Confessions of a 20-year-old ad agency CEO: ‘Your credibility gets called into question’

Say “ageism” at agencies, and you’re bound to think of discrimination against older employees. But it can go the other way. In the latest in our Confessions series, where we exchange anonymity for candor, Digiday spoke with a 20-year-old CEO of a small influencer agency who said his age benefits and inhibits him professionally. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you feel like your age has benefited you?
I’ve struggled to determine whether it’s beneficial or detrimental. On one hand, I feel very connected to a lot of the talent, content and social trends that are doing really well right now. I can take more risks being young, I don’t have a family or wife I need to devote hours to, I don’t have a mortgage. But there are also some biases. Your credibility gets called into question. People just assume that you might not be correct because you have less experience or knowledge based on your age, rather than your qualifications. It’s a common feeling throughout the industry.

Do you feel like those biases come more from older people or your peers?
Both. There are different biases that come from the different age brackets. With older people, there is concern about how I can lead a company. Younger influencers we work with might think, “Why should I be taking advice from someone who is nearly the same age as I am?” or “Why do you know any more than I do about how to grow on social or what makes a good campaign or content?”

How has your youth been a factor in deals you’ve closed?
A handful of deals that have definitely come because of my age. There are investors that we talk to that are interested in primarily targeting young founders or college dropouts. Investors know that this company will likely be one of a handful of companies that I work on between now and 35, and people want to establish those relationships early.

Have you lost any deals?
There was one instance earlier this year when I did a couple rounds of interviews with a company to run their influencer marketing department. Once they realized my age, they were clearly put off.

Do you use your age to promote your company?
I prefer to keep age out of a lot of the conversations around myself or my company. If you look at my LinkedIn profile, you won’t see any mention of my age or college years that you could infer my age from. I understand the appeal of being able to use an age like 20 in a headline in order to drive more clicks, but people still have subconscious biases toward how capable someone is.

When do you think you’ll start to feel more comfortable?
I think 23 is around that transition point where I will feel comfortable being able to talk about age in relation to work.

How does age come into hiring?
We will hire whoever is the most qualified for the role, and we tend to find that people between 24 and 34 have the most relevant background and connection to digital media. However, I do think that there is a significant benefit to being able to have a “mother-like” or “father-like” image that is often overlooked. A lot of the talent we work with are below the age of 18, and the wisdom that comes with an older employee can be very comforting to younger talent.

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