How to Bounce Back from Ageism

January 25, 2022

Marni Gordon

The title of Patrick Coffee’s article in Business Insider says it all, “Age discrimination is the biggest hidden bias in advertising — and it's gotten worse during the pandemic”.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of a US marketing manager is 39.7, compared to 45.8 for all managerial roles. 

While the industry has responded to issues of gender, race, and sexual harassment, there has been no movement against ageism.  This issue has been swept under the rug, but it is very real.

I have personally helped many marketers who were laid off in their 40s and 50s try to find the next step in their career journey, especially during COVID.  It can get frustrating when you’re applying for jobs you’re clearly qualified for, but you’re not getting interviews because employers can’t get past your age.  It is also difficult to start over and try to build your network, especially when you have been at the same job for many years, to find those hidden job opportunities. 

The Rise of Portfolio Careers

As Suzanne Bearne from Digiday writes “The move toward a portfolio career — which can encompass multiple streams of income or a mix of freelancing and part-time employment — has been a popular trend for several years.  However, the pandemic is set to accelerate interest in this career path due to increasingly fragile incomes and a renewed interest in diversifying and broadening skillsets. The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development even predicted that 50% of professionals will be in a portfolio career by 2030.”

Developing your own portfolio career could be a great way to get paid for your many years of expertise as a consultant, advisor, or fractional CMO on your own terms.  It could also be an opportunity to strengthen your network and continue to learn different types of businesses.

You can also pursue different interests and passions not only in marketing and advertising, but also around other areas in your life.  For example, Bearne mentions how Emma Tian Williamson started her own marketing communications consultancy while also teaching yoga and meditation online.  Williamson says:  “I’ve found the situation of the pandemic has given me more freedom in exploring a diverse portfolio which has always been a dream of mine. People are a lot more open to [working] online and remotely which has given me more clients and opportunities.” 

Here are three ways to get started:

  • Contact companies that specialize in freelance marketing jobs.  One example is We Are Rosie and according to their website they are a “thriving (and growing) community of independent marketing experts, available on-demand to augment, complement, backfill, or accelerate your in-house team and capabilities.”
  • Reach out to your network.  Reconnect with past colleagues and people you know from the industry and let them know you are looking for freelance or part-time work.
  • Work with a career coach.  Partner with a coach with insights and experience in the marketing and advertising industry who will help guide you to uncover your own insights, action plan and accountability to have a career that aligns with your brand purpose.

Developing a portfolio career can be a great opportunity to navigate your ideal career journey to align with your values, strengths, and passions. 

Rise of Portfolio Careers (Digiday)

Your Job Is Not Your Identity

When you are laid off later in life, it is important to realize that when you lose your job, you don’t lose your identity.  Your life is ahead of you and when one door closes, another one will open.  When I lost my job in advertising, it was one of the best things that happened to me long term as I ultimately found another job I really loved.

A Tale of My Two Layoffs  (Next Avenue)

Career With Benefits

Some of the great things about having a portfolio career are the ability to express your full range of passions, it can be a more secure form of work as you have multiple streams of income, you have more control over how you spend your time, and you may gain additional enriching experiences than working at one job!

Why You Should Build a "Career Portfolio" (Not a "Career Path") (Harvard Business Review)

Close the Gap

There is a misconception that Generation X workers 45+ face increased barriers to employment due to age discrimination biases among hiring managers and reluctance among workers to learn new skills. Training and upskilling could be one solution to this issue.  

Gen X Workers May Face the Biggest Unemployment Crisis (CNBC)

Career Chat with ..... Craig Stacey

Each week, I’m going to chat with someone in our marketing community to learn from their career journey.  This week I spoke with Craig Stacey, Chief Marketing Officer to learn more about his views on ageism and how he developed a portfolio career.

Q:  How did you start your career in marketing?

A:  When I was at Ford, I started my career in marketing by asking for an opportunity to be exposed to a different part of the business vs. the more traditional sales/field pathway I was on. This was a career risk.  At the time, it was more typical in Ford to be asked for cross-functional rotations from a succession plan, especially in the corporate offices vs. the field offices where everyone knew everyone.  I was fortunate to be selected and work on a team that helped start up and implement a more purposeful approach to diversity marketing.  What was supposed to be a two-year marketing rotation, ended up being a 20+ year career as a marketing professional.  This was one of the best risks that I ever took.

Q:  What is your perspective on what age 45+ marketing and advertising professionals can do for their clients and companies?

A:  As someone with more experience, there are many areas where we can provide additional value.

  • We know how to recognize and deal with crisis and conflict before it becomes disruptive to our business or our people.  Most of us have a willingness to deal with it as well from the times we have seen in our careers it ignored, put-off, and left to linger becoming a bigger issue.
  • We know triage and how to stay focused on priorities while not ignoring new ideas and advice.   We have a better gut on what’s necessary for business today and can remove distractions and unnecessary workload  (plus, we likely have the decision making skills to make these decisions with our team’s input).
  • Most of us have experienced the three major waves of the digital experience and have implemented campaigns at all of these times:  Introduction of the web, move to search/mobile, and today, social and more 1:1 demand generation content.  This experience provides us the ability to know how to scale with technology advancements and adjust our approach to new consumer needs and experiences. We have an entrepreneurial edge from all of this digital work.
  • We want to partner with you for great results- career climbing isn’t our thing anymore.
  • Finally, we will give you No DRAMA and NO WASTE. We know how to get things done.

Q:  What is a fractional CMO and how did you get started?

A:  A fractional CMO is someone a company hires part-time for their marketing leadership and strategic needs.  We might help a company with a product launch, customer acquisitions, sales enablement, or overall company growth from an integrated marketing strategy.  The company gets executive experience and a quick start-up to address their most pressing marketing needs/gaps.   Typically we are hired by mid-size, small, or start-up companies who get our experience without a full-time salary and benefits cost. 

I started Construct Marketing as a result of my layoff from McKesson that came on the heels of the pandemic feeling the market would shift more to professional marketing project services like fractional CMOs. I also saw starting my own firm as a way to stay sharp during a time I knew the types of “traditional marketing leadership” jobs I had started to interview for were already on hold and unsure of the future.   Right now, I am helping several start-ups in the robotics, biochemical, and SaaS space and pitching a pharmaceutical/cyber-security start-up. If anyone is thinking of moving their career in this direction, I am happy to network and discuss what you need to do in starting-up and share with you some of the mistakes and good decisions I made along the way.  

Q:  What are the top lessons learned that other marketers can take away from your career journey?

A:  Here are my lessons learned:

  • Be in the field with the sales team as much as you can
  • Never stop learning.  Try to take one Coursera or EdX type course each year on something you are deficient in. I’m getting ready to venture into LinkedIn Learning as I am hearing good things about some of their Google classes.
  • Never try to go it alone.   The pace of digital is too fast for everyone to keep up and know everything (though you are expected to know it all- especially as you age in your career).  Find the resources and trusted advisors you like to always keep in touch with new discoveries or 1:1 help/advice/sounding board when needed.

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About Marni

Marni is an NYU certified executive coach and ICF member with over 25 years of leadership in the marketing, advertising, media, and events industries.

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