There’s a story of an ad man who, in 1972, famously stood up from a big client meeting at McCaffrey & McCall and announced he had "a dentist appointment," never to return to advertising. It was from that moment on that he dedicated himself to art, ultimately enjoying a successful career as an American realist painter. That man was John Register, David’s dad.
Just a wee bit of pressure, we imagine, as David entered the field his father fled.
But not to worry. Armed with a whole lot of passion as well as his dad’s work ethic, David hustled his way up from Junior Copywriter to ECD at agencies from coast to coast (Arnold, Mullen, McCann Seattle and Ogilvy & Mather, LA). He helped build the Fidelity brand with one of The Beatles, creative directed one of the most popular spokespeople ever for Progressive, and has won industry awards as a creative director, writer and photographer. After 20+ years of working at ad agencies, he is now the ECD at MMB in Boston, while also part of the directing duo that goes by TruthBullet. On the side, he sells his photography as an artist, and runs a concept school in Boston called Option-R.
When he’s not executive creative directing, directing, photographing or teaching, David enjoys playing tennis, surfing, skateboarding and spending time with his family – all of whom have inspired some of David’s most stunning photographs.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
No it was not. And it’s not something I think about in my 50s.
Is ageism something that’s affected you? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a person who was getting older in the business? Do tell.
Besides hearing about people bitch about it, it’s not something really on my radar. I never wanted to be in this business for a long time. When I was 30, I wanted to be out by 40. When I was 40, I was like no way will I give this another decade. I am 50 now, and still really loving being a writer/creative/director… maybe it’s helped that I’ve always kept my expectations low – my mom always preaches that. And my dad, wow, really thought very little of advertising. So, for me, if I get older in this business, great, but, in a way, it could also be a sign that I never went on to become a famous photographer or director.
"Maybe it’s where I’m from but I’ve always been open to trying things. Open to failing. Open to criticism. Open to figuring out my strengths as a creative person."
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?
Again, maybe it’s where I’m from but I’ve always been open to trying things. Open to failing. Open to criticism. Open to figuring out my strengths as a creative person. I'm also a serious hustler. So, I am good at lining up opportunities. When I buy a camera at the Leica store, I’m already hustling to have an art show there. And I did. I’ve always been this way. My kids tease me about it. They call it flirting. “Dad’s flirting with the cab driver.” I’m just open. I talk with strangers. I talk with clients. I talk with the insurance salesmen in 16c. For me, there’s no such thing as TMI, ever. In a way, I really have always had that mindset, from the beginning.
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
For sure. The ad business afforded me a lot. Not only financial, but on a personal level I have met wonderful people through this job. It’s introduced me to great filmmakers, photographers, designers, closet artists like my own dad. Love the community of ad people we are in.
"The only time I have every felt, oh shit, I’m not the right age for this is when I went to a 'Learning Snapchat' seminar and basically fled. I hate that app."
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 don’t get this question. Again, maybe I’m just in denial. But I’d say EVERYTHING. The only time I have every felt, oh shit, I’m not the right age for this is when I went to a “Learning Snapchat” seminar and basically fled. I hate that app. Aesthetically, it’s just the worst. I never want to make anything creative that shows up on Snapchat. Ok, I’m open, but not open to that.
"Stop creative directing. You will get eaten. Be the best writer you can be or designer or storyteller. And then keep pushing yourself."
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Stop creative directing. You will get eaten. Be the best writer you can be or designer or storyteller. And then keep pushing yourself. Be the best in-house editor, or orator. Be something more than a shaper of the creative. Also, I have done a lot of freelance - they are looking for idea generation, not for creative direction.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
No idea. I hope agencies truly become more like production companies. Because that’s where my talents and interests are taking me too.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
Honestly, don’t think this is an ageism problem. The industry is squeezing every dollar. And older people make more money, so they get squeezed first. Don’t be part of bloat. Be something needed.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
Confidence. I used to present like a scared teen in my 30s. I’m not great, but I’m getting better and better with age. And I love watching great presenters. Just like being a good comedian, being a good presenter starts with have interesting insights. Human insights. Undeniable truisms. And those come easier with age.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Artists, family, people outside of the industry mostly. Instagram. Funny people hate on social media, and rightly so, I have a teen daughter. I’ve seen the nasty side. But social media has opened my eyes to so many artists. If you use it the right way, it’s an insanely powerful tool. An artist in NH found my images on flickr and started using them as subject matter for her paintings (with permission of course). That’s just wonderful. My wife and kids inspire me. And actually, I know this may fly in the face of this blog, but I love all these young people flooding into our industry – they are very inspiring. They’re like knowledge vacuums. It’s amazing how fast they get good at things. I love that! I say bring it on. Change inspires me too. I get bored real fast. In fact, I’m bored of this… so I’m going to stop now. On to the next thing.