Why 'The Mongoose'? Easy. Jim's site is quirkily called Quick Like Mongoose. And we have to say, it's one of the more interesting sites we've come across. It's this seemingly endless scroll of–we don't want to say 'side projects' because that sounds too small–a better description would be: just cool...stuff. Really cool stuff. And a lot of it.
Jim has taken his life experiences and crystalized them into dozens of amazing works. The death of his dog became Gone Dogs, a gorgeous coffee table book filled with tributes to the dogs that leave us, all crowdsourced by people from around the world going through the same grieving process.
From being a successful blogger, publisher, novelist, film festival guru to founding one of the industries first 'virtual agencies', Jim is full of big ideas. And we have no doubt he's got more coming soon...because he's quick. Like a mongoose. You get it.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
No. I got into this business when I was 35. I didn’t give a damn what the rules were. I had talent and knew it. Once I got the chance to prove it, I killed it. But I was working for a PR-type agency and was a little too “creative” (intense) for them and so only lasted about 18 months–but not before winning the agency its first ever awards, local and national. After leaving that agency, I decided to go out on my own and specialize in creative messaging that moved people to act. It was a slow go over the years. But now that I’m old and trying to pitch myself as a copywriter, ageism is like this Del Toro monster staring back at me in the mirror every day.
"Now that I’m old and trying to pitch myself as a copywriter, ageism is like this Del Toro monster staring back at me in the mirror every day."
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.
First there’s this idea that I’m too expensive. At the top of my scale I charge $150/hour. But not everything gets my top rate. I mean, I’ve paid more bills copyediting the last few years than copywriting. And that’s a different rate. But here’s the other thing, I don’t fuck around. I know how to think. That translates into more efficiency and fewer hours than someone junior. Not to mention better, more relevant ideas straight away. All that said, I almost never work to an hourly rate anymore and prefer working to a project budget. It’s just easier for everyone and I’m not competing against someone who charges less, but with less chops. When someone asks about my hourly rate, a red flag rises in my mind that they don’t understand the value of the work.
The second misconception is that because I’m old I have no good ideas. Which is just total bullshit. All of my life experiences have lead to this wide, fertile field in my heart that I draw from to connect with people.
"All of my life experiences have lead to this wide, fertile field in my heart that I draw from to connect with people."
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?
Even though I was an old guy starting out in this business, I suppose I was not unlike any copywriter starting out. I was hungry and wanted to be fed as much work as possible. I thrived in shifting from project to project to project. Those 18 months at the PR-type agency were brilliant for my creativity—even though so much of what I conceived was "too audacious” to present to our clients.
When I morphed from sitting in a dimly lit office where I deconstructed problems to working on my own, I quickly realized that my creativity meant nothing without work. So my creative energy shifted from engaging buyers of products and services for others to getting my own buyers to consider me for their services.
Every once in a while I’ll land a branding project where I can do some serious damage, but mostly what I’ve discovered is that small-to-mid-sized businesses need help with marketing, not so much advertising. Because I came to be in the digital age, it’s a perfect fit for me to help companies sort through the digital gauntlet in terms of how this integrates with their overarching marketing schemes. It’s not highly creative, but it pays the bills. And sometimes I get to craft tactical messaging aimed at hitting specific goals.
I will say that at 55, I’m a better writer than at any point in my life. When I do get the opportunity to write for clients, it’s good stuff. On target. On brand. Resonant with the audience. All that. But unlike my agency work that won awards, I tell people all the time that the work I do now, despite its effectiveness, would seem boring to most people who aren’t the target audience.
As a writer, I hone my craft by blogging, writing short fiction, and writing poetry. I even wrote a novel called Minor King a few years ago. It features a copywriter who may or may not go insane.
"The only reality that has affected me about the industry is that talent alone isn’t a path to success. You need to know how to play the game. I suck at the game."
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
The only reality that has affected me about the industry is that talent alone isn’t a path to success. You need to know how to play the game. I suck at the game. Which is not to say I’m a cancer, but rather have a hard time suffering political bullshit. And mostly, not suffering political bullshit doesn’t work.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
Something you learn as you circle the sun gaining wisdom is that old people have all sorts of value. That is unless you’re an agency executive—then you just see older people as too expensive or creatively barren. But the truth is, we have more value to younger people than anyone else. Every shop should have a few older creative people on staff. As long as they have talent, that is. I mean just because you’re old and have endured doesn’t mean you’re still relevant. As far as copywriting is concerned, I’ve thought about becoming a copy chief to help younger writers learn the nuances of the craft—particularly in how to think about problems. I know a lot of younger writers and the one thing they all seem to lack is “how” to think. But man, once you learn this it’s like you become a completely different problem solver.
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Get out. I’m not kidding. If you’re even slightly skeptical whether you want to spend the rest of your career in this business, get the fuck out. You’re still young enough to do something else and rise to the top of your field. Go back to college. Buy a food truck. Go to work for the FBI. Because here’s the deal, if you’re skeptical or unsure now? You’re about to hit a level of crazy you’re not going to manage well. However, if advertising is in your blood and you can’t escape its lure, then do whatever it takes to stay relevant. And for crying out loud don’t worry about your age. Just kill. Prove your worth. Over and over. Because you love it.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
I try not to think about it because it’s pretty scary. If I’m up against this ageism thing now, in ten years I’ll be the angry guy shouting at clouds. But here’s the thing, my creativity isn’t limited to writing. Sure, it’s the core of who I am, but I have a lot of balls in the air right now. I am writing a second novel, and have concepts for a few more. I also have a book of poetry in the works. And my design partner, Laurie Smithwick, and I just launched a book called Gone Dogs which is a crowd-sourced endeavor that has taken us five years to self-publish. I mean just managing what comes next for that book, which has massive market appeal and a built-in marketing engine, could literally take up 40 hours a week right now. I also have a few other business ideas I’m working on—things that are less about money, and more about doing good. Because the other thing about aging is that you start caring more about … everything.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
I like the idea of unionizing. Granted, I don’t know the specifics, but if there were a way that we lowly billygoats could take some control of our industry then I’m all for it. And it would no-doubt yield better work too. Why? Diversity. America’s forefathers saw diversity as a primary component for a thriving pluralistic Republic. When we invest our money we don’t put it all in one stock. Painters use a range of shades and colors for their work. Hell, the earth’s ecosystem is symbiotic and thrives on diversity as each plant and animal brings its own value to the whole. So why can’t advertising work that way? We are in the business of ideas, after all. IDEAS. Intangible things aimed at moving people to act or think a certain way. How the fuck does anyone expect to cast the widest net possible with narrow thinking? It makes no sense.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
It’s kinda cool when people who know the value of creatives who have done some damage in their careers treat you with respect.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
My wife. She’s the bravest person I know. Also, children. Being a parent these past 18 years, I’ve learned that children see things cleaner. As we grow older we tend to approach things through dirty lenses. They don’t. I envy that. And I believe that accessing this perspective is critical in creative problem solving. Sometimes we have to unlearn.