Dean Hacohen is a longtime Madison Avenue advertising creative director and copywriter.  That’s according to his bio, though we’d add the word legendary to that title (whether he likes it or not).  Every Portfolio Center student of the '90s could tell you, when you cracked open any awards book, Dean’s name was in it.  The most famous, Partnership for a Drug-Free America Gun Up The Nose campaign, helped fight cocaine abuse nationwide for 10 years.
These days, when he's not making a special guest appearance as a writer and creative director at ad agencies, Dean enjoys writing children’s books (his first is in its 9th printing),  playing and composing for piano, creating original designs for ceramics and stained glass, and taking up residence in beach chairs wherever he can find them.​​​​​​​
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s?  Your 40s?
When I was younger, I remember seeing a lot of gray-haired people doing great things in advertising. So I never really thought about ageism. Now, I don’t see a whole lot of gray hair in the business. And I don’t think it’s just due to Just For Men.

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 funny. You start out, and you’re the youngest person in the agency. Then one day you look around and you’re the oldest. After a while, it gets harder to work your way into a shop full of kids wearing ski hats in August. But I’ve noticed that when they take a chance on bringing you in, it works out great. The movie “The Intern” with DeNiro nailed it.

"It’s funny. You start out, and you’re the youngest person in the agency. Then one day you look around and you’re the oldest."

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 knew I wanted to make ads since I was in 8th grade. I’d taken a tour of an ad agency and thought, “Wow. This brings together everything I love doing.” Right from the start, it was a thrill. At times, terrifying. But never dull. The big creative agency. The small creative start-up. The awards. Then management. Other cities. Then, the freelance circuit.
I still love diving into an assignment as much as when I started. But these days I don’t think about agency politics, contests, and career trajectory –  just the work. Which is the whole reason I got into advertising in the first place.

Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
I’m not sure my path has been forged by the business as much as by my wiring. I personally enjoy making things more than running things. But the business pays more to run things than make things. So we try each, and stick to what we love most.

What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?   
Perspective on concept and craft. Just because the messaging is “digital” or “experiential” doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be grounded in a “holy shit!” human truth that dovetails with the brand’s DNA. If you don’t start with that, everything else is meaningless. As for craft, the execution should always come straight out of the idea. Not stapled onto it.

"Just because the messaging is 'digital' or 'experiential' doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be grounded in a “holy shit!” human truth."

What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Never stop fighting for great work. (It keeps you young!) And on a parallel path, find another passion outside the industry to channel your creative energies. I jumped into ceramic design, children’s books, and composed a record album. Got to keep the juicing flowing in every way possible.

How are you approaching the next 10 years?  What does your future hold?
I don’t make plans. So I’m the wrong person to ask!

What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry?  Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
Advertising has always worshipped youth. But wisdom, as well. So even though seasoned vets don’t look cool wearing ski hats in August, they can still crush an assignment like no one else.
Attitude and spirit count for a lot.

"Advertising has always worshipped youth. But wisdom, as well." 

What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
I have a bigger and broader view of the messaging industry as a whole. I’m able to see and hear things I didn’t before. Capable of doing things I wasn’t before.

Who do you look to for inspiration?
This may sound strange since the topic is ageism, but for inspiration, I look to the youngest people in the business. Like my son. Generations are suddenly clicking together on similar wavelengths, and I find that inspiring. I’m bingeing a father-and-son-created comedy series called “Schitt’s Creek” (Eugene and Dan Levy) and I love that they do it together.​​​​​​​

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