Aging in Adland-Here’s What Ad Age Missed.

January 30, 2012

See AD AGE, January 30, 2012

I started to hear the complaints from creative people over 45 (!) about ten years ago. “Why don’t they value experience?”, and “I’ll put my portfolio up against any 20-year-old’s.” And, not surprising, their portfolio has 20-year-old work.

The sad truth is that many of these aging creative people are indeed ‘dusty’ – the recruiter’s shorthand for, well, over-the-hill. Somewhere along the line they sat back and surveyed their shelves crammed with awards for tv commercials and print ads and figured they were bullet-proof. They stepped off the train. They blew off the digital explosion as a shallow fly-by-night obsession of green-horns and geeks and were comforted by the assurance it would all blow over, the universe would right itself again. When it did, they’d be waiting to pick up the pieces with their unassailable wisdom and experience. And in the meantime, they’d complain about the unfairness of it all to anyone who’d listen.

There is real unfairness here, and it’s this: it’s hard to distinguish this ‘dusty’ lot from the aging ad veterans who never lost their hunger to stay current, never lost their passion to investigate the new before dismissing it. It’s hard to separate the gray-haired wheat from the chaff in a world where time is measured in seconds and where making a mistake in hiring comes with enormous consequences. It’s much easier to draw a line around age and get on with it. It’s not fair, but there it is.

Don’t Ask Why The Horse Is Blind, Just Load The Cart.
What I see is that those who succeed, without the benefit of their name on the agency door, are those who accept the reality (a BIG first step), and don’t settle for the few minutes they get in an interview situation to prove their worth. The proving ground has to be outside the interview – outside in the industry.

First of all, jump back on the train. This is an unbelievably exciting time in the advertising business; we are back in the frontier unlike any time since the Creative Revolution of the 60s. Get yourself informed by all that’s available out there – subscribe to Mashable, Smart Brief, Amex’s Open Forum….and follow the paths they open up to you. Take advantage of social media, there’s more content uploaded every minute about what’s happening, what’s new, what’s coming than ever before in history. Then grab opportunities – and they’re out there if you look – to get known for what you have to offer: your personal brand of finely honed strategic thinking layered on what you see in this new world. Join industry associations and get yourself known; not just with glad-handing, but with contributing. If you can’t land a seat on a panel, stand up and ask intelligent questions during the Q&A. Go talk to the ad schools and offer to come in and lend your expertise to their classes – remember, the students you impress today will be the industry players of tomorrow. Get yourself in print, on Facebook, Twitter. Write articles, start a blog. Essentially, get back to using the tools that got you successful to begin with: hunger and resourcefulness.

What the Ad Age article got right was this: there is, finally, a new awareness in our business that youth may not have all the answers. But you can’t leverage that awareness by cursing the darkness.

Nor by hoping that next interview will give your the chance to, as Sally Hogshead states it, fascinate. But fascinate you can…and undoubtedly with more finess than any entry-level kid.

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  • Maria Botta

    I’m not denying that I wasn’t part of the generation that glorified youth – I, Mr. Shea, and my baby boomer colleagues helped to propagate the notion that young = creative, the question is how do we change this short sighted notion? The truth is that NOT hiring more experienced and older creatives is really missing the mark in business – the worlds largest economies – the US, Japan and Europe we are an aging population, with a great deal of wealth concentrated in the baby boomer generation. This segment has disposable income to enjoy life, and BUY products and services tailored to them/us. In fact the wealth gap between those under 35 and people over 65 is at an all time high, part of this is because baby boomers have lived in much more robust economic times and tended to invest well and grow their wealth – younger people are burdened with a weak job market and large amounts of student loan debt not seen by previous generations, the result is a heavy concentration of wealth controlled by those over fifty and retirees. The point I am getting to is this – if you want to sell products and make money YOU MUST seriously include the baby boomer demographic, and I can assure you no young kid – no matter how creative they are, is going to be able to handle this creative task – so wake up recruiters, agency people and Chief Marketing Officers!I see this “phobia” as a tremendous business opportunity – to join ranks as some have already done and change the game, and I am really looking forward to the next exciting and creative driven chapter of my life.Maria

  • leigh

    “it’s hard to distinguish this ‘dusty’ lot from the aging ad veterans who never lost their hunger to stay current”

    Don’t agree.   It’s just as hard or easy to figure out that as it is to interview anyone and figure out what their skills are.

    If we aren’t lying to ourselves, (which i always hate to do) we work in one of the most Agist industries — second only to Hollywood.

    I think it’s a problem – and I’d say that clients I’ve spoken to have WAY less issue with a CDs age then the Agencies that refuse to hire them. What is important is their skill set, their experience and their ability to bring that to bare on the world as it exists today.

    But whatever — my strategy has always been to hire the best of the best — regardless….. 🙂

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      Thanks for the good words – I’ve been dragging my heels getting back to sitting down and writing all the stories and opinion pieces I’ve got in the pipeline, perhaps you’ll have inspired me to get back to it!