Joe isn’t just one of the most talented writers in the business. He was once also dubbed one of the most talented art directors in the business (exact title: “Adweek’s Art Director of the Year”) – the guy who made those Doc Marten ads every ad student at the time attempted (and failed) to recreate. That was back when he was just a young creative himself at Cole&Weber, where his name was just starting to hog the pages of Communication Arts and One Show. Let’s just say Jeff and Rich took notice, and before long, Joe was winning more awards for clients like Got Milk? and Isuzu. Then even more awards for Dan (yes, that Dan) in Portland and Amsterdam on Nike, Miller and Vodafone. Then more still with Lee (do you really have to ask) as a Creative Director on Nissan. Finally, Joe decided that maybe it was time to do award-winning work at his own agency, Blackboard Co, a company he co-founded in Austin, Texas. So he did that, too.
These days Joe is freelancing as a writer and creative director at agencies all over the world. And yes, his name still hogs the award show pages (now mostly web pages as opposed to, well, actual pages). So while Joe has gotten a whole lot older, it seems not a whole lot has changed.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
No. Not really. Oh, I know it exists. I fear it might happen to me someday. It's out there, certainly. It's a "thing" all categories of business must deal with. The creative realm is a little different. We see fashion designers and artists and The Rolling Stones exhibiting quite a bit of awesomeness far past what some would deem "their prime". If you're ever-evolving and ever-curious, you stay in your "prime" for...well, forever.
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.
No. Not yet. What I HAVE found—as it applies to age—is an occasional unwillingness to call me due to the fact that some think me too expensive or at a point in my career where I would not be negotiable with regard to my fee. Plus, at times some fear—at my level—some jobs or assignments or projects might be "beneath me". Which is crazy. I love to create and I love to write and I love to work with a good team. If nice people in wonderfully creative environments call, I care very little about my day-rate.
"If nice people in wonderfully creative environments call, I care very little about my day-rate."
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?
In all honesty, I feel I am still the guy who joined Cole Weber, Portland. Everything we did won awards and we had fun doing it. The late nights never mattered surrounded by those amazing people. We were a family. Goodby came next and we were a family there as well. We went to Grumpy's and played football in the street outside the agency. Cole&Weber was the best of times. Goodby was the best of times. GOT MILK? came along and—while great and award-winning—it wasn't that different from winning everything for Doc Martens Shoes and Klein Bikes and The Oregonian. Next was Wieden & Kennedy. Again, the best of times. You never leave the Wieden family ever. Amazing people. Amazing culture. Amazing work. The best of friends were made there. Then came Wieden/Amsterdam and then TBWA/Chiat/Day. ALL of these agencies taught me (spoiled me, actually) as far as what kind of work I wanted to do, the culture I wanted to work in, and the kind of people I wanted to be surrounded by. My best friends came from these agencies. Of course, my titles grew as did my salary. Age was never a factor. Was the work amazing? That was the only question. My agency did incredible stuff with very little money. I'm now freelancing at those and other agencies that care more about the work than my age.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
Time doesn't make you better, constant attention to your craft makes you better. That said, being at your craft for over X many years, makes you faster and more confident. I feel. (Although confidence is never in abundance with any of us at any age. Which is a very good thing. The minute you get to thinking you've got it figured out, you're done. The minute you think you've got the formula, you don't. So be fearful—slightly—and that will keep you good.) I love working with people far younger than me. I have come to know new friends who teach me things every day. Are they learning from me? Yeah, maybe. I hope. But more importantly, I AM LEARNING FROM THEM.
"Time doesn't make you better, constant attention to your craft makes you better."
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Stay exciting about your craft. Be curious. Be good. Very, very good. And never sitting around telling old stories about the glory days. Make TODAY—with the people you're with—the glory days. Years from now, make sure they're all telling stories about the day they were with YOU. (In a good way.) Act humble and be helpful and still stay late. Be an excited junior at heart. And be fucking nice. Help anyone who isn't. Help anyone who's scared or edgy or insecure by telling them you've been there and it's all going to be okay. Inspire by doing not telling. Plus—and I mean this from a standpoint of pure creativity—be the guy other creatives are a little scared of because you're so damn talented and funny and hopeful and nice and optimistic and good and wise.
"Act humble and be helpful and still stay late. Be an excited junior at heart."
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
I have no idea. Content development. I may very well take another job. But for now I'm just looking forward to working at new places with new people and doing great stuff. I'm still winning awards and doing great campaigns and helping win pitches. I'm feeling good about my future.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
No, because I just haven't experienced it. Sorry. If you're relevant and good and nice...you will always work. That's the solution to age. Stay in touch and be the best at your craft.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business? Who do you look to for inspiration?
I am faster and more confident at writing. I am better with people. I am not slowing down. I am just as good now as I have ever been. I look to the team for inspiration. I look to those around me for insight and knowledge. I read more books to help me be a better writer. I watch really great films from good directors. I search for new comedians and blogs and podcasts constantly. I am happy. And i love to type words on a page that make people laugh and cry. That's how I do it. That's how I keep young.