Grow Old Along With Me

September 19th, 2007 by Bob Bly

A poet once wrote: “Grow old along with me; the best is yet to be.”

Not in today’s business culture.

When I entered the corporate workforce in the late 1970s, young kids just out of college — like me — were at the bottom of the food chain.

The top was dominated by gray-haired managers — “20-year-men” as they were called — who’d been with the company for decades.

After all, those decades meant they knew everything — about the job, the products, the market — and I, with mere weeks on the job, knew almost nothing … and therefore could only contribute minimally.

Ironically, now that MY hair is gray and I am approaching my 30th year in direct marketing, age is no longer revered.

Indeed, workers age 50 or more are often discriminated against. Despite their knowledge and experience, no one wants to hire them, for reasons I am not 100% clear about.

I have sat in meetings where I have seen kids in their 20s completely dismiss the contributions of colleagues and vendors who have forgotten more about direct marketing than the kids have learned.

Especially in direct marketing, this makes no sense.

You learn DM through exposure to testing, and the longer you have worked in the field, the more test results you have seen and integrated into your mental bank of knowledge.

So old folks … do you feel I am accurate here? Like Rodney Dangerfield, do we get “no respect” from the young ‘uns?

Kids: Do you learn from and listen to old farts? Or dismiss them as ancient and irrelevant?

Also: Can 20 somethings and 50 somethings work together and get along? Or are the culture gaps too great? (e.g., I don’t own an iPod, Blackberry, Blue Tooth, or Cell Phone, and I couldn’t take and send a digital photo over the Internet if my life depended on it….)

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 19th, 2007 at 6:45 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

39 responses about “Grow Old Along With Me”

  1. Michael said:

    If you’ve been around the block a few more times than I have, your knowledge and experience are typically better than mine. I respect the input of the geriatric crowd when it comes to DM and marketing (that is, if they’re in the biz and not armchair quarterbacks).

    I’m actually more prone to question the marketing savvy of a 20-something marketing/DM person than someone older than me. The younger person’s knowledge and skills generally haven’t been tested by the fires of experience as much as an older person’s has.

  2. Angie said:

    I’m certainly not a kid anymore, but I still have a couple years to go before my experience in the design industry hits double-digits. That said, I certainly have a high respect for those who have years (or decades) more experience than I do. It’d be foolish not to. Things go sour when the “old farts” look at us “young ‘uns” like we don’t have *anything* to contribute at all (which is usually presented through some form of condescension which I absolutely loathe). Respect needs to be mutual no matter what.

  3. Bob Bly said:

    Angie: I agree. I left my first corporate job after a year to take a better offer. GR, the product manager I worked with, complained to my boss: “It takes a year to get up to speed, and now he’s leaving?” I wanted to tell GR that I was up to speed after the first month. Why did he say it took a year? Because the idea that I was a quick learner threatened him, as it threatens anyone who moves more slowly than we do.

  4. Craig Hysell said:

    True masters of communication know when to shut up and listen. I constantly look to those who have gone before me for guidance. I ask questions and actually wait for the answers. Then I ask more questions and repeat. I learn faster from others experience. I don’t mind making mistakes, but why not try to avoid them whenever possible? Elders have that priceless intangible you can’t grasp from reading a book; experience.

    I realize teenagers know it all but college graduates should understand how to share space, knowledge and craft constructively. I think you become a much better contributing member of a society when you finally know that you can’t know it all and act with all the virtue that entails.

    I’m 32, I love working with the gray hairs who want to share their knowledge for sharing’s sake instead of with finality. Nobody likes an absolutist. The men and women who aren’t out to prove anything are the people we should all listen too, no matter what their age.

    …And my hair isn’t going gray, that’s a light blonde I swear.

  5. Dianna Huff said:

    Bob,

    I try to learn whatever I can from everyone and anything. I learn quite a bit about marketing watching TV with my son, observing how he uses the computer, and analyzing how he and his friends pass along information about products, trends, etc. In fact, it was fascinating to listen to him and his friend talk about TV advertising while they watched the new show iCarly a couple of weeks ago.

    I appreciate the wisdom that comes with experience, but I also appreciate the fresh perspectives that come with youth.

  6. Bob Bly said:

    DH: a generalization about age as it applies to marketing expertise: young marketers embrace new media (e.g., blogs, social networking) more fully and have a greater feel for it than old folks like me. Older marketers have a greater bank of tested experience, so we have a better sense of what works and what doesn’t. I am often able to come up with promotional concepts I pull from my mental swipe file (I have a near photographic memory for DM headlines) that a person with less experience could not draw upon.

  7. Dianna Huff said:

    Bob, I agree. But I’m also watching what is going on with my son. He has this thing called an “Action Reply” that allows him to download cheat codes for his DS games. (I think that’s what it is — I’m not sure.)

    I asked him how he found out about it — some kid at Boy Scouts had it.

    My son bought it online, then took that thing everywhere. He would play his DS on the camp bus and other boys saw the Action Replay. Cooooool. He and his friends have DS play dates. Now all of his friends own Action Replays — all via word of mouth from my son.

