a session at the Age of No Retirement conference. That might explain why 2.9million people between 50 and state pension age are currently out of work in the UK, even though  many of them would love to carry on working – “employers can smell 50″, as one delegate commented, ruefully.

Bring on the language police

Mary Beard was reported recently calling for the word ‘old’ to be reclaimed:

“I think about it in terms of other kinds of reclamations of vocabulary we’ve had over the years, such as ‘black’ or ‘queer”

She has a way to go. I can think of lots of uses of “old”, none positive – old dear, old fart, old fogey, old maid, old codger.  All of them imply staidness – a certain stuck in the mud quality. Doddery-ness.  You don’t think of an innovative old dear, an open-minded old codger, an entrepreneurial old bat.

I think old bag has possibilities.  I like the idea of embracing my inner battle-axe. But if we’re going to establish “old” as a positive thing – or even a neutral one – we may have to think about banning the others.  And while we’re at it, can we do something about some of the other words used about the over-50s?  So, no more “silver” (-surfers or -foxes) and a pox on “sprightly” and “young at heart” .

I’m torn about the use of the word “grey” –  as in “grey pound” or  “grey vote”. Even though grey has been having a bit of a fashion moment recently, it’s hardly a signifier of passion and energy.  Anyway, I don’t spend a grey pound, I spend a shiny gold one, just like everybody else.  But if we are going to start making advertisers think about the over-50s as anything other than Wonga grannies or knitters of Shreddies, perhaps we have to use the power of the “grey” consumer and flex some financial muscle.   £1 in every £5 spent on the high street comes from people over 55 – and there’s good news for marketers, apparently  talking to old people doesn’t have to be scary:

Reassuringly, not everything needs to change when targeting 51-70 year olds – they are not that different to younger consumers. Our research shows older consumers are just as willing to change their views, behaviours, brand, and category choices as younger generations. They are also just as likely to spend money and the drivers behind purchases are similar: 51-70 year olds want the best quality, an acceptable price, and a brand that won’t let them down.

Who’d have thought it?

Internal execution – the language of recruitment

There is a language spoken by recruitment consultants that possibly only they understand.  From this morning’s  jobs bulletin from Timewise:

Salary £50K FTE and excellent benefits.

Our client is a blue chip FMCG organisation, this person will internally, develop and lead all brand marketing strategies from an in-store perspective and externally execute the category and brand strategies in-store.”

Why I Read Fiction

Just back from a great event at the Write Idea Festival in Whitechapel on the subject of whether or not fiction still matters.

A number of people have told me recently that they read less fiction nowadays, diving instead into biography and history and popular science and philosophy.  My husband has an admirably disciplined approach, alternating fiction with non-fiction in strict, not to say slightly obsessive, order.  Me, I rarely read any non-fiction longer than a newspaper feature and don’t feel the need to apologise for it.  I read for comfort and company, entertainment and enlightenment, insight into other cultures; to experiment with experiences I will never have and seek reassurance that  experiences I am having have been shared by other people at  other times.  I read fiction because it has an emotional truth and resonance that I don’t find in non-fiction.  And,  as the panellists in today’s event said, it quite often has a depth and truth that non-fiction can’t rival.

I have, coincidentally just finished reading Penelope Lively‘s How It All Began which is in part about the power of reading.   One of her central characters is a retired English teacher who is teaching a class of new arrivals to London to read English. There’s a wonderful passage in the book in which she reflects on what reading has meant to her.  Too long to quote in full, but here’s a bit:

Charlotte knows herself to ride upon a great sea of words, of language, of stories and situations and information of knowledge, some of which she can summon up, much of which is half lost but is in there somewhere.  She is as much a product of what she has read as of the way she has lived.  She is like millions of others built by books, for whom books are an essential foodstuff, who could starve without.

Me too. And maybe I’m also a bit like Anton, the Polish would-be accountant who goes to Charlotte’s class.  She gets him to persevere with reading by giving him children’s stories to read, luring him in by making him want to find out what happens next.  Sceptical at first, Anton succumbs eventually to the joys of reading Charlotte’s Web on the tube.

  He rattled through the darkness, reading.

Which surely is what we’re all doing. Rattling through the darkness.  Reading.

What do you do when you’re stuck “off assignment”?

It's a tough market out there

It’s a tough market out there

Over the past couple of weeks a rather wonderful discussion thread has been unfurling at LinkedIn (an unexpected sentence I never thought I’d write).

The members of the Interim Managers Group  have been discussing what they do when they’re out of work – stuck “off assignment” .

This is heartening, not just because of the advice they’re sharing (of which more later), but  for the  simple fact that they are publicly acknowledging that even the most experienced interim has periods out of work when no matter how good you are, how expert, how well connected, you still can’t get hired for love nor money.

