Jennie first got our attention when we read her recent article about finally hitting her stride as an advertising Creative…at 46. It was a perfect mixture of angry, hilarious and unapologetically honest…and we had to include this talented, newly-appointed Creative Director on our list.
Jennie’s copywriting career began in 1997 at McCann Erickson, Seattle. Three years later she left to explore the constant state of panic that is freelance, working on clients like Amazon, Starbucks and Microsoft and sitting at random desks in most major agencies in Seattle. In 2003, she joined WONGDOODY as Sr. Copywriter where she created award-winning work for Alaska Airlines and the Seattle International Film Festival, among others. Throw in a long freelance stint in the middle where most people thought she never left, and then Jennie officially rejoined WONGDOODY in 2016 as a Creative Director on Papa Murphy's Pizza and Litehouse Foods.
And something tells us this is only the beginning.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
In my 30’s I saw it as something in the far, far distant future, like wearing plastic rain bonnets or mall walking.
In my early 40’s I still didn’t think about it till one day I realized that some of the juniors and interns could technically be my children. There’s a quote that says, “the difference between being too young and too old happens in one night.” And that was me- one day, I just realized I wasn’t part of the “young” crowd anymore. But it wasn’t really a bad thing, just a sudden awareness.
"There’s a quote that says, 'The difference between being too young and too old happens in one night.' And that was me."
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.
It’s not something I’ve felt until this year, when I went to apply for a scholarship to an event at Cannes called See It Be It (SIBI) that’s for up-and-coming female creative directors. The qualifications specified women with 6-10 year’s experience and I have 22. But I’ve only been a creative director for 2 1/2 years, so I felt I could benefit from the event and questioned why “the next generation of creative leaders” couldn’t include people from more than one generation. The internal struggle I had about whether to even apply, and then the feeling that I had finally achieved this creative director position, but ten years too late, really hit me. And so I wrote an article about it. The response was pretty overwhelming. That feeling of being behind (but not really) resonated with a lot of 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?
I got my first real copywriting job at McCann-Erickson, Seattle, straight out of a portfolio class. The stars just aligned. I spent four years cutting my teeth on accounts like Washington Mutual Bank, Washington Apple Commission and drugstore.com (a drugstore on the internet!!? What??) I left to go freelance in 2000 and worked both client-direct and at Seattle agencies for another four years. Then in 2004 I was hired at WONGDOODY where I spent five years working on nearly every account in the agency. In 2009 I got laid off because the economy tanked- it was really emotional because we’re like a family there, but I was back freelancing within a week. For the next six years I freelanced, client-direct, at other agencies, but mostly at WONGDOODY. Then in 2016 I was hired back full time as a creative director. So from about 1998-2016, I was a senior copywriter, which may be some sort of a record.
My responsibilities now are growing and changing for two reasons- we got acquired last year by Infosys, a huge Indian tech company. The heart and culture of the agency remains pretty untouched, but now we have more opportunities and connections. At the same time, I’m also involved with the agile insights practice called The Motherboard we created, so that’s opening a lot of doors, too. And since rejoining WONGDOODY I’ve also taken on the role of being a strong female voice for the agency and the creative department through articles and talks and attending conferences, so I’m able to taking my experiences as a working mom/CD and use it to create even more opportunities.
I’ve always felt so lucky to do what I do and work with so many kind, funny, talented, people. That’s still the case. But when I started, I looked up to those people (mostly guys, cause that was the reality) as my mentors and what I aspired to be. I assumed that I was the only one who had insecurities and self-doubt, and that you overcame that stuff as you moved up the ranks. Now I realize that no one’s got it all figured out. We’re all learning. We’re all unsure sometimes. We’re all the same. And being honest and vulnerable and admitting that is way more productive and freeing than trying to cover it up and fake it till you make it.
"Being honest and vulnerable and admitting that is way more productive and freeing than trying to cover it up and fake it till you make it."
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
Yes, to some extent. I never had the desire to city hop - I’ve always wanted to work in Seattle, so that has naturally limited my job and leadership options if I wanted to stay agency-side. I’ve also been super loyal to WONGDOODY, which has traditionally been both small and top-heavy. That’s some of why it took me so long to become a CD. But I fully admit that a lot of my issues were self-imposed. Like a lot of women, I slowed my own rise by thinking I wasn’t totally ready. I gave my power over to other people waiting for them to validate me or tell me I could do it. But they had their own issues to deal with. So I had to learn to be my own cheerleader and stop looking to others for approval.
That said, I’m a firm believer that everything happens as it’s supposed to. So I wouldn’t change the path I’ve taken or the amount of time it took me to get here. I’m exactly where I should be.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
Not just experience, but emotional experience. To me, that means a sense of priorities, a sense of calm in the face of stress, and a sense that it’s all gonna be okay. It’s just advertising. After 20 plus years, you’ve seen some shit go down, and lived to tell (and laugh) about it. That awareness translates to better empathy for your employees and clients. Plus, being that voice of reason, the person who can say everything is going to be okay, is an invaluable skill to have as a leader because it helps take away some of the fear and negativity. And if you can help protect folks from that, they’re going to be a whole lot happier and more creative.
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Remember to have fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. Seriously- we’re moving words and pictures around, selling pizzas and lip balm, and if we’re lucky, inspiring social change or just creating something that makes people feel good. All while working with a bunch of other fun weirdos and making pretty good money. Taking your job too seriously leads to stress and being too much in your head. That’ll sap your energy and enthusiasm real quick.
Also, find a hobby or project that lights you up. It could be a work-related or not, but there is no substitute for having something you’re so into that you forget to eat lunch. That passion and inspiration spills over into everything you do. For me, it was starting a blog and writing long form again.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
With confidence, optimism and high-quality moisturizer. I’m turning 47 within a few days of writing this, and I truly feel like I’m just hitting my stride. So I’m super excited about who I’m becoming as a leader, and other opportunities that are opening up for me as I share my voice.
I also started writing a book, so I’m thrilled to think that my future holds actually finishing it.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
I feel like the new wave of awareness and effort towards diversity and inclusion is making way for more opportunities for a broader range of people, period. This site is a perfect example. It was normal to age out before, and now it’s not just this accepted thing. I’m also annoyingly optimistic and work with a lot of great people, many of whom are my age or older. So I’m lucky that way, too.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
I recently heard the phrase “40 is the new fuck it” and I love that so much, because that’s about the age when I really started to embrace my own voice and stopped looking to others for validation. There is a natural confidence that comes with being in the room longer. I also really appreciate all the friendships and history I have with people I’ve worked with for over twenty years. It’s really like having a huge, creative, slightly dysfunctional family.
"I recently heard the phrase '40 is the new fuck it,' and I love that so much, because that’s about the age when I really started to embrace my own voice..."
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Anyone who truly owns who they are while still being humble and kind. Right now, that list includes, among others, Cindy Gallop, Nancy Vonk, Tracy Wong, my 13-year-old daughter and my 9-year-old son. Oh, and Iris Apfel. I wanna rock bright red lipstick and all those accessories at 97!