    What I see is an underground buzz marketing campaign that is in a niche group — DS playing boys. I don’t see the Action Replay being advertised anywhere.

    Would an a traditional ad work? I don’t know. But I am certainly impressed with how word gets around with all of them. Listening to them talk to each other on the phone about their games is like listening to people talk in a foreign language.

  8. Mark Drossman said:

    Bob-

    You misquoted the line at the top of this installment. The line should be,
    “Grow old along with me, THE BEST IS YET TO BE”, and the poet was John Lennon.

    As for the age gap in the business today, there clearly is one, and the reasons are many:

    1- Salary- Today an agency can hire many young up and comers for the price of one seasoned veteran. At a time when agencies are run by bean counters, the bottom line is everything. You can’t see wisdom and experience on a fiscal report.

    2- Relevance- You yourself just demonstrated one of the biggest reasons for the bias towards the older folk: you almost proudly say you have no understanding of how to use a PC. That’s unfortunate, because this business, perhaps more than any other, is becoming more and more digitally focused. As more of the audience becomes computer-savvy (and the highest value targets have already been so for many years now)what better way is there to engage them in a dialogue, capture valuable data and tailor your sales message to just what they need to hear?
    Add in the wasted postage and printing costs and you start to realize that it might be smart to start learning how to download a photo…

  9. Mark Drossman said:

    Sorry, prematurely pushed the submit button…

    Another point, regarding relevance, is that you need to think like the target. I think you’ve said such things yourself.

    But the target uses an iPod, Blackberry and Cell Phone (another great touch point,via the marvels of modern technology, btw).

    N’cest pas?

  10. SpongeBob Fan said:

    Sticking up for Bob here — he didn’t say he couldn’t use a PC, just that he doesn’t send photos over the Internet. He seems quite up on computers and non-digital-photo Internet.

    That being said, Bob — it’s time to try at least one of the things you say you can’t use. You’re w-a-y too young to be like my healthy 74-year-old father, who saddens us with the odd satisfaction he seems to take from his world getting smaller.

    Yup, learning some of these new things can be a little bit frustrating. Sometimes it’s painless! And you don’t have to know them all. But it would be churlish of any friend not to encourage you to find one that piques your interest a bit, and get a little more familiar with that one. (Maybe ask those kids of yours for some help? :) )

  11. Bob Bly said:

    Mark: to begin with, I have no trouble using my PC for what I want to use it for: writing. I don’t need to know the other stuff because my staff can do it for me, and I don’t want to waste my time learning or doing it. I don’t send digital photos over the Internet, nor do I send prints via postal mail. I just don’t take or send photos, because I have no interest in it.

    The other stuff you talk about — i.e., you use a Blackberry and I don’t — is all window dressing. It has nothing to do with human psychology and persuasion, which have remained virtually unchanged for centuries, and will continue to remain the same for centuries to come.

    Dianna: Your comment seems to imply this is a new, fascinating phenomenon. It is not. Word of mouth advertising is as old as the hills. What’s new is a crop of agencies and consultants now charging clients to tell them about it.

  12. Bob Bly said:

    Sponge: I could. But I won’t. To me, all this electronic crap is a waste of time better spent on other things: in my case, reading. If it really saved time, I’d use it. But every gadget you own is another toy with a warranty that’s more trouble than it is worth when it starts giving you problems and stops working.

    BTW, most of this electronic gimmickry DOES make sense for the average person, who is mobile. But I am ALWAYS at my desktop PC. I never go anywhere. I’m not a road warrior. So why do I need a cell phone or laptop with WiFi?

  13. SpongeBob Fan said:

    I hate WIFI, so I’m with you there, Bob.

    I love my Razr phone – it won my heart because it’s a sweet little piece of equipment. Also, I have it for safety, as it’s impossible more or less to find a pay phone today. (And it sure came in handy the day I was hit & run by an elderly woman 4 blocks from my house. Police there instantly!)

    You get to pick & choose, for sure. Still urging you not to pick “nothing.” Unless you’re still reading by candlelight. Then I’d say you have a v-e-r-y unique way about you.

  14. Michael said:

    I’m not up on the latest electronic gizmos, either, Bob. I see no reason to be a “Borg drone.”

    I do have a cell phone, and I have a 400 minute a month allowance. The phone sales guy tried to sell me on a plan with more minutes. But I talk on my actual cell maybe 150 minutes total a month (I prefer face to face). It has a camera built in, too. I’ve taken photos with it of my kids, but for the life of me I can’t figure out how to get the photos off the phone and onto my iBook (there’s no transfer cord!). I don’t have an iPod, either. I didn’t feel the need to rush out and buy the latest Apple iPhone (more bells and whistles than I could possibly want or need).

    I don’t have a whiz-bang game machine, BlackBerry, or any of those fancy things people seem to think we can’t do without. We don’t even have cable! I read a lot instead.

    I’m perfectly happy in my more or less Luddite existence.

