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

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.