Perhaps the most memorable campaign of Rich’s career is also the simplest: the “Yellow” campaign for ABC that he created with then-partner John Shirley at Chiat. This groundbreaking work that had the nerve to celebrate the medium of television generated more than $12 million worth of free publicity including mentions in Rolling Stone, CNN, Entertainment Tonight and the crowning achievement, a scathing op-ed column by Maureen Dowd of the NY Times.
During Rich’s 35 years in the ad biz (15 as a freelancer), he picked up numerous advertising awards while also somehow managing to executive produce a film, Home Movie. The film premiered at Sundance, followed by a limited theatrical run and set the standard for advertising/entertainment convergence. It was branded content before anyone had ever heard of branded content.
Rich also worked with former Executive Producers of The Simpsons on their animated show Mission Hill. On the strength of a spec script, he and his writing partner Rob Schwartz (now CEO at TBWA Chiat/Day/NY) were hired to write the final episode of the short-lived series. Rich also happens to have a writing credit on Stay Tuned starring John Ritter and Pam Dawber. Bet there aren’t a whole lot of ad writers out there who can claim that.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
I never gave it much thought until the advent of the Internet. Then, it seems, everybody was convinced the old ways were no way to build a brand. And that technology was some sort of magic bullet. I've yet to see evidence of a brand built solely on digital marketing. Nevertheless it became fashionable to think of anybody pre-internet as being unable to master the new medium. That's when modern day ageism took root.
"...it became fashionable to think of anybody pre-internet as being unable to master the new medium. That's when modern day ageism took root."
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.
There is no doubt that it's out there. I acknowledge that. But I also refuse to cave in to it. Good advertising is about persuasion. And putting forth a compelling, informative and sometimes entertaining argument that moves people to action. That ability transcends all the various mediums. Or is it medium? In any case, it didn't go away when I started going to the bathroom 3 times a night.
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 started as an agency staffer. Chiat. BBDO. Saatchi. Seems I've put in time at all of them. I went freelance 15 years ago. And now enjoy the business much more. It's more about the work. And less about angling for position. Politics. Or any of the bureaucratic nonsense.
"It's more about the work. And less about angling for position. Politics. Or any of the bureaucratic nonsense."
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
The daily commute from my house to the Irvine office of Y&R contributed to my decision. 106 miles of daily commuting on the 405 Freeway will do that to anyone. As I used to say, "I was one Sig Alert away from going on a mass rampage."
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
Clarity. Pragmatism. And an understanding of how business works.
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Have a plan. An exit strategy, if that's the right thing. Or a prosperity strategy. Is it within an agency? Is it in house with a client? Is it with one of the many hybrid production/creative shops that are springing up. It's important to know where you want to be. And where you don't want to be. I have a fear of ending up in a dirty nursing home, so I'm working my ass off to avoid that.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
There are so many freelancers today. They're all fighting for the same scraps. I'd rather swim in a different part of the pool. So I'm doing less work for agencies and more work directly for clients. Particularly clients who aren't counting the grey hairs in my mustache but are more interested in how I can help their advertising and their business.
"I'm doing less work for agencies and more work directly for clients. Particularly clients who aren't counting the grey hairs in my mustache but are more interested in how I can help their advertising and their business."
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
I have no idea what the solution is. But I have hope that the free market will solve this. Meaning, smart clients, interested in efficiency and leveraging experience, will gravitate to older creatives who have been there and done that. Then, the pendulum will swing back in the right direction.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
Meetings and presentations with fewer people are always more productive. Less is more. Listen to and collaborate with people who make the decisions. If there are more than 20 people in a meeting, chances are I don't need to be there. Nor will anyone miss me.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
For inspiration, I look to Linkedin. Everyday there are hundreds of iPhone videographers who provide a steady stream of handheld wisdom. It's all about crushing, hustling, smiling, being courageous, failing often, and finding my inner spirit animal. Success is about all those banalities and finding the right wool knit cap.