I remember loving this Coca-Cola commercial when I was a kid.
I just admitted that I am old, at least by advertising industry standards.
How do you know when you are over the hill? Will you receive a text with a decoded message? Will a colleague or family member take you aside and kindly point out just how many opportunities keep passing you by?
Isms and Schisms
Ageism is a real thing and a real problem for advertising people over 40. Last June, I wrote this:
Sexism and racism are two huge mountains for the ad industry and our nation to climb. Ageism, by comparison, is more like a series of large hills. However, when you’re the one hiking those hills, the full weight of the issue may frighten you and possibly alter your confidence and/or behavior.
One thing is certain if not obvious, the industry needs the leadership of people who’ve been there.
I wrote this a few days later:
Here’s more heresy to entertain: Many advertising professionals waste more time and money than they make. By creating leaner operations that help agencies function as a practical business instead of a clubhouse for petulant poseurs, the industry will clean up more than one mess. And when ad people stop pretending that their jobs will fill the holes in their ego, even greater progress will be made.
Time to thread the thoughts together. If you’re over 40 and looking for a job in the agency business, you already know how the odds are stacked against you. You live it every day as the rejections mount and the silence deafens.
Meanwhile, the crapvertising parade marches on.
The Rise of Resistance Movements and Freedom Fighters
Have you heard this one: “If you’re not in the corner office by 40, you’re in trouble”? Remarkably, some people reach the zenith of their advertising career and decide to walk away. Cindy Gallop did.
Now Gallop tears the flesh of people in the ad business, venture capitalists and others in need of a new perspective on a daily basis. She wants women in positions of power and is willing to fight for it. Let’s observe her tenacity in action:
Gallop is fierce. She’s also impossible to ignore. I love that she says, “A lot of people think that a job is the safe option. In a job, you are at the mercy of market downturn, management changes, industry dynamics, things way beyond your control. Whereas, when you work for yourself, you’re in control of everything…Working for yourself is the safest thing you can do.”
She’s right, of course, and I am on her page but I also know that hanging out a shingle isn’t for everyone. The entrepreneur’s path is held up as an ideal all too often when the reality of owning a business can be brutal. In my experience, and I’ve invested a lot in both paths, running a company is much more demanding than the reality of finding or keeping a job, which is also hard no matter how talented and well connected you are.
Choosing a path is about making the right choice for you and your family.
Why It’s Called A Black List
Derek Walker, a copywriter and creative director in Columbia, South Carolina, is done taking the shit that institutional racism deals out.
Go to many of the agency websites, and look at the leadership section, only one group is less represented than Black men. This isn't a "hijacking" or a "comparison" thing. There can be no true diversity if one group is left out.
— Derek Walker (@dereklwalker) December 13, 2018
Like Gallop, Walker is a warrior and his cause is just. He asks that we go to the leadership section of agency websites and look for people of color. Sadly, that’s an exercise in futility.
Diversity Is Life, Advertising Is A Mirror
Think about the strongest team you’ve ever been on. What characteristics do you attribute to that team? Was it well coached? Was the team comprised of players from a wide variety of backgrounds?
If your agency serves one demographic only, it might make sense to have but one demographic inside the agency. On the other hand, if your agency is serving multiple accounts across several unrelated industries, you owe it to your clients to have a multicultural team inside the agency.
The best ad people are human sponges who soak up new information and a client’s culture in order to speak the customer’s language and empathize with their hopes and dreams. Ad people may work as writers and designers or account service pros, but the work requires the curiosity and open-mindedness of a field anthropologist coupled with the questioning nature of an armchair psychologist.
Who are the people who are naturally adept at this? People who have lived. In other words, people who have done considerably more in their life than make ads (in addition to making “killer” ads).
Step Up Or Step Aside
There’s a talent shortage in the agency business right now, which is an absurd self-inflicted problem given how many experienced people are being passed by due to their gender, race and age.
The question is, do employers in this industry want to nurture a diverse workforce capable of amazing things, or, do employers see workers as mere labor units that must be hired for as little as possible and asked to do as much as possible?
The bean counters among us will say the pressure to perform mandates a cost-benefit approach to the business. The other side of the coin is you get what you pay for and if all you’re willing to pay for is cheap labor that is white, young and in a good mood from the Kool-Aid you made them drink, then you’re part of the problem. Why not become part of the solution? You can do the right thing and profit from your largess at the same time.