No one can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan…and totally forget her boss is a man like Alison. (Indeed, we do love a good Gen X reference). Not only did this talented CD/art director do noteworthy advertising for brands like Sears, Kmart, BMW, Maidenform and Keds, she also did quite a few super impressive non-advertising things too. Like co-founding two startup companies, including WAT-AHH!, the first functional bottled water for kids with distribution in over 15,000 stores nationwide. She also created the children’s video, LittleWalks New York, a virtual stroller ride through the city that was voted Parenting Magazine’s Video of the Year. And she did it all as a single mom. So, yeah, something tells us ageism is no match for Alison.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
It wasn’t something I thought about, though I did have the impression that advertising creatives were “put out to pasture” once they hit their fifties. And it really is true, you don’t see a lot of gray hair in advertising.
"As a freelancer for much of my career, I never took the lulls in work personally, or as ageism. I just figured agencies didn’t have the robust budgets that they used to...Of course, if I were currently on the search for a full-time position, I’m sure my answer could very much differ."
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.
As a freelancer for much of my career, I never took the lulls in work personally, or as ageism. I just figured agencies didn’t have the robust budgets that they used to. But the work always picks up again. Of course, if I were currently on the search for a full-time position, I’m sure my answer could very much differ. Freelance is a short-term relationship and most of the time the only thing that’s being judged before you get there is your book. In full-time, many more factors come into play, and I suspect some of those factors are things the people hiring wouldn’t admit.
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?
Growing up in advertising in New York in the 90’s was an experience that could never be beat. Kirshenbaum & Bond was my boot camp, and I’ll be forever grateful to Richard and Bill Oberlander for giving me a chance and pushing me to realize what I’m capable of. But I’m excited about this time in my life, too. My kids just left for college, so now I have the freedom to freelance anywhere in the world, travel, and enjoy new challenges and experiences.
"I’d say a bigger contributor was the reality of being a single mom. I couldn’t commit to traveling for more than a few days. I needed and wanted to be home for my kids."
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
I’d say a bigger contributor was the reality of being a single mom. I couldn’t commit to traveling for more than a few days. I needed and wanted to be home for my kids. This started to become a problem with shoots that were often out of the country and could last for weeks. But I soon realized that these issues could be virtually solved by going freelance. I wouldn’t need to travel to clients and freelancers rarely go on shoots. Of course, while this lifestyle has been great for me and my family, I do realize I sacrificed career growth in some ways. But the other choice would have been sacrificing family, so ultimately I know it was the right decision.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
When I step into a new agency, I come with fresh eyes and ears. And one thing I’ve noticed, especially during long-term freelance CD jobs is that the young creatives are craving mentorship. So much is done over email and faster than ever that I think there’s little time to really learn the craft. I’ve noticed they really value that one-on-one time, figuring out how to trust their instincts and how to make their ideas better.
"I would advise people to try not to categorize themselves as older. Once that adjective is in your head, it’s hard to get it out and you fight against it and/or try to hide it."
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
I would advise people to try not to categorize themselves as older. Once that adjective is in your head, it’s hard to get it out and you fight against it and/or try to hide it. This is your time to lead and your leadership is really needed now. While wisdom and experience are underused in this time of fast and cheap, I do think they are still valued. So stay positive, stay nimble and stay inspired.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
Right now the plan is to keep freelancing, but if a full-time opportunity came about that offered interesting challenges and felt like a really good fit, I’d certainly be open to it. I’ve realized my true passion is branding, so I hope to be able to focus more on that. I guess you could say, I’m not really making a definitive plan, but continuing to follow what feels right. I’d say I’m more excited than fearful as approach the next decade.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
Forums like this are a great start. I always thought that surviving in advertising was about staying young. But now I feel it’s less about age and more about just staying relevant. Cindy Gallop (59) is a great example of that. But I suppose I try to stay positive, because the thought of work drying up is too damn terrifying.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
I’ve learned that being a good person matters. That you can be both successful and kind. I’ve also learned the importance of self-care. Meditate, get a massage, go see a movie. Creatives need to recharge and step away from the work now and then, so we can come back invigorated, with a fresh perspective.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Anthony Sperduti and his new agency Mythology is a big inspiration. He has mastered the art of strategic, conceptual design and has really paved his own way in the industry. Also, Megan McGlynn, the founder of Girlsday, has been a powerful advocate for women, especially women of color, in advertising.