Rebels, misfits and innovators: 50Over50 – Bob Wootton

50 Over 50 is a series of interviews with our most influential and inspiring industry leaders aged 50 and over. 

Bob Wootton is a giant of the advertising industry. A forty-year career saw him lead and own some of the UK’s leading agencies before joining the British advertisers’ representative body ISBA in 1996. After 20 years leading the influential organisation, he left to set up Deconstruction, a media and technology consulting business.

What is the biggest mistake companies are making in their attitude to age today?

Advertising has always worshipped youth and sadly I doubt this will change.  Youth is simply more attractive – at least superficially.

And many of advertising’s more iterative processes require credulous (young) cannon fodder. 

Sorry, ingenues.  Twitterstorm doubtless imminent.

So much as I’d like to see more greyhairs retained for their undoubted experience and perspective, they’re also beyond throwing themselves at the same problem repeatedly.

They’re therefore harder to manage, and they probably cost more too, despite many having commitments and being afraid for their jobs.

But I would like to see the end of the current fallacy that nothing useful comes from anybody beyond their twenties. 

Arrogant, misguided rubbish.  I’ll leave it there.

What one thing are you proudest of in your career?

Morphing mid-life from successful agency leader to a rather better advocate and lobbyist – to my surprise.

What creative heights are you now capable of that you wouldn’t have been able to achieve at the early or mid-point of your career?

Framing and stretching the possible and then squeezing progress out of complexity.  Less pragmatism, more imagination. 

And then some persistence too.

What gives you the most satisfaction in your role today?

Still being in play some two decades past many peoples’ sell-by dates!

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?

Realise when you’ve overstepped and correct quickly and with humility. 

I’ve made more enduring friends this way than my self-important young self could ever imagined.

What advice would you give your 25-year old self?

Loyalty to employer is almost always a pipedream and the learning curve is steepest in new environments, so change jobs more frequently.

And discover and implement 4 above before you’re thirty, let alone forty…

What are you most excited about in your industry over the next 10 years?

Repurposing data to serve insight and deliver a creative communications renaissance.  Everything goes in circles and this is poised to happen.  Especially as trust in and regard for advertising is at a nadir.

What is your biggest regret about the industry today?

The separation of media was a good thing but went far too far with legion adverse consequences for both the product and employee motivation.  Now that anybody can buy media and legacy broad-brush price comparisons are meaningless, reconnection beckons.

But it was the takeover by what would once have been called computer salesmen that really screwed it. 

Hopefully time will consign them to the service role they should fulfil in support of the true business drivers of strategy and creativity.

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