  15. Dianna Huff said:

    Sponge, Bob, et al,

    I come at this whole thing with two perspectives. I kept my son off the computer and video games for a long time. I purposely bought him “open-ended” toys like wooden blocks. I’ve been reading to him since the day I brought him home.

    However, now that he’s older, I love watching how he interacts with technology. He is my test lab of how the world is moving. He has no clue what AAA is, for example, and that you can go to a local office and get free maps. Heck, his mom uses a GPS to get around. Why does he need a map?

    He’s also a budding entrepreneur — instead of pet sitting, he wants to start an e-Bay business. He’ll probably make a killing at it, too — by age 12.

    I agree that books and newspapers and all those non-technology things are wonderful. However, I can’t live without my Palm PDA. I’m a mom and do A LOT of running around. I’d be dead without it (and the GPS and Razor phone, too).

    Note to Sponge — my son takes videos of me while I’m driving. I’m contantly finding them on my phone. Next thing, he’ll be sending them to his friends or uploading them to YouTube. :-)

  16. Bob Bly said:

    Somehow this has turned into gadget vs. non-gadget people. However, a lot of AARP members I know LOVE all these gadgets. Are there any more important differences between generations? Attitudes, knowledge, aptitudes?

    As a rule, people seem to like people who are like them. Prejudice exists because we do NOT like people who are NOT like us. This includes racial prejudice, economic prejudice (the poor hate the rich, the rich hate the poor), and age prejudice (20-something managers find gray-hairs doddering and rigid, while gray-hairs find 20-somethings immature and ignorant).

  17. Dianna Huff said:

    PS to Bob — I agree WOM is as old as the hills, but how did these kids learn about the Action Replay? Not through DM or advertising, as far as I can tell. I think they get it off the Internet. My son visits dozens of sites where kids like him congregate.

  18. SpongeBob Fan said:

    OT to Michael — you email the photos off the phone and to yourself. I called Cingular (now AT&T) and – once you know that – it’s easy as pie to make it happen. Post here if you want to know more — I can explain it in less than 2 lines, so I don’t think Bob would mind!

  19. Jennifer said:

    As a Gen X/Y person myself (depending on whose yardstick you’re using), I can say from personal experience that most of us younger employees do want things more quickly: the perks, the pay, and sometimes the responsibility. I think part of the reason is the changing nature of the workforce; younger employees have seen a lot of parents get laid off, retirement plans not get funded, jobs get outsourced, etc. It makes it harder for us to have faith in the idea of paying our dues. And in marketing, people listen to us because there’s this idea that we’re all web 2.0 (or isn’t it 3.0 now?) geniuses by virtue of our generation.

    I can also say that personally, I have enormous respect for people who are experienced and successful (I’m having a bit of a fit right now: ohmygosh! I’m “talking” to Bob Bly! Okay, stay cool). Oh, and I kind of hate technology, too :-)

  20. Ted Grigg said:

    Jennifer. You will go far. Ted

  21. Bob Bly said:

    Mark: John Lennon did not write “grow old along with me.” Robert Browning did.

  22. Michael said:

    My “I see no reason to be a Borg drone” comment wasn’t intended to add to a technology debate. Rather, having technology grafted to every part of me, such as a cell phone in holster at my hip and a wireless headset in me ear, just reminds me of a cybernetic being.

    Jennifer: What program is web 2.0 or 3.0? I thought I was pretty up on the latest Internet browser clients, but that one I am not familiar with.

  23. Jennifer said:

    Michael: “web 2.0″ is actually a term for current web trends like social networking, blogging, and other interactive media. It’s kind of a nebulous idea. “Web 2.0 marketing” includes stuff like social networking, viral video, blogging, all that stuff. Occasionally I hear people talking about “web 3.0,” which I assume is the next big Internet paradigm shift, but I don’t really know what that is.

  24. Mark Drossman said:

    Bob-
    You are absolutely right.
    My bad.
    Browning wrote it.
    I guess Lennon, to use your terminology, “swiped” it.

  25. Jill said:

    I’m definiately a kid and when it comes to copywriting and I think I listen and learn – although it’s more like read and absorb. Especially since I’m working on my own.

  26. Suzanne said:

    I’m pretty oblivious to corporate culture, so I don’t know where this trend is going on–although I have heard of it.

    I agree with the poster who said that salary played into it.

    Where I am definitely NOT seeing this is the freelance copywriting industry…where it’s older males who hold the highest acclaim.

  27. Charles said:

    Bob,

    I have a colleague in his 50s and he’s expressed similar feelings. I fact, he left the country, in part because he could see that his age was making it harder for him to get work. or at least related to all the youngsters in the meeting (or vise versa). Certainly, looking around in the Silicon Valley tech companies, I don’t see many gray-hairs. I think this is definitely an issue. I’m not sure where the older practioners go. I am worried about it. I just now feel like I know what I’m doing with 20 years experience as a writer, but I figure I have to my mid-50s before the Logan’s Run mentality starts crippling my career. Luckily, I look young for my age. Then again, I hardly ever meet anyone face-to-face for my work, so maybe technology will save me.

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