Glen spent much of his career at agencies way, way outside the popular ad cities we all shipped our 3x4-foot portfolios off to – at small, but equally hungry shops in places like Houston, TX and Lafayette, LA. And while you may not recognize many of their names, you’ll definitely recognize Glen’s passion for and dedication to his craft.
Of course, like many of us, Glen also has a need to fuel his creative spirit with projects outside of the ad biz. For him, that includes working as a fine artist – make that “accomplished” fine artist. His work has been featured in galleries and art fairs Dallas, Fort Worth, New York (Brooklyn, Chelsea, Tribeca), Los Angeles and Louisiana.
These days Glen is working successfully as a Creative Director at Black Eye Digital in Dallas/Fort Worth. A reminder that you don’t have to have spent your ad career in New York or San Fran or Minneapolis to still have an ad career later in life. All you need is passion, curiosity, and a little healthy competitive spirit to keep you on your toes. Oh, and having a talent outside of advertising that can keep creativity alive when the business tries to squash it like a bug sure does help.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
In my 30s and 40s I felt like I was constantly drinking from a firehose, both professionally and personally. From working for various small ad agencies while trying my best to raise the level of creative work for myself and my employers, to having 4 kids while doing my best not to be an absent dad, ageism wasn’t even on my radar yet. I didn’t have the bandwidth to even consider it. I just always tried to make creative lemonade out of the project brief lemons I was given. Looking back, I feel like I was on a tightrope with no net. The net was replaced by a bed of nails. But don’t get me wrong, it was still fun.
"Looking back, I feel like I was on a tightrope with no net. The net was replaced by a bed of nails."
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.
I know I was overlooked in job searches because maybe I lacked certain boilerplate skills that employers were looking for, to be more cutting edge or “digital native”. The frustrating thing to me has always been that these employers weren’t looking for a certain kind of person, i.e., able to think on their feet creatively. I’m experienced enough that I can react to any curveball without whining. I’m able to come back again and again with fresh ideas, no matter the medium. No. They were looking to check a box. “HTML, UX experience? No? Next.” That’s a frustratingly narrow way of thinking, and it’s definitely kept me from landing multiple jobs over the years. I can learn any digital skill, just give me the chance. My creative problem solving skill trumps that.
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 the beginning of my career, actually, before it even started, my design professor tried to get me to choose between being a graphic designer in a design studio or an art director in an ad agency. I loved doing both and declined to choose. I let the job I was applying for do the choosing for me. To me, then and now, they’re the same thing. You’re solving problems for a product or service using art and copy. That’s still true today, only there are a kajillion more deliverables, both traditionally and digitally.
And to further that picture, in design school we all wrote our own copy. I enjoyed it and excelled at it then and still do today. So, to some, I’m a creative Swiss army knife. To others, I’m that art director who steps over the line and writes his own copy as well (for the most part).
My career is mostly a collage of jobs in smaller design studios and ad agencies. I had to do everything. No real mentors to show me the ropes. Communication Arts, Graphis, Print Magazine, and the other trade publications mostly filled that role for me. I’ve often felt like an outsider in this industry, looking over at the Fallon’s, Goodby’s, Chiat Day’s and Wieden & Kennedy’s to get my creative bearings. It’s worked for me over the years. I feel like my work output has been consistently good because I’ve always set such a high bar for myself. I can thank my professor, Dutch Kepler, for lighting that fire. Plus, my obsessive personality that forces me to continue to push the envelope.
When I was 40, I remember being in a Barnes & Noble, looking at one of the trade pubs on the rack. I was reading about CP+B and thinking to myself, “what the hell am I doing here in south Louisiana, not working at a larger firm with bigger clients, budgets and a higher profile?”. My wife and I picked Austin as our target, and I took a senior art director job at Kolar Advertising (now Proof Advertising), bumping down from creative director. It didn’t matter to me. I wanted the new experience.
This was 5 years of learning how to navigate a more formal ad agency structure. I was able to flex my creative muscles and create work that I’m still proud of today, for brands like Subway, Dell, 3M, US Army, Baylor University, Austin CVB and others. The executive creative director at the time, Dave Henke, was the first and really only creative mentor I’ve had in the business. He championed my work, but also pushed me. I was probably the biggest consumer of paper and toner in the agency. I also had a hand in raising the creative bar at the agency. I was promoted to ACD, and was able to keep doing the work myself, while also overseeing the work of some younger creatives and production staff. The shop changed ownership and I was offered to do the same job, mostly working on clients that had little in the way of creative opportunities, so I declined and went out on my own.
