Perception Is Reality, Until You Bend It Into Shape

I appreciate Rupal Parekh’s effort to shine a light on the plight of aging workers in the Ad biz. Parekh focuses in on Dave Shea, 56, a copywriter/creative director in Princeton, New Jersey, and the difficulty he’s facing finding a full time agency job today.

The aging of the ad business in the digital era is an issue the industry hasn’t even begun to wrestle with in earnest, but it’s one that could be a key determinant of its future.

A big part of the challenge for older workers is that they are paid at the top of the scale, so they can appear pricey and replaceable by someone younger and cheaper.

Experience is key in advertising like it is in every field. But you want the right kind of experience, which to me means lots of new experiences to compliment your old ones.

Here’s an idea. What if we limit our portfolio to just what we’ve made in the past year or 18 months? Sure, the older work might be our best stuff, but let’s bravely remove the crutch and face the facts that we must continue to stretch and produce new and interesting things, or we’re out (of the loop and a job).

Parekh also spoke to a prominent agency recruiter.

“The job market is pretty rotten,” said Nancee Martin, director-talent at Omnicom Group’s TBWA Worldwide. “Opportunities are limited. Agencies aren’t doing the same kind of hiring they were five years ago, and there’s no denying that those closer to 55 are going to have a harder time,” she said, particularly creatives vs. those in sales or strategic planning. “For a creative, pardon my French, but good fucking luck.”

Martin’s laying the obstacle out for all to see. It’s a perception problem. Which is good, because that’s the perfect problem for those skilled at changing perceptions about a brand, a politician or an aging demographic.

Martin says gray-haired creatives need good fucking luck to find work, but the truth is Martin and her ilk will gladly open their doors, minds and wallets to award-winning creatives of all ages, sizes, nationalities, etc. It’s a club. You’re either in it, or you’re not.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. I wonder if the TBWA Director of Talent has ever met with
    the HR Director. The woman has essentially and literally told “older”
    candidates they’re fucked if they apply with the Omnicom shop. Talk about
    opening yourself up for ageism lawsuits.


    And if she is so blatant in admitting the industry is – as you
    say – an exclusive club, where people are judged by “conceptions” and
    perceptions, can it not be argued that others have been systematically eliminated
    from the talent pool for reasons including race, ethnicity, gender, etc.? This Director
    of Talent is an idiot. It never ceases to amaze me how key executives in our
    industry remain totally ignorant to employment laws.

    • I think people serving in these roles forget themselves. As the prettiest girl in glass, they find themselves saying “no” a lot. They say “no” so often, they forget the art of it and begin to clobber people with their distorted versions of themselves and their agency.

      I commend Ad Age for getting her on record. Because reprehensible or not, this is that goes on. It’s a club, and technically anyone with a great book is welcome, but recruiters, like creative directors, can and do make the wrong call all the time.

      • Agreed, but I contend Ad Age got her “on record” essentially admitting to hiring practices that could be deemed illegal. The woman literally said “older” candidates are fucked. Literally said it. The TBWA HR Director has to be shitting his/her briefs right now. A pattern of rejected “older” candidates could easily lead to a class-action lawsuit. And now you have the Director of Talent “on record” admitting that “older” candidates are fucked. You wrote: “Because reprehensible or not, this is [what] goes on.” Agreed again, but when people like Cyrus Mehri argue this is what goes on, the agencies respond by denying it.