Laura is a recovering New Yorker/relapsed Midwesterner and the type of female creative that women can look up to—and so can the men. During her 20+ years, she’s proven time and time again (like the time she gave voices to a young Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte in a freaking hilarious Sex and the City promo) why the creative department desperately needs strong female minds.
While Laura’s life began in the heart of middle America (Toledo, Ohio to be exact) her creative life began on the cut-throat streets of NYC. And Laura more than held her own at shops like Cliff Freeman, JWT, Merkley and BBH where she was last an ECD running the global Vaseline biz. She won a bunch of awards - all the good ones, and apparently some really weird ones. Then, she decided to take a chance and move back to the Midwest to bring, as she says, a bit of NY spice to Colle McVoy. There she found out that life indeed did exist outside of New York, as do awesome creatives. And evenings without email. And grocery store baggers that cart out your groceries (for free!)
Since making the move, a few other things have changed too – Laura is now a newbie blonde, she has a toddler named Hugo, she likes to spend time trying to keep her 110-year-old house from falling down and she just bought her first 4-door car. Makes us want to make a few changes of our own.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
I think our industry makes us aware of it pretty early - you don’t go to a lot of retirement parties, you know? As I hit my mid-30’s I started to become really aware that I didn’t see a lot of women creatives past 40. That raised a lot of questions about where they went and why (we could talk about this all day). But mostly it was just unsettling because I had very, very few examples of women who were still vital in our industry past 45. There was no “see it to be it.”
"I had very, very few examples of women who were still vital in our industry past 45. There was no “see it to be it.”
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.
There is the Logan’s run phenomena (only people over 45 would get that reference ). You know you’re at the top of your game. Faster. Savvier. You’re worked on everything. You’ve finally become one of the best. Yet it feels like you’ve running up to the top of a mountain where someone will then push you off.
I think that threat makes us all incredibly motivated to take the control of our fates and out of the hands of others who might make random, biased decisions.
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?
At the beginning (well, first 15 years), it was largely still a dude’s industry and I had to figure out how to be part of their world. Having to chameleon to exist in other people’s paradigm can sometimes make you uncertain if you can trust your gut - what you’d do if you got to really be you. But over time, it actually makes your sense-of-self, rock-hard. I’ve worked at some amazing places and done some work I’m very proud of, but not one bit of it came easy. While I would have loved to have had some phases in my career where I was the fawned-over show pony, I’m now proud to identify with the scrappy honey badger.
"I’m inspired but not surprised by the study that found that startups started by a 50-year-old are twice as likely to be extremely successful as one by a 30-year-old."
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
I think the reality of the ad industry is going to force a lot of our hands, but maybe for the better. Innovation is usually a necessity of shortcomings. Our industry does its fair share of “startup incubation” without intending to.
I’m inspired but not surprised by the study that found that startups started by a 50-year-old are twice as likely to be extremely successful as one by a 30-year-old.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
I love the energy of younger people. I love that they don’t know enough not to try things we might pass by because of “experience.” But people over 50, if they’ve kept sharp and relevant, are starting at 3rd base each time we start working. We’ve got zero fucks left in our pockets so we’re going to be more straightforward and candid with clients and coworkers about what we think are the right things to do. There’s no one more decisive than a woman over 50.
"This is also your moment to keep an eye out for the young folk. Not only will you help someone ease thru the tough bits...it will help remind you how much you really know and have to offer."
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Never stop embracing the delicious discomfort of trying new things. It can be anything it just has to be new. I moved to Minnesota and had a kid. Not revolutionary for most but it was for me. You stay limber thru change.
This is also your moment to keep an eye out for the young folk. Call it mentoring. Call it the buddy system. Not only will you help someone ease thru the tough bits and maybe avoid making some of the same mistakes you did, it will help remind you how much you really know and have to offer.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
I love what I do but if you just keep doing the one thing the same way, you end up with oversized metaphorical quads. I’m curious about brand side. I’m curious about new agency models. I’m curious about making a brand(s). I’m relieved I’m still curious. I’d rather go out of my comfort zone over the next 10 years than slowly fade into comfortable oblivion.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
I don’t see agencies solving the problem. You hit a salary level and the target is on you - the model as is doesn’t enable change.
Maybe not unionizing but more formal collectivizing. Something that empowers us as individuals but with structure. Every brand doesn’t need an AOR. Every brand isn’t big enough to have an in-house team. Working as a collective of experts in a fractional manner with brands allows them to get the heavy hitters and for us to feel the power of our united brains.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
Confidence for sure. And with that comes decisiveness. When I started as a young pup, I was crying in the bathroom on a weekly basis. I wish I had more confidence in my talent starting out - so much of our business is the swagger and I wish my swagger had come in sooner.
Oh, and people finally fucking listen to what I think - at least some of the time.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
I have some wildly talented friends whom I look to for cheats on how to be better in work and in life - I channel them all the time.
I’m an oddball middle-aged lady because I had a kid in the back half of my forties. But having a toddler at my age (while exhausting) has inspired me to approach things like it’s sort of the beginning, not near the end. I want my kid to see me at the top of my game, making bold choices and being someone he can be proud of. I’m looking towards 50 with the imperative to be awesome for him.