Though Mark truly can’t believe he’s been working as a creative director and writer for 20+ years (tell us about it, Mark), his experience working with some of the most respected agencies and clients across America keeps him in demand as a heavy-hitting freelancer.
Of course, when things do get a bit quiet (like during, ohhh, the beginning of Covid, amIright?), Mark refused to slow down. Instead he and his partner donated their time to heeding the NY governor’s call for videos urging people to wear a mask.The result was a brilliant twist on some iconic NYC characters. We blame pesky “rights” issues for the fact they were totally and completely robbed.
As if Mark’s work weren’t envy-inducing enough, he also gets to spend much of his time in a super cool cabin in the Catskills. It’s a place that inspired him to take on yet another project (more about that below) for which we assume he will do his own brilliant advertising. We seriously can’t wait to check it out.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
In my 30s, not at all. In my 40s, a little. The industry is notorious for worshipping at the altar of youth, but I’ve never dwelled on it. For the most part, I’ve found if you focus on the work—and just do a great job—that offsets age bias more often than not.
"[I] knew I was older than 95% of the people there. On one hand, it’s like, damn, that’s depressing. On the other hand, it’s validating."
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.
In recent years, I’ve passed through some agencies, looked around, and knew I was older than 95% of the people there. On one hand, it’s like, damn, that’s depressing. On the other hand, it’s validating: I must be doing something right to keep getting called back. Look, this business is crazy. I have no doubt a big part of my success as a freelancer comes back to just staying focused: keeping my head down and letting the nutty/dumb/uncontrollable stuff roll off my back.
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?
When I first started, I was hungry but so green. I was fortunate to catch a huge break: getting hired as a creative assistant at Chiat Day NY. At the time, the creative department was packed with incredible talent: Ty Montague, David Angelo, Dion Hughes, Steve Miller, Mimi Cook, Dick (Rick) Sittig, Rob Slosberg, Marc Lucas, Tom Miller and Todd Grant, among others.
At Chiat, I soaked up as much learning and craft as possible from the all-stars around me, taking on briefs even the juniors didn’t want while going to SVA at night for additional learning. That led to another big break: getting hired as a writer at Weiss Whitten Stagliano, one of the hottest creative shops in New York at the time. Having Nat Whitten and Marty Weiss as mentors (and friends to this day) was a dream come true.
I will say, early on, I was more superficial than I’d care to admit, overly focused on awards (something I never think about now), job titles and the ad lifestyle. As I grew, I learned that awards are fine, but it’s really about building brands. To that end, I discovered it was wise to learn as much as I could from the planners, producers, and account people. I guess that’s another way of saying, I came to understand the bigger picture.
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
I’d worked full time for over a decade, then sort of fell into freelance. But the more I did it, the more I found it brought a freedom to better carve out my own path. To take on projects that interested me and collaborate with great partners and clients I wanted to work with, while mostly bypassing the unsavory agency stuff—the politics, the constant meetings, working every weekend.
"The more you live, the more you experience the tougher side of life... I may be getting too dark here, but I do think from those experiences you gain humility—and that makes you a better colleague."
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
Perspective and patience, for sure. But maybe more than anything, empathy. The more you live, the more you experience the tougher side of life. From health and relationship challenges to the deaths of friends and family. I may be getting too dark here, but I do think from those experiences you gain humility—and that makes you a better colleague.
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Stay curious. Stay current. Collaborate without ego. And for Christ’s sake, be nice. The great line, “Everyone is going through something,” couldn’t be more true.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
I really enjoy working directly with clients. I’d like to expand that and do more pro bono as well. At the same time, I see myself diversifying beyond advertising. For instance, in the coming year I’ll be launching a cabin rental community in the Catskills. On that note, while I’m a long-time NYC resident, I’ve been spending more and more time in upstate New York. Being in that beautiful physical and spiritual space, surrounded by nature, has been invaluable in helping me refresh my battery, so I can bring a fresh mind and heart to my work. And it’s fueled my other passions as well: music, cycling, real estate, photography, food and travel, to name a few.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
Unionizing? I don’t see that happening. But ageism? Like other injustices, it starts with people shining a light on it. Over 30 under 30 (SFX: rapturous applause) is a great example. Of course, and this is the big one, it would take institutional change from agencies. I don’t know anyone who sees that happening. Perhaps one day, like other professions, seasoned ad folks will be viewed not as out of touch and pricey but as indispensable aces and money well spent.
"Most of the older creatives I know and work with are the best they’ve ever been. Faster. Smarter. More laser-focused. With fewer fucks given, yet somehow easier going."
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
I finally accepted that there will always be people far better than myself, but that’s okay. I’m still good enough. Letting that negative energy go (well, mostly go) was liberating. I could be drinking my own Kool-Aid, but I think my skills are getting better all the time. That’s really the irony: most of the older creatives I know and work with are the best they’ve ever been. Faster. Smarter. More laser-focused. With fewer fucks given, yet somehow easier going.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Too many to list here. Barack and Michelle Obama. Anthony Bourdain. Dolly Parton. Wes Anderson. Mariano Rivera. Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Chuck Berry. But also, regular, everyday people: Little league coaches. Young political activists. Animal rescuers. Every single nurse.