Psembi Kinstan for AdNews on fewer grand titles, slower promotion might be key to ending agency ageism

At 32, Psembi Kinstan is one of the youngest creative leaders in Australia. He has also reached the industry’s median age, according to MFA data from 2022.

And while he’s not worried that he’s reached his peak, and hasn’t yet felt the sting of industry ageism – in fact, he’s been questioned whether he looks “too young” to do the job – he acknowledges the absurdity of the median age being so low.

At 32, that median age is 12 years lower than the average working age of Australians, at 44 years.

He agrees that adland has an ageism problem. “Ageism is obviously a huge problem and is more prevailing in this country than in lots of others,” Kinstan told AdNews. And agencies should place more value on keeping creatives over 40.

As Greg Graham, founder of the Advertising Ageist Action Group (AAAG), said when accepting his MFA Hall of Fame award last year: The industry is obsessed with youth. 

“We don’t value experience,” he said. “You don’t have to be a 25-year-old digital native to understand digital. An older person can understand the impact of digital, it’s not an age thing.”

Kinstan observes that the industry is bookended with issues: it’s hard to get a foot in the door as a young person, and hard to stay in the room once you reach middle age.

With seven years abroad under his belt, he believes that the Australian advertising industry should look at overseas agencies’ approaches to relieve these issues.

“It is a bit surprising the median is so low because that’s not necessarily true of so many places I’ve worked,” Kinstan says.

While his career began in Melbourne, he had a seven-year stint in London before returning home in 2020. Motivated by the same impulses as when he started in advertising 15 years ago, Kinstan’s career moves have always followed the creatives he’s looked up to.

For example, the very first ad that stuck with him was the John West bear fight ad. 20 years after seeing it, he managed to work in the same agency as, and downstairs from, the ad’s copywriter.

Many international agencies are good at this, he says – keeping people with deep experience in the building, without necessarily elevating them into management roles.

“Large agencies [outside of Australia] have creative directors that have been ECDS or global CCOs who have been running whole global networks in the past, but decided to go back to become copywriters or art directors.”

As a result, Kinstan is one of many who “ended up as a peer and working alongside incredibly experienced people” that were once his heroes. People in their 50s and 60s who still work, and love working, in the creative department.

“I could brief the guy that gave me a job years earlier and he’ll be working into me absolutely ego free for a very complete creative goal. And that is something that is commonplace in other parts of the world.”

Kinstan urges all agency leaders to learn from other markets for opportunities to broaden the hiring pool.

“Allowing incredibly experienced people to shift and develop and not have to climb the ladder,” could help ageism in agencies.

“Every job within an agency has so much scope and they have quite different crafts. People who love being an art director or a designer are excellent and we don’t need to progress them out of that role.” 

By promoting slower, staff will get better and better, and create a depth of experience at all levels. 

“It’s on agencies like ours, but [also on] all agency leaders, to find people returning to work.”

Kinstan emphasises the importance of working with, and hiring, people with more experience than the industry average of 7 years.

DDB Group Melbourne recently employed Ella Ward as head of group experience. Ward has 11 years’ experience and has run agencies previously, but she was at a point in her career where she wanted to focus on the bit she loved most: the people.

“We’ve created a role that allows her to come back in because she’s so brilliant, but equally [it] helps all of DDB because she’s growing the experience to be so much better,” Kinstan said.

As for his advice for people looking to get a start in, or stay in, the industry? “Define what success looks like for you” and focus on making the best work with the best people.

“When you’re at that point in your career where you’re just starting out, just get in somewhere,” he says, “and if you are ambitious and hungry and love what you do, you will make incredible work.”

First published via AdNews