This week three grey moments stopped me in my tracks. Firstly, a friend recounted to me the experience of a 60 year old who was retrenched and thought that he will never find work again. Within days he had an offer from someone he had worked with 15 years previously who was desperate for his experience. Now he is enjoying a high powered job, working with a team of people in their 30s and 40s, and loving it. And the team is richer and smarter for his experience.
Next, a senior banker was lamenting to me that one of the biggest risks facing his organisation was a lack of grey hair. Everyone he had employed in the last seven years had only known a rising market and their resilience had never been tested.
Then, a colleague who is closer to 60 than 50 and more akin to the written word and the long form article produced some content on one of our clients and announced – “it’s more of a content package than an article; a series of bite sized pieces and some video; it will work really well on Instagram and Twitter.”
These moments had a great impact because I have been labouring under a youth myth – that is that only those born post 1990 could you possibly be relevant in the communications game given the massive disruption created by social channels.
I have long suspected that some old school communications thinking is as relevant as ever before – but was a bit too scared to say it. But now here goes – the two ultimate truths I have arrived at:
1. Organisations still require robust thinking and intellectual analysis of their communications environment and situation, their issues and opportunities, and clear and compelling communications strategies to connect them with their stakeholders. And in fact, the speed in which communications happen now, the pace of feedback loops, and the greater requirements for transparency, authenticity and immediacy, all mean that we have to be better than ever before at providing the old school robust thinking and intelligent analysis – the stakes are higher and there is even more pressure to get it right. In this environment, experience and maturity count.
2. You can teach an old dog new tricks. As a consultancy with more than its fair share of people in the “over 50 and fabulous” category, I see examples every day of practitioners adapting to the new digital and social media environment and working out new and different ways to execute communications strategies. The thinking and the strategies don’t really change – but the execution does and must.
When I started out in this game 24 years ago, I was disadvantaged because I didn’t have grey hair. I worked for many years in Asia where seniority and experience are respected and revered. All I wanted to do was prove that I was older.
Then the internet happened and everything and everyone went social, and I spent my days desperately trying to prove that I was younger and hip and with it.
Now finally, in the second half of my 40s, I have discovered my sweet spot. I have experienced incredible change in the communications and media landscape in the last quarter of a century – but I grew up with wise old heads drilling into me the importance of what makes real news, robust thinking, critical analysis, the need to question, the need to address issues and the need, above all else, to figure out why people should care at all. In a world where people and organisations can communicate to thousands of followers what they had for breakfast at the drop of a hat, these skills are as relevant as ever.
I would like to think that every grey hair that I am sprouting is not a moment to mourn that I can no longer pretend to be one with Gen Zs, but a badge of honour to be celebrated. They represent years of experience; the trial and error of more than two decades of honing my craft. They represent the years of building a team of talented communications people across Asia Pacific; and helping clients through times of change, growth and crises. They represent trials, tribulations and tears; joys and celebrations; not to mention a few marriages and two amazing children.
Sorry L'Oréal. No more Mahogony Chestnut Brown for me. I am embracing the grey, because I am worth it.