“I told you I ain’t right.” That’s how Derek's Linked In bio ends. But make no mistake, it’s a statement of fact, not an apology. As he will tell you, being different makes for some of the most interesting creatives.
Though he got a self-proclaimed “late start” in advertising, Derek has definitely gotten his name and his perspective out there – in spite of the fact another ugly “ism” occasionally attempted to stand in his way: racism. But rather than play the victim, he became a pioneer and opened Brown and Browner, his own small shop, in 2007.
These days Derek is still creating great work as well as opportunities for other black industry talent. In fact, this past Black History Month, he dedicated his Twitter feed to recognizing one of these people every day, who otherwise would not get the recognition they deserve.
So if you ask us, Derek is definitely doing something right.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s?
Some but not much.
Is ageism something that’s affected you?
Not as much as racial discrimination.
What are some of the challenges you faced as a person who was getting older in the business? Do tell. Being Black and older, I aged out of advertising faster than my white counterparts.
"Being Black and older, I aged out of advertising faster than my white counterparts."
Tell us about your own creative journey.
I got into advertising later than most of the people I worked with – a full 10-12 years later. Once in advertising, I was fortunate to work for several nice shops. However, opportunities for progression was limited.
What are your thoughts on where you are now, compared to your mindset when you were in the beginning of your career?
I am not where I should be but I am where I need to be.
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
Yes, I chose to stop pursuing positions working for others because I was told in my evaluation that despite being a great at my job that I would never be promoted because of my race. It was a hard pill to swallow but it fueled my desire to open my own. And I did.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
Balance. Life teaches us that things are seldom simply yea or nay, and that is important with speaking to people. The message needs to have balance. There are no shortcuts to gaining experience, no courses to take or books to read – experience requires living, and people over 50 have that on younger people.
"Experience requires living, and people over 50 have that on younger people. "
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Get creative about having and keeping a job. Don’t let others restrict you because of your age. Stop playing by the rules, and cheat. Make your opportunities, build contacts and networks. Plan ahead, and try to be prepared.
How are you approaching the next 10 years?
I’m not sure but it is going to be fun!
What does your future hold?
My future holds great things. I am going to do some amazing things.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry?
I’m not sure there is a solution. Our industry reflects our society’s fascination with youth. That we are talking about it will help, but older professionals are going to have to fight to stay in the game. And it should be that way.
"...older professionals are going to have to fight to stay in the game. And it should be that way."
Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
Because so many agencies are not that large, I can see it at the holding company shops and the large independents but the majority of shops simply are too small. I wish we could unionize.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
Better understanding of work-life balance.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Hmm. It depends on the day, and what I am going through, LOL. But no one in particular.