There is that saying about Fred Astaire, "Sure he was great, but don't forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did, backwards… and in high heels." We always think of this quote when thinking about creatives of color and how they have to navigate our way too-white industry. They have had to endure an extra burden that for years most of us have never even considered let alone experienced. Howard is one of those creatives who not only carried that burden, but used it to help shape his stellar and enviable career path. Howard's portfolio site bills him as TV Writer, Creative Director, Strategist, Man of the People. We'd like to add one more thing: Source of Inspiration.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Though race and exclusion were always a part of my advertising industry experience, ultimately I began my transition into television writing and producing because I knew I’d age out soon. I was 35, freelancing, and stalling out. I knew the business well enough to know that regardless to the actual reason I hadn’t found an agency home commiserate with my experience and accomplishments to that point, I was going to soon be unemployable and undesirable on the basis of age alone.
"I left the business before it could discard 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.
I never felt like ageism affected my career. I knew it would cost me as it has others. But, I left the business before it could discard me. As it would’ve.
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
I loved advertising. I pursued it from a very young age. I went to a great graduate program. I started at (what was initially) a boutique shop. But, my successes weren’t met with the type of exposure or opportunity my white counterparts received. I worked harder, smarter, but still nothing. I was assured it wasn’t about race. It was. I operated on the margins for years. I made good money, but I earned every cent the hard way and with zero security. Undercharging and overdelivering as a freelancer while my partners got hired/offers time and again, I didn’t. Which brings us back to ageism which certainly applies to everyone. I had to accept my journey for what it was and at 35 had to plan a way out, before I was kicked out
"I was assured it wasn’t about race. It was... [I was] undercharging and overdelivering as a freelancer while my partners got hired/offers time and again."
What are your thoughts on where you are now, as you look back on your creative journey?
I laugh a lot about working over 15 years in advertising and always finding my most difficult experiences occurred at the agency and not with the client. The constant series of moving targets about how my work didn’t work, didn’t fit, didn’t serve the need. Then, upon focusing on Hollywood and using all my experience and reputation to financially support my transition, I won Lions and other awards and got the opportunity to work at Facebook/Instagram Creative Shop. I was never good enough until I’d had enough… and left NYC advertising for Hollywood.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
Creatives of a certain age have stories and know how to tell them. They also have refined taste, life experience, curiosity to keep growing and know how to do more, better, faster. A 50 year creative transcends eras and appreciates all of it but has an eye to the future with a sense of how to utilize everything now and ahead. (Assuming they stay current which they likely do and have.)
"I’d ask if you’re in that top 1% of 1% of partnership or leadership. If not, start thinking of how to leverage every little creative skill, contact, craft and trick you have accumulated over the years to pursue your passion."
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Nearing 40 in advertising… I’d ask if you’re in that top 1% of 1% of partnership or leadership. If not, start thinking of how to leverage every little creative skill, contact, craft and trick you have accumulated over the years to pursue your passion. For me, I loved TV. I’m a pop culture encyclopedia. I’d always taken sitcom classes at NYU. But, only to make me a better “ad guy.” But with race and age being such massive obstacles, I started thinking how do I make money doing something else that I love. So, I decided to take this leap.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
Personal development and creative development. Growing and maturing as a husband, father, son, creative. Creatively, making something that matters to someone on a consistent basis. My future holds a few “created” and “executive producer” credits on popular ½ hour cable and streaming shows, if all goes according to plan.
What’s one thing the industry could do to make you think they are taking combating ageism seriously?
Become what they’ve always insisted they are: All about the work. A 40+ creative should be judged on creative. Everyone should be judged on what they can bring to people and projects. Everyone.
"Everyone should be judged on what they can bring to people and projects. Everyone."
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
A union is always a beautiful thing. But, it’s never a fix all.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
Clarity. Acceptance. Passion. After trying so many different ways to exist and advance in advertising, I came to an understanding about conscious exclusion on a few different grounds. As I matured, I realized it has been and will be that way and it was time for me to move on. I never lost my hunger or fire, I simply redirected it to something considerably more rewarding.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
I look to ANYONE who can capture a moment of excellence and share it. As I type, it’s in TV, very select episodes of Atlanta, Fleabag, Ramy. In advertising and/or tech it’s some of the work I see from my former colleagues at Creative Shop that serve clients, communities and artists so well.