What the advertising industry can learn from Chris Fagan

For those that don’t know me, I am AFL nut, religiously supporting my beloved Tigers week in, week out. AFL is a young person’s game. Drafted young, players are generally considered to be at the wrong end of their career once they pass the age of 30. And nowadays, the pathway to coaching seems to have become a more immediate transition. Currently, the average age of an AFL coach is 46. But there is one coach that defies this logic.

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Enter Brisbane Lions coach, Chris Fagan. After a stellar playing career in Tasmania, Chris entered the world of coaching with assistant and senior roles in Tasmania (5 years), followed by 9 years at Melbourne which was then followed up by 9 more years at Hawthorn. That’s 23 years of experience before Chris was appointed the Head Coach at the Brisbane Lions, at the ripe young age of 55.


Let me repeat that: 23 years of apprenticeship before getting his crack at the big time at 55.


Whilst his first two years were lean with only 5 wins each year, Chris ended his 26th year in the AFL with his Lions as the standout story of the year, with 16 wins and finishing 2nd at the end of the home and away season.


So, what do I think the media industry can learn from the Chris Fagan experience? 


We all know experience is invaluable. And age is just a number. Yet over the past 10 years, the media industry has lost a significant number of experienced senior media executives.

Totalling maybe thousands of years of experience, this talent has been lost to the industry through a combination of leaving the industry for greener pastures, parenthood, or just being squeezed out as the holding groups tighten the pressure on the bottom line.


I hear clients complaining about the lack of seniority in their business, yet agencies struggle to invest in experience, as terms are driven down by the same said client, or their procurement team. In the essence of trying to make a buck to appease the parent in London, New York or Paris, we strip away one of the most important components that clients want: experience, knowledge and the ability to listen and ask the right questions.


When I started in the industry, I was fortunate enough to work with some of the most experienced people in the industry, all of who happened to be the same age as Chris Fagan now. They weren’t considered old or past their use by date because of their age, they were considered valuable based on what they brought to the table, from client side to media proprietor to agency colleagues.


So, what did Chris bring to the table? A 55-year-old with 36 years’ experience! How many of those people still exist in our industry? When you’re thinking of your next hire, don’t let age get in the way of good story – experience matters, both for your business and client experience.