Why Miles Nadal Is Wrong To Only Hire People In Their 20's

Two weeks ago, I was at the ANA Financial Management Conference in Phoenix.  How did I, a former copywriter indifferent to most things financial, end up at a meeting filled with CFOs and accounting types? Well, that’s a story for another time.

Suffice it to say that in the parade of Chief Procurement Officers presenting spreadsheets, one of the speakers I was really looking forward to was Miles Nadal, chairman and CEO of MDC Partners.  In many ways, he’s re-invented the holding company concept to focus on the best of the best from a creative standpoint.  From CPB to 72andSunny, the man has taste and discernment when it comes to ad agencies.  His choices make sense.  And he’s a darned entertaining speaker besides.

In fact, he had some really important things to say. Like this:  “It all starts with brilliant work that performs in the marketplace.  When you have a non-differentiated offering, then procurement can rightly say, let’s buy it for less.  If it’s performing and you can see it, that changes everything.”

But then Mr. Nadal – a gentleman of a certain age himself – said the thing that made me feel like the advertising equivalent of Dracula.  He said he wouldn’t hire anyone past their late 20s. As he jokingly put it, “I wouldn’t hire myself.”  Why?  Because the young think newer, more exciting thoughts.  Because they understand technology.  Mercifully, he didn’t say it was because they can un-ironically wear socks on their heads.  So that’s something.

Well Mr. Nadal, we know that advertising is and has been a young person’s game for a very long time.  Heck, I had my first agency job before I could legally buy a drink.  Was I smarter then than I am now?  Maybe I thought so.  But brain science says otherwise.  According to no less an authority than the Harvard Business Review, “Results of long-term studies show that – contrary to stereotypes – we actually grow smarter in key areas in middle age…In areas as diverse as vocabulary and inductive reasoning, our brains function better than they did in our 20s.” 

Vocabulary and inductive reasoning: valuable skills to have in an advertising agency.  They’re important both when it comes to creating great work and persuading clients that they can and should do something risky and exciting.  That’s right.  Plenty of us geezers still believe in taking chances and being different. 

The HBR article also went on to say, “Younger brains are set up to focus on the negative and potential trouble.  Older brains, studies show, often reach solutions faster…”  In an ad agency setting, what’s more valuable than that?  Would you rather have a roomful of angst-filled slackers or a somewhat older group of real problem solvers?

Claudia CaplanAuthor Claudia Caplan.

If I could talk to you one-on-one, I’d make it clear that I’m not quite dead.  And I’d ask you to re-think your glib dismissal of the somewhat-more-mature.   Again, according to the HBR, that shouldn’t be difficult.  Because apparently the other thing that comes with age is “get(ting) better at knowing what to ignore and when to hold your tongue.”

Author bio: Claudia Caplan is CMO of Bethesda, MD-based RP3 Agency (www.rp3agency.com)

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