George has been working in advertising for well over half his life. Which has apparently given him plenty of fodder for his insightful, hilarious, influential (make that “Most Influential” according to Business Insider) blog, Adaged. It’s a project George been adding to since 2007, and he has written literally thousands of entries.
And this is in addition to his day job.
George also works as an ECD at Ogilvy, an agency he re-joined over four years ago to work on his dream account: IBM. He also worked at Ogilvy on IBM from 1999-2004. Before Ogilvy, he worked for five years as executive creative director at R/GA—running the Ameriprise business, R/GA’s first traditional-advertising account. In addition to the “Most Influential Blog" claim to fame, George has won major awards for both creativity and effectiveness in four media channels: traditional, direct, interactive and experiential. Not too shabby for “an old guy.”
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
When I was just 33 or so, I worked for an esteemed creative director who probably had 20 years on me. After some time, the client liked me more than they liked him. He was more expensive than I and crankier. The agency wound up firing him. Then about six months later, he got cancer and died. I felt responsible. What a rotten way for a great writer to be treated.
It’s a story that’s stayed in my head for almost three decades. I’m waiting for it to happen to me.
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.
Ageism affects me every day. It isolates you. Your references, your point of view, your manners, your work-style is different. And today, despite all the concocted and virulent bs about diversity, as a society we do not like people who are not like us. If they could toss people 50+ out, most agencies would happily “build that wall.”
"Today, despite all the concocted and virulent bs about diversity, as a society we do not like people who are not like us."
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?
I’m a lucky person. I loved the “work” of advertising when I was 25. I love it today, almost 37 years later. My personal belief is if you’re happy in anything four days in ten, you’re doing ok.
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
The reality of the ad industry in the holding-company era has definitely affected my career path. The industry is now a low-wage one. If you live in an expensive city like New York, you have to work into old age, or you’ll retire into a dirty nursing home or a two-bedroom condo in Bridge Mix, New Jersey.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
We understand how the business works. Not the “fake ad,” awards-industrial-complex. The business. I shot a spot with Pytka once with Ridley Scott as our celebrity subject. In chatting Ridley Scott said, “I’ve shot 2000 spots.” Pytka said, “I”ve shot 4000.” No one should ever discount the know-how gained from experience. If you do, I have two words for you: Donald Trump.
"No one should ever discount the know-how gained from experience. If you do, I have two words for you: Donald Trump."
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
My advice is the same no matter how old you are: work your ass off. Keep your portfolio up-to-date. Do good work. Make a name for yourself.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
As I said above, I love the “work” of advertising. I do a lot of freelance after hours and on weekends. Clients come directly to me and say, “I have a complicated problem. Can you unravel it.” I can do that until I die.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
There will eventually be a demographic case for hiring older people. There aren’t that many younger people. Certainly not that many willing to learn how to create work that appeals to an older population. If I see one more commercial where someone spontaneously starts dancing, I might self-immolate.
Unionization is a great idea that has about as much chance of happening as finding a salamander with the voice of Sinatra.
"Unionization is a great idea that has about as much chance of happening as finding a salamander with the voice of Sinatra."
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
There is great joy when you meet young people who understand that you’re not a fool because you’re old. A lot of us old people have huge caches of knowledge. A lot of us are willing to share that knowledge. Especially if an agency made it part of our jobs to teach—not just an add on to the already too-many hours we work.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Because of my success as a blogger, I’ve made friends with great, inspiring people around the world. It’s a loose, atomized bunch of people. We provoke each other with ads we like, stories we’ve heard, issues we’re dealing with. And sometimes Chinese food down at Joe’s Shanghai.