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Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s?  Your 40s?
It’s musical chairs, right?  The music stops every time you lose an account or hit a recession, and the folks with the bigger salaries and grayer hairs find empty cardboard boxes stacked by their desks. You’d have to be pretty clueless not to notice that. I’d be fooling myself to think my 42-year run was solely because of hard work or talent.  I was lucky to have landed a spot at BBDO, which had a tradition of valuing seasoned creatives.  But sometimes it was just the random luck of being attached to a client when the angel of death went strolling the halls. 





"I found myself in the role of senior statesperson-slash-smokejumper, parachuting in to save accounts the divas had blown up. I became that guy I swore I’d never be, but it kept me in the race."





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.
I remember being a young hotshot, looking at the older guys (they were all guys) who handled the big, complicated, corporate accounts and thinking, “What a hack… I’ll NEVER be that guy.” Then, one day, you realize hotshots tend to flame out, but people with the broad skill set of strategic insights, storytelling skills, political awareness, common sense PLUS creative ability have longevity. 
I might have won more awards by being a diva who only gets put on choice accounts, but I found myself in the role of senior statesperson-slash-smokejumper, parachuting in to save accounts the divas had blown up. I became that guy I swore I’d never be, but it kept me in the race.

Tell us about your own creative journey.  What are your thoughts on where you are now, compared to your mindset when you were in the beginning of your career? 
A play in four acts: 
I - A kid with a degree in architecture graduates into an economy with 20% interest rates and is forced to look at other jobs.  Fortunately, he turns down a job designing weapons systems, at which he would have been terrifyingly good. An ad guy in Richmond tells him what a spec book is. Unaware that a spec should take six months or so to create, the kid comes back with one a few days later and gets hired, purely for his pluck.
II - The young man works his ass off to improve his book, bouncing among regional hot shops, and becomes chief creative officer of the largest agency network south of New York by age 30, for which he is wholly unprepared, and does not much enjoy. 
III - Tired of relocating his family with each career move, he allows the black hole of New York to suck him in, finding a home as an ECD at BBDO, where he stays for 27 years. Headhunters come calling for Chief Creative Officer jobs elsewhere, but he realizes that he likes making things, not just talking about making things. 
IV - COVID. Revenge of the suburban empty nesters who know how to get shit done and are not trapped in Brooklyn apartments with screaming kids. Working from home is practice for the early retirement he has dreamed of for decades.  He pulls the ripcord at 62, turns down all the freelance offers that follow, and walks off into the sunset.





"Have a full life beyond your work life."






Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
The day you climb off the horse – or get bucked off – it’s not just your email that shuts down. Those people you shared foxholes with rush off to the next battle and you cease to exist. Your shared experiences may have seemed like life and death, but those folks will not be holding your hand on your deathbed.
I alway made sure to have other passions in my life; family, community involvements, service on boards, creative hobbies. I started a foundation and a new company.  Have a full life beyond your work life.

What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?   
Oh, how many times I sat juniors down and gave them unsolicited fatherly advice:
1.    Keep building your book. Never get comfortable (and overpaid) doing crap work on a bad account. One day it will leave for reasons you never saw coming, and you will find yourself on the sidewalk with a fat mortgage and a thin book.
2.    Save. Fully fund your IRA/401K/529/company stock plan every year, no matter what. Best case scenario: you can retire early.  Worst case scenario: someone makes you retire early. And don’t ever tell me you find personal finance too confusing. It’s our job to convince multinational corporations that we can improve their profitability…but you can’t figure out your IRA?! 
3.    Learn every new technology and platform. When computers came along, I had a partner who thought he didn‘t need to learn how to use them, except for checking his stock portfolio; his bones are now in a dinosaur exhibit. 






"If I were starting out today, I’d look at creative opportunities in other fields and try to climb aboard a rocketship like the next Google or Apple, instead of endlessly trying to pull up a lumbering jumbo jet that is sputtering on fumes."






What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Prayer and lottery tickets are not a back-up plan. I just missed the gravy train when the big dog creatives got crazy rich. But I did get to lap up a little of what they spilled. Not sure that happens now.
Honestly, If I were starting out today, I’d look at creative opportunities in other fields and try to climb aboard a rocketship like the next Google or Apple, instead of endlessly trying to pull up a lumbering jumbo jet that is sputtering on fumes.

How are you approaching the next 10 years?  What does your future hold?
Even before I gave notice, I started a company called TellBetter, making highly-produced app-based audio walking tours, (Today NYC, tomorrow, the world!) I started with my own app, but moved all my tours to VoiceMap, so I can focus on what I love: telling great stories, using all the skills and tools  learned in advertising: great writing, humor, heartstrings, sound effects, music, and drama.  No clients. No creative directors.  No lawyers. I spend all day just making stuff that pleases me. Great podcasts are an art form.  I’m trying to achieve the same thing, except on location, telling stories where they actually happened. I’m not doing it for the money… though I’m actually starting to make some.  Unlike ads, which people actively avoid, my content is something people seek out, pay for, and recommend to their friends. Ads are ephemeral; my tours are evergreen. And every time someone leaves a nice review I find it way more satisfying than all those Clios, pencils and Effies I won.





"I owe a great deal of my success to my stay-at-home wife who made it possible for me to slave away in the ad foundry night and day.  Maybe the union’s first demand should be to supply every creative with a spouse."






What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry?  Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
I never gave unionizing any thought. Eight hour workdays? No emails on weekends? Promotions based on seniority? How would that work?
In my early years I was probably one of those hardcore Darwinists who thought, “If you want job security, work for the post office.” But the painful truth is that I owe a great deal of my success to my stay-at-home wife who made it possible for me to slave away in the ad foundry night and day.  Maybe the union’s first demand should be to supply every creative with a spouse.

What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business? 
I learned the value of storytelling. Not just in a commercial, but in a strategy, and in a meeting. 
I used to tell kids to go buy an old-fashioned joke book, and every day, walk around telling one of the jokes until you perfect it.  The set-up, the build-up, the blow-up, the up-shot; that’s the arc of every story, funny or not.

Who do you look to for inspiration?
Roman Mars, whose podcast, 99% Invisible, was telling great audio stories about the things that shape our world before podcasting was even a thing. And Dr. Seuss, a guy who delighted – and enlightened – millions, with nothing more than silly words and drawings.

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