I recently skipped through the superbly written Northeastern Alumni Magazine when an article stopped me dead in my tracks.
Headlined, “Never Too Late,” the feature focuses on a fascinating new study conducted by NU’s Albert-Laszlo Barabisi that proved dramatic success is just as likely to come at ANY stage of one’s life (as opposed to the conventional wisdom that points to wunderkinds like Mozart, Marie Curie and Einstein who achieved their greatest successes at an early age).
The analysis, which took a deep dive into the careers of 10,000 scientists, concluded that success is far more connected to persistence, luck and, in the case of scientists, an ability to continually publish fresh research throughout their lives.
That’s incredibly relevant to those of us who ply our trade in PR, corporate communications, marketing communications or whatever it is we’re calling what we do these days. Here’s why:
Corporate America and global PR firms have consistently and consciously derailed the careers of thousands of CCOs, CMOs and, in the case of big agencies, EVPs who “have reached a certain age.”
These are the highly capable men and women who, because they command a large salary, were born before JFK was inaugurated and aren’t particularly savvy when it comes to the post truth, digitally-driven communications world in which we now exist, are considered expendable.
I know these men and women. I’ve met and spoken with hundreds of them in the past few years. And, with a few notable exceptions, none saw the handwriting on the wall OR began preparing for Phase Two of their careers.
Our conversations are almost always the same, and go something like this:
Me: “So sorry to have heard about the downsizing.”
Victim (and most do see themselves as victims): “I’m over it and, in fact, am super enthused to start chapter two!”
Me: “Great. What do you want to do?”
Victim: “Apply all of the creative experience that helped me win three Silver Anvils, two Sabers and 11 Bulldog Awards to the right organization.”
Me: “That’s truly impressive. But, I’m curious to know what you personally have been doing in the digital, data analytics and social spaces of late?”
Victim: “Oh, my team handles that stuff.”
Me: “OK. So, what do you do?”
Victim: “I manage and motivate people, and that’s exactly what I’d bring to Peppercomm if you bring me on board.”
And, that’s when I’m forced to tell the Flying Dutchman (or woman, as the case may be) that our senior ranks are all set and the skills we need range from project manager and digital designer to social behaviorist and research scientist.
The victim sighs, nods his head and says, “Yeah. That’s what everyone says.” I assure them that, should I hear of any opportunity that might arise, I’ll let them know ASAP. They nod their head, shake my hand and slink out of the office.
These late middle-aged communications zombies are indeed victims. They’re victims of mastering the politics of a large organization. They’re victims of having hitched their wagon to a rising superstar in the organization and going along for the ride. And, many are victims of having spent their fat pay checks in the belief nothing would ever change.
And, now they wear defeat on their faces and demonstrate it in their non-verbal gestures. It’s so sad to see so often.
But, as the Northeastern research indicates, it’s never too late to innovate, reimagine and recreate one’s self.
Alas, far too many of my corporate/big agency peers lack the entrepreneurial drive that constantly bombards my brain (and lots of other, far more talented entrepreneurs’ brains) with new ideas to disrupt, disintermediate and run rings around my larger competitors.
The single best piece of advice I can proffer to PR pros who are about to become men and women of a certain age is this: Get your hands on the Northeastern study and start figuring out Phase Two before your head of Human Resources asks you to step into her office.
I can’t think of a sadder ending to an otherwise successful career than settling down in a Del Boca Vista condo and spending day after day playing golf, attending matinees and consuming early bird special after early bird special.
Here’s hoping you beat Father Time and the bottom line before it’s too late.