People rarely feel comfortable owning up to the fact that they’re not as successful/busy/in demand/well-remunerated as they’d like to be.  There’s lots of success shared over the networks of LinkedIn, but very few accounts of troughs to go with the peaks.  Having just finished a period “off assignment” myself, I was particularly cheered by this thread. People tend not to talk about this side of consultancy so it’s perfectly possible to believe that you are the only person who doesn’t move seamlessly from one well-paid assignment to the next. But hey, waddya know, everyone’s in the same boat.  Lots of people – experienced, well-qualified, massively employable people – sometime endure hair-raisingly long gaps between assignments.

Advice from the horse’s mouth

It’s the notion of a shared experience rather than any one piece of practical advice which will be the most help to me next time I’m caught in between jobs. But here’s a digest of practical suggestions for what to do if you’re temporarily without billable work, with thanks to the massed ranks of LinkedIn’s interim managers:

  • Maintain a structure to your day, your week, your month. Set some goals to achieve, work-related or not, and work towards them.
  • Keep your networking fresh, especially during the time you’re in an assignment otherwise your network may see you making contact only when you’re looking for work.
  • Create a business plan every year which will ensure the business is sustainable. Plan in time for personal development and marketing activity.
  • Go to as many industry events as you can to keep your network and industry knowledge up to date.
  • Work on your Linked In profile:
    1- Look at other profiles and see how yours can be improved
    2- Participate in discussions
    3 -Look at your home page every day – use CTRL-F to search for       relevant postings.
  • Email your ISP contacts every 6-8 weeks to remind them you are still looking.
  • Keep the faith – you will find work again.

And here are some tips from a different source on how to stay positive while you’re looking.

The benefits of thinking small

My eye was caught by the pull-quote on a piece in today’s Observer about why so many government IT projects end in digital disaster.

The key is to employ computing firms that think £100,000 is a lot of money and are used to delivering on time.

The writer pinpoints the problems that come when non-techy civil servants are responsible for the procurement of complex government IT projects.  Too often he argues, they opt for the safe choice and bring in the large, established firms who have managed – and failed to deliver – big projects in the past.

What you see is not necessarily what you’ll get

That’s not just a problem for IT contracts – nor is it only an issue in the civil service.  As the project lead on any complicated, big budget contract the safest thing to do, the way to protect yourself if things go wrong,  is hire a recognised name.  As the old saying goes – “no-one ever got fired for hiring IBM“.  But in my experience not only can big companies take a generic,  one size fits all approach to project delivery , they also have a tendency to wheel out the big guns at pitch time, dazzling clients with the lustre of their track record and the expensive cut of their suits, and hand the actual work to an altogether scruffier junior colleague.

The place to be – if you’re a client – is with a company which REALLY values your business, because you represent a significant chunk of their annual income. They won’t palm you off with the newly qualified trainee, they’ll make sure you get the personal attention of the MD.  They’ll know their reputation relies on how well they do, because your project is going to feature in their portfolio in future.  They’ll make sure they hit the deadlines and stick to the budget. And because they probably don’t have expensive overheads (or buy handmade suits), they won’t charge you an arm and a leg every day for the pleasure of their company.

Good customer service isn’t just for customers

Earlier this week I had an email telling me I hadn’t got a role I’d been interviewed for more than three weeks ago. They did have the grace to sound shame-faced about how long they’d taken to  confirm what I’d guessed more than a fortnight ago:  no-one who wants to work with you takes weeks to say so. Anyway I’d long moved onto something else – there’s no point brooding.

No one like me, I don’t care…

Coincidentally,  last week I  heard that an application to become a Trustee of a local charity had also been rejected.  This time they asked me to suggest a time to discuss my application so I would be more successful next time.  “Great idea”, I said. “Let’s talk.  Here are dates that are good for me, does any of this work for you?”  I’m still waiting for a reply and have the  sour feeling of having been palmed off with a rejection note  I probably wasn’t expected to reply to.

I’d have put these experiences down to the universe’s surprisingly common failure to appreciate my genius and moved on, had I not read this  about trainees applying for entry-level jobs without getting responses:

any professional marketer would be appalled if their brand, a brand whose reputation they will have carefully nurtured and be dedicated to protecting, treated customers and prospects in a similar way. Yet it seems OK to treat prospective talent in such a brand-damaging way.  And if it treats potential recruits like this, just how does it treat colleagues? And does the way it treats its people align with the customer experience it is seeking to deliver? And, more fundamentally, should those charged with responsibility for the brand, usually in marketing, take more responsibility for the employee experience?

By jingo he’s onto something, although the concept of caring enough about staff to extend good customer service to them would have been dismissed as mollycoddling in many organisations I’ve worked for. But it must be right, any point at which someone comes into contact with your company is an opportunity to win an advocate – or create a critic –  and that goes for existing and potential staff just as much as customers.