Bill is Co-Founder and CCO of Oberland, a company he started just four years ago at age 52…that most recently went on to win AdAge’s National Small Agency of the Year (yes, the #1 spot). It’s a purpose-driven agency that was 30+ years in the making, combining Bill’s long career at Kirshenbaum+Bond, Ogilvy, McCann and JWT, creating and directing campaigns for some of the world’s most iconic brands and a nearly two-year stint as Marketing Director of the Robin Hood Foundation, an organization dedicated to fighting poverty in NYC. And it’s a damn near-perfect example of “experience” being a really good thing.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
Never. I always thought that I was good at what I did and the industry would always have a need for creative leadership.
Is ageism something that’s affected you? What are some of the challenges you faced as a person who was getting older in the business? Do tell.
It was the perfect storm--just as I was getting into my mid40s, with a full head of grey hair, the ad industry was gobbled up by the holding companies, whose main focus was on drastically cutting costs to increase shareholder profits.
Soon senior creative leadership (read: ECDs) were cut and not replaced. If they were replaced, it was with young, inexperienced hipsters who spouted digital double-talk. Thousands were forced to go freelance.
Then the next wave of the digital revolution came, and anyone over 40 who had a successful career making TV commercials and print ads was considered out-of-date, out-of-touch and irrelevant to the digital-centric consumer. Overnight.
Crowdsourcing also arrived to discount the value of “ideas”. The people who were professional “creatives” for decades were sidelined and, suddenly, ideas could be outsourced to millions of “other" creative resources that might have a random jingle or cheap joke without any clue of the long-term integrated marketing at hand. In the end, good ideas became commoditized and the value a great idea, disrespected and discounted. The mentality became “if you don’t do it for this shit price, we have ten emerging agencies who will”.
Clients became confused. No one knew what the business should be, so everyone was scrambling in fear and performing random acts of desperation.
Meanwhile, while all of this chaos was happening, my life and family had mortgages, cars, health care costs, college tuitions, etc. The timing couldn’t be worse.
"Clients became confused. No one knew what the business should be, so everyone was scrambling in fear and performing random acts of desperation."
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
Of course, that was why I took the job as Marketing Director at the ROBIN HOOD FOUNDATION and not the job as President/CCO of Taxi New York.
What are your thoughts on where you are now, as you look back on your creative journey?
Everything I learned on Madison Avenue is now what I employ in the purpose-driven marketing and advertising world on behalf of the greater good. Same skill, but different focus, different goals.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Step back and think about what the hell you are marketing to innocent people who are watching TV or surfing Instagram. Is it ethical? Is it garbage? Is it really the best way to use your gift as a creative person in our modern world? Have you swallowed the Kool-Aid and gotten caught up in the flash and sex appeal of the business? Are you really doing it for the right reasons?
Also, think about who you are as a creative. Think about the creative things you're passionate about and love to do beyond advertising. You love to tell stories, you love art and craft and execution. There are lots of careers out there to do that without stepping into an ad agency.
AND don’t get stuck or lazy and stay in a job because of inertia. Trust me, the CFO has your name on a list and is asking “can we get by without this person?”
"Don’t get stuck or lazy and stay in a job because of inertia. Trust me, the CFO has your name on a list and is asking 'can we get by without this person?'"
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
Social purpose brought me real meaning as to why I get out of bed in the morning. And I love building my own agency based on working on behalf of solving the world’s pressing problems with cool, motivated people who give a shit.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
Ageism is the next CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. Women's Rights. Persons-of-Color Rights. Gay Rights. NOW we have the Persons-of-Experience Rights MOVEMENT. Age discrimination is real as well as a real crime to the individual, the family, not to mention the impact on the health and wealth of our economy.
We need to STOP talking about Old, Older, and Age BUT, rather, reframe the conversation around EXPERIENCE. I certainly do not want a 20-something hipster flying the 757 airliner I am traveling on.
"We need to stop talking about old, older, and age but, rather, reframe the conversation around experience."
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
Truth. People who are grounded and selfless and want to see community and the world served.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Art. Music. My sons. And people who have found their calling.