Tim was an account guy for a long time. He started and sold a garden design business. He’s been in two rock and/or roll bands. He was a writer/performer on a sketch comedy TV show. He started the catchphrase “That shit is Kodak." It hasn’t caught on yet.
But that’s neither here nor there. Tim makes advertising. and it’s the best advertising ever done. Of course, this is according to his mom. and that’s the only praise Tim needs. After all, gold trophies don’t give lengthy, comforting hugs.
Tim has been recognized by some very nice organizations: ADC, Addy, Archive, Cannes, Clio, D&AD, Directory, Echo, Epica, London International, Mercury, NY Festivals, Obie, One Show, Webby. He currently lives on a cloud with his wife Vicki, son Lincoln and daughter Harriet.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
Hell yes. From day one, you are very aware that this is a young persons’ business. Grey hairs potentially signaled a career’s demise. You noticed executives in their 40’s dressing younger and hipper. If someone in their 40’s wasn’t already a key, top executive you sensed they were one account loss away from early retirement.
Part of ageism is money. People start to make large salaries in their 30’s and 40’s. And that can’t last forever, when you look at the bottom line. And Advertising is a bottom line business, an extremely financially volatile business; if you lose a big account then it’s only natural to look at who’s making top dollar.
And part of it, unfortunately is casting - what clients are looking for. Clients want hip. Clients want people who are tapped into an ever-changing digital landscape. So your team has to look the part, your team needs to look culturally savvy, your team can’t be a bunch of old folks, ie, 40’s and 50’s.
Granted, I don’t believe any of what I just wrote. Those words are for holding company executives to convince themselves they’re doing the right thing when they lay off older employees.
And it’s bullshit. One, you are as young as you feel, act, think. Two, you need people in the room who know what they’re doing. And that means older people.
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.
That question happens to be my personal journey. Because of various career swerves, I didn’t become a junior copywriter in a creative department until I was 34. And so I missed the years it takes to cut your teeth and make mistakes. I felt I had to be great right out of the gate. And, honestly, I wasn’t; I still had a lot of mistakes to make and things to learn. So I’ve always been hyper-aware of what I need to know and read and be up to date on, the language I needed to incorporate, the youthful look I needed to fake.
I’m an Executive Creative Director now, and 52 (going on 53 in two days). Recently when interviewing I had a headhunter question if I was too old for some CCO/ECD jobs she was dangling. She asked if I was a young 52, or an old 52. Could I have the stamina to go out with clients every week and schmooze and dine and drink? She also wondered where the hell I’ve been this whole time? How come I wasn’t famous at 52, when you either are famous, or you’re not working.
It hurt. Having to defend my stamina, and my past. But I got the job, so fuck you.
"I’ve always been hyper-aware of what I need to know and read and be up-to-date on, the language I needed to incorporate, the youthful look I needed to fake."
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
Hell yes. A year ago I looked around and saw what everyone who is smart is seeing. Agency-of-Record being replaced by projects and assignments. Retainer fees slashed dramatically. Holding companies restructuring with rounds of layoffs. In-house creative departments replacing agencies. And I refused to ignore it or be unprepared for it.
I think most agencies are going to choose one of the staffing models that you could choose from when building an agency, as the only staffing model to choose from. A few talented, top dollar leaders at the top of the org chart, and then a bunch of cheap and very young talented people below them. That comfy, cozy, well-paid middle ground of CDs and Senior creatives will start to go away. And that’s where I was a year ago. Cozy. Comfy. Well paid. So I knew I had to step up into a top leadership position to avoid being expendable. And that’s what I did, thank god.
What are your thoughts on where you are now, as you look back on your creative journey?
Well, i get “it” now. The point of advertising.
We are in the entertainment business.
We have to find a few moments a year for our clients to be culturally relevant or interesting.
Life is too short to fuck around and compromise.
We are here to make famous things, plain and simple.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
First, I’d like to flip the script and realize ageism is a two-way street. When you’re 40 or 50 you need to let the people in their 20’s and 30’s lead, present, take charge. Remember when WE were young and the CD or ECD sent us to the clients to present and sell and listen? Do the same for them. I see it a lot; the CD in their 40’s or 50’s who doesn’t think the young ones are ready yet. Yes, they are. Especially if you’ve showed them and taught them how to solve problems in real time with clients.
Back to your question, I think someone who’s 50 has a couple of positive things to bring to the table.
One, we’ve been to all the rodeos so we can avoid the old traps.
Two, our egos are tempered so we can relax and truly look out for all the people we manage and lead; it’s putting THEM into a position to succeed, not me.
Three, I don’t give a fuck anymore. Honestly, I’m older than most clients so I don’t have to pipe down or fall into a client-services role of subservience. I know what I’m talking about, I know what I believe and I’ll let you know it.
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
With a hoarse and hushed voice I will whisper “stay relevant”.
What the hell does that mean? Re-invent yourself. Try entirely new things. Are you known as a comedy tv script master? Only ask to work on serious accounts; only ask to be assigned digital briefs.
I would also say, “Friend, you need to step up and lead. You need to warrant your paycheck. You need to be indispensable.”
My other piece of advice would be to have everyone ask themselves “what would you rather be doing if you weren’t doing this?” Be prepared and already set up for that thing.
Want to write a book? Start it now. Want to open a bed & breakfast? Do your research now. Test the waters on the next adventure while you’re still being paid in this adventure. Because that day will come soon enough.
By the way, I’ve started a book. Its working title is “they’re going to write books about me.” #money
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
There’s a wonderful quote in our business that goes like this: the great ones are afraid they’re about to be let go every day; the mediocre ones are always surprised when they are.
Not saying I’m great, but I am saying I approach each day, week, year as if it’s my last and not by my decision. Which makes it more fun, as well as it gives you a permission slip to take chances, be bold at every opportunity.
I’m also saving money.
"There’s a wonderful quote in our business that goes like this: 'The great ones are afraid they’re about to be let go every day; the mediocre ones are always surprised when they are.'"
What’s one thing the industry could do to make you think they are taking combating ageism seriously?
Invest in employees who are in their 40s and 50s with training, seminars, classes, tools to understand and thrive in a new world of digital media. Doesn’t that sound great?
Let’s be realistic, and at least offer continued employment and the choice to take salary cuts versus a pink slip and a cardboard box.
So those who love advertising, and have more to give and share, can keep having purpose.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
The word unionizing caught me off guard. What a wonderful idea.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
I have come to realize that none of this matters. Yes, I treat it like a career and a mission. But it’s not my life nor should it define me. That’s taken me a long time to understand.
"It’s not my life nor should it define me. That’s taken me a long time to understand."
Who do you look to for inspiration?
There are two ways, to me, to answer that.
One, I’ll always look around the world for anything and everything that blows me away, makes me feel, think, smile. Art, film, stand-up, a random video on the Internet, college radio, people arguing on the sidewalk, graffiti, all of it. I love a simple idea, no matter where it lives or comes from. You know, I like being open and inspired by life.
Two, I will always be inspired by young and hungry creatives who want to be great, who want to be famous, who want to live up to their potential. I am inspired to give them the environment and the room tone to do the best work of their lives.