Roar Forward Summit
Re-Imagine the Second Half of Life
November 9, 2023
Hearst Tower, New York City
by Debbie Marshall, Managing Director, Silver Marketing Association
An invitation to be a guest at the first ROAR Forward Summit at the Hearst Tower in Manhattan is not one to turn down! Having lived for a year in New York back in the 80s, I was excited to return, many years older, hopefully wiser, and to be part of an inaugural event pioneered by the high-octane legend that is Michael Clinton and his team at ROAR Forward, a membership & business intelligence platform for brands and companies targeting the new 50+ demographic identity, aka the “Reimagineer”. As we were to learn, Retiring is now to be known as Redefining.
Michael is senior media advisor to the CEO of Hearst after 21 years at the company, including president of marketing and publishing director of Hearst Magazines and executive vice president of Conde Nast. Since “retiring” in 2019, Michael has ROARed forward with a host of trustee and board positions, a master’s degree in philanthropy, and celebrated his 70th birthday by running the Tenzing Everest Hilary marathon, the world’s highest trail running event. He’s also penned a book, unsurprisingly titled “ROAR into the second half of your life”; in short, he’s an inspirational man who lives and breathes the era of new longevity.
Delegates were a mix of C-suite executives from ROAR forward member companies and brands, complemented by real-life Reimagineers who told their stories of new careers and achievements post-corporate life. The event focused on the healthy & wealthy 50+ market segment and comprised a series of expert panel sessions and videos.
A few stats to start with: 35% of the US population is over 50, and with a spending power of $8.3 trillion, it’s equivalent to the 3rd largest country in the world. 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day. By 2034, there will be more Americans past retirement age than children – 17% of the population.
Summary of the sessions
Following an upbeat introduction from Michael to “the most exciting social movement of our lives”, it was straight to business:
Lifelong learning; Lifelong brain health – our formal education may end in our 20s, but it was good to learn from Laura Carstenson, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, that the brain is relatively unaffected by the ageing process, and that if we invest in brain health with a variety of cognitive stimulation (and this doesn’t just mean computer games!), it will deliver a lifelong ROI. One of the Reimagineers, Anh Vu Sawyer, enraptured the audience with her story of fulfilling two lifelong dreams in her 60s: going to Harvard in her 60s to do an MBA and learning to swim.
New Horizons in the Workplace: many themes here mirrored the situation here in the UK with an ageing workforce often finding obsolescence rather than new opportunities “when your employer says you are just not good enough any more, and all that knowledge walks out the door just because of grey hair”. Boomers says the young don’t work hard enough, GenZ say that boomers aren’t relevant in the workplace (remember Mark Zuckerberg – “young people are just smarter”). Against this backdrop, positive messages emerged of new horizons in the workplace where there are now 5 generations for the first time in history. Laurie Leibach, SVP of Talent at L’Oreal, described their cross-generational workplace program which reflects the evolution of the brand “L’Oreal for all Generations” and includes internships for grandchildren. New HR policies such as caregivers’ leave are evolving and there’s a need for inter-generational conversations and mutual understanding of different approaches to work – by way of example, Boomers wait for promotion, GenZ fight for it!
Own your own Financial Wellbeing: the two main worries for Americans approaching retirement are very similar to the UK: declining health and running out of money, and this session focused on financial wellness which is the practical business of taking care of day to day finances, and financial wellbeing which is feeling comfortable about money and understanding what “enough” aka peace of mind looks like when it comes to retirement. The rule of “enough” is when you can withdraw 4% of your capital each year to provide sufficient funds for your lifestyle of choice and your investments do not decrease. The good news (for those who are well-off) is that increasing interest rates means that the 4% withdrawal rate can now be as high as 6% or even up to 10% with high yield bonds.
ROAR conversation John Dick, Founder & CEO of Civic Science presented findings from a recent “Research Insights Sentiments of the 50+ Market” and demolished some of the myths surrounding the over 50s:
- Myth – The Over 50s are returning to work after The Great Resignation of 2020 because of cost-of-living pressures. Reality – it’s because they enjoy work and want to engage. 85% of Reimagineers like to work.
- Myth – The Over 50s are not digitally savvy. Reality – 50% shop online. The pandemic helped here obliging them to use technology for food deliveries, and to learn to use Apps and other technology such as Alexa. 21% of TikTokkers are over 50.
- Myth – The Over 50s are set in their ways and won’t try new brands. Reality – 40% switched brands during the pandemic often due to lack of available supplies from previously used brands.
- Myth – The Over 50s don’t respond to Influencers. Reality – they may be less interested in commercial influencers, but recommendations from trusted peer groups is key, and social media recommendations from friends on Facebook is very important.
Key take-out: 60% of over 50s feel mispresented by advertising. Age-inclusive imagery is a seismic issue – people must be able to identify and recognise themselves.
Trends in Longevity & Medicine / Healthcare – here the discussion was around the “longevity dividend” and the value of living without chronic disease and frailty. In the same way that there’s a 20 year difference in life expectancy here in the UK between Kensington and parts of inner-city Glasgow, the American example quoted was the 20 year difference between California and Dakota. The Holy Grail is – of course – to die from old age rather than bad health. So what are the factors which contribute to healthspan rather than lifespan, “adding life to years” as Kennedy once said. Naturally genes play their part, up to 30% depending on which report your read, but it was no surprise to learn that (the right kind of) exercise, sleep, diet and socialisation are the four main ways to maintain vitality. How to build healthier environments and communities, the importance of good design and the use of tech in active health to self-monitor glucose, blood pressure, exercise achievements all formed part of the debate. As someone who has always resisted wearing a Fit-Bit, it did start to sound like a good idea.
Venture Capital & Living Longer: Ideas in Age Tech – this an emerging area (seen as being at the same stage as climate change 20 years ago), and there’s been an increase in the number of dedicated VC funds to the area of age tech, with over 1,600 start-ups screened and investments made in pro-longevity healthcare. One to watch.
Designs for a new era: it’s already here – this session was ably hosted by demographic futurist Bradley Schurman, author of The Superage and a youthful-looking veteran of the longevity debate. The discussion centred around inclusive design irrespective of age or disability and the panel sat in comfortable, stylish Janus & Cie chairs, designed for an older market but appealing to all ages; the senior team from Populous explained how they create inclusive sporting and entertainment venues which can be enjoyed by multiple generations.
After the morning session concluded, hungry delegates (surely I can’t have been the only one!) ascended to the spectacular 44th floor of Hearst Tower for a very healthy lunch and a stunning view across Central Park where the trees were resplendent with autumn colours (sorry, colors of the Fall). A final treat was in store from Gayle King, co-host of CBS Mornings and Editor-at-Large of Oprah Daily. It started with a highly entertaining video of an interview with the star of hit show, The Golden Bachelor, and then she appeared in person. Aged 68, glamourous, funny, engaging and with an energy level to compete with Michael Clinton, but with the addition of vertiginous stilettoes, Gayle swept onto the stage and interviewed two high-powered career ladies in their 60s and showing no signs of slowing down. ROARing girl power! A fitting finale to a fascinating Summit filled with insights and networking.
New words learned
Gentelligence – the collective intelligence that comes from intergenerational learning and collaboration; the ability to break down age-based tensions and instead build up intergenerational power
Geroscience – the study of mechanisms that make aging a major risk factor for common chronic conditions and diseases of aging.
ROAR forward is an international partner with the Silver Marketing Association.