Staff Reporter

Gazing at the faces of the Business Journal’s Who’s Who in Advertising, one thing becomes instantly apparent: the vast majority of the industry’s top L.A. power positions are held by males.

While women are commonly found in middle management positions, they are extremely scarce in top creative or strategic posts in Los Angeles.

In fact, only one member of this year’s Who’s Who is a woman Managing Partner Diane Krouse of the L.A. office of D’Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles Inc.

Krouse certainly earned that distinction, being the only female head of any of the 25 biggest ad agencies in L.A.

Female creative directors are even more scarce; none of the top 25 local agencies has a woman creative director.

The paucity of female executives at the top is particularly striking because so many women hold positions in middle management. Informal estimates by several local executives suggest that more than half of the account managers at L.A. agencies are women. But they seldom make it to upper management unless they start their own shops.

“It’s a really interesting phenomenon to me, because the advertising business since the ’30s has been very good to women,” said Jean Craig, former president and creative director of now-defunct Kresser Craig Advertising Inc. and author of a just-completed book on relationships between men and women in the workplace.

“There’s been a real heritage of women becoming prominent sooner in advertising than in most industries. However, in the last few years, that has kind of disappeared,” Craig said.

The culprit, according to Craig, may be a decline in the prevalence of affirmative action programs. In addition, the management styles of women, who tend to lead by empowering employees as opposed to the male command-and-control style, are no longer considered as valuable as they once were.

And many women in the industry complain that advertising is still something of a boy’s club.

“There is, in my opinion, a glass ceiling in this business,” said Bonnie Barush-Barnes, president of the Ad Club of Los Angeles.

To Barush-Barnes, part of the problem stems from the lifestyle decisions women make. For many, the pressures of family life make it impossible to put in the grinding hours required of a top-level ad executive, she said.

Minorities, of course, are even scarcer than women in the L.A. ad community, but then, that’s nothing new. With the exception of agencies that specialize in reaching minority target audiences, the advertising business in America has always been dominated by white males.

Youth also has become a highly valued commodity in the industry, particularly in the past decade. Although many people in the Who’s Who are in their 40s, 50s and even 60s, they tend to preside over agencies in which they are the oldest on staff.

Unless one succeeds in being promoted to the very top of an agency, job security in the business becomes extremely tenuous after an executive hits middle age, according to executive recruiters. The situation is especially difficult for people on the creative side of the business, who by the time they reach their 40s, tend to either switch over to account management, become freelancers, start their own agencies or just get out of the industry entirely.

“There aren’t that many people who stay good for a long time,” said Mark Deschenes of executive recruiting firm Deschenes/Brandalise Headhunters, which specializes in placing advertising industry creative professionals. “The large majority of people in this business are marginal talents. When marginal talents get older, why would you want to keep paying them big salaries?”

Financial pressures over the past decade have led many agencies to lay off older executives and replace them with younger workers willing to do the same job for considerably less money. And since the most desirable audience demographic for advertisers is young people, there is a certain bias toward hiring young creative talent those presumably able to relate more easily with people their own age.

Technology is another factor forcing older people out.

“Technology, and the style of what is considered hip advertising, changes on a monthly basis,” said Marcia Murray of executive recruiting firm Murray + Tatro. “Sometimes people who have been in the business for a long time don’t keep up with that. Their work might be clean and good, but it’s not cutting-edge.”

Perhaps the best example of creatives on the new cutting edge are Court Crandall and Kirk Souder of Ground Zero Advertising. Aged 31 and 35 respectively, the two have made a name for themselves in only three years in business by creating groundbreaking ads that have swept up many of the most prestigious awards in the industry.

They are both extremely at home with new technologies.

When a Business Journal reporter asked them for a picture of themselves during a recent visit to Ground Zero, Crandall and Souder pulled out a digital camera, had an employee shoot the picture, transferred the photo onto a floppy disc and handed it to the reporter. The entire process took about three minutes; the mug shots that accompany their entries in the Who’s Who came from that shoot.

Of course, there are a select few creatives who continue to crank out great work well into their 50s and 60s. Lee Clow of TBWA Chiat/Day Inc., considered the dean of L.A.’s advertising community, is also, at 54, one of the oldest local creative directors.

“Lee has the most extraordinary passion of any human being I have ever encountered,” said Barush-Barnes, who worked with Clow as a managing partner at TBWA Chiat/Day before she retired last fall.

“Part of Lee’s genius is that nothing ever stops him,” she said. “He’s started again on the Nissan account with the most incredible energy. I wish I knew what he eats for breakfast every morning.”

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