I kicked around in Austin for a few more years, both on my own and joining forces with The Swizzle Collective, creating fun work for the Austin live music and southern cooking mecca Threadgill’s among other clients. Now I’m in Dallas as creative director of branding and advertising firm Black Eye. We’re a small group, creating work for a select client roster including Trammell Crow Residential, TGI Fridays and others.
My mindset hasn’t really changed over the years. I still love the challenge of bringing original ideas to life in whatever medium, digital or otherwise. And I still haven’t chosen between art director and designer. What I don’t care for is that blind emphasis on whatever shiny new medium is in style, and the desire for clients and creatives to create in that medium as the end goal, regardless of whether or not the idea sucks.
"What I don’t care for is that blind emphasis on whatever shiny new medium is in style, and the desire for clients and creatives to create in that medium as the end goal, regardless of whether or not the idea sucks."
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
Yes, definitely. As a young father early in my career, I chose jobs that wouldn’t suck the life out of me, so that I would still have something to give to my family. That didn’t do wonders for my wallet, but looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. Actually, one thing. I waffled back and forth between taking the work/life balance stand, and just being straight up scared that I wasn’t good enough to work at the better agencies. If I could go back, I’d tell younger me to just stick up for myself, and if the better agency tries to guilt me into working all hours, show them that I can do a kick ass job within normal business hours, with the occasional midnight oil burning. And to stand up more for my ideas and aesthetic choices, no matter if I come across as a jerk or not. My wife has taught me about passion over the years, and I wish I’d shown more of it when I was younger.
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 feel like us more seasoned creatives have so much more to offer that it’s not even funny. Thinking on our feet, having seen it all and being able to bring the great ideas in any situation, having a calm demeanor rather than the constant hair-on-fire, tyranny of the urgent mentality, the ability to explain to a client why the better idea is less of a risk than the expected one–those are just the tip of the iceberg. We’re better and faster. Resilient. Circumspect. You only get that from years of experience.
"Don’t whine about the state of the business or the world...When you’re constantly negative, the younger ones smell it and it gives them an excuse to not listen to you."
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Don’t forget why you got into the business to begin with. Bring that childlike mentality, the idea that anything’s possible, to work with you every day. Don’t whine about the state of the business or the world (I’ll give you a slight pass on the latter for now). When you’re constantly negative, the younger ones smell it and it gives them an excuse to not listen to you. Do your best work, and if that’s not enough for the powers that be, then reinvent yourself if necessary. In my opinion, if you’re not creating, you’re dying.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
I’m still having fun after over 30 years in the industry. My goal is to keep doing it well, mentoring younger creatives, and working on my fine art practice in my free time, which is considerable now that my wife and I are empty nesters. I’m filling the nest with art. I should have a solo show of my collage work coming up here in Dallas, as soon as Covid-19 says it’s ok. I’ll be in other group shows and art fairs in the future as well. I’m also having fun experimenting with augmented reality and marrying that with my art practice. My creative to-do list keeps growing.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
Honestly, if the industry could just take a step back now that we’re in this crazy time and understand that people with more experience just make sense for your business, that could bring about some much-needed change. I see the good and bad with unions, so I don’t really have an opinion there, other than if there is some kind of creative union formed, those in it can’t just sit back and rest on their laurels. They have to be productive.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
I’ve learned how to pick my battles. That’s brought me so much more peace. Learning new things isn’t as scary as I once thought. And many times, the self-proclaimed experts in the shiny object du jour aren’t as expert as they’re letting on. I’ve also learned that I have more bandwidth upstairs than I ever thought possible.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
I still love perusing the work of the ad and design heavy hitters: W+K, CP+B, TBWA Chiat Day, Pentagram, etc. And, it’s been fun to discover other players, like Young & Laramore, 3 Advertising, SDCO Partners and others. In the design world, Pentagram still shines to me.
Outside of the industry, my Instagram feed has many talented artists, designers, and other creative folks that keep me on my toes. I’ve always been a fan of Steve Martin for his out-of-left-field approach to stand-up comedy. The Far Side has always been a good source for inspiration, and I’m ecstatic that Gary Larson finally has a website and is doing new comics on his iPad. And, now that we’re in this second act of the Golden Age of Television, the streaming services are an almost constant source of inspiration. For the sci-fi nerd in me, Amazon’s Tales From the Loop was a favorite, as well as The Vast of Night. And I watch Close Encounters at least once a year. It never gets old. And as far as comedy goes, my wife and I have absolutely loved Ted Lasso on Apple TV. The whole cast is amazing, the dialog is smart and hilarious and they’d better have a second season asap or they’ll be hearing from me.