Toby Barlow is an incredibly talented ad guy who’s written two critically acclaimed books (one of which is in the form of an epic poem), founded Detroit non-profits, put on art shows, penned articles for the likes of the New York Times, Huffington Post, and Salon, launched apps, produced a film about George Plimpton, opened a design shop, transformed an old pawn shop into a quality restaurant, and was dubbed “Candidate for Intergalactic Ambassador of Detroit” by the Metro Times.
Or maybe we should say, Toby is the Metro-Times-appointed “Candidate for Intergalactic Ambassador of Detroit” who’s written books, founded non-profits, put on art shows, penned articles, launched apps, produced a film, opened a design shop and a restaurant, and who happens to create award-winning ads in his spare time.
Or…we could just describe Toby as a very busy guy.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
Not really. I mean, I did notice that it was a young industry, kinda like Logan’s Run, people just disappeared, but I figured they were out there doing their own thing.
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.
Honestly, it’s not anything I’ve seen much of. And it has not affected me at all. I guess I could offer a perspective from the management side of things, where I’ve spent some time. I think it’s important to recognize that older employees can often be more expensive, so when management is forced to cut budgets, the 50+ art director making 175k is going to be more vulnerable than the 30+ art director making 120k. Because most times you don’t see that 55k difference showing up as experience that makes a positive difference. It should, but a lot of time it doesn’t. In fact, maybe more often than not, the extra experience just shows up as extra cynicism.
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
I’ve pretty much done whatever I wanted to do.
What are your thoughts on where you are now, as you look back on your creative journey?
I should have spent more time going home and hanging out with my kids.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
All the clichés are clichés because they’re true: Wisdom, perspective, good humor, generosity.
"All the clichés are clichés
because they’re true."
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Just keep looking for fresh relationships, a lot of time we defer to the same suppliers we have for years because we know them, it’s easy, you’ve developed a quick shorthand conversation for getting things done. But those old relationships can also lead to stale work. I’m not saying abandon your friends or cut the ties with productive vendors, just try to be objective. Ask the question, “Am I doing it because it’s going to make it good? Or because it’s going to be easy?”
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
I’m just trying to make interesting, beautiful things for the next thirty or forty years. I wanna be the Grandma Moses of marketing. But, frankly, I have no idea what’s around the corner. I gave up on trying to predict the future the minute Hillary lost.
"I gave up on trying to predict the future the minute Hillary lost."
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
Unionizing is tricky. There are so many of us and we’re spread out pretty far and wide across the landscape. I think we should be devoting our time to fighting climate change, working on prison reform, protecting the vote, and racial/feminist inclusion. I’ll put all the injustices I suffer as a professional marketer on the infinitely tiny tail end of all that.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
I think I smell bullshit faster.
"I think I smell bullshit faster."
Who do you look to for inspiration?
I look for the light, inside and out.