If you can read any of this poetic woman’s words and not feel something – an actual stirring in the heart, the gut, maybe a little tickling in the frontal lobe – then we can only deduce you are not human. Because Janet Champ just might just be the most human of humans. She started speaking the whole ugly, beautiful, relatable truth back when it was revolutionary. It began with her groundbreaking Nike Women’s Fitness campaign -- the very first Nike campaign ever directed at women (instead of just 'feminizing' a male ad that was already out there). It talked about things like not letting anyone define you as a woman way before #girlpower was a thing. And its message was so powerful, it garnered hundreds of thousands of letters, emails and phone calls from women and girls across the country. Many more inspiring (and now iconic) campaigns followed, including one of our favorites, Nike’s “If You Let Me Play Sports.”
These days, Janet’s powerful prose is still in demand (lucky us). And you’re most likely to see it put to a good cause – like “Dear Brett Kavanugh” for #timesup and Saudi Arabia’s very first Breast Cancer awareness ad. Ever.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
Never thought about it. Being surrounded by people of all ages, all kinds and types, made this business feel like some constantly-evolving creative buffet of excellence. Age was experience. It was passion. So all of us in our 20’s, 30’s, why would you judge when icons are in your midst? Hey you over there with the gray hair and the stories about the Pillsbury Doughboy, tell me more! David and Dan were the greatest creative directors, periodendofstory, any human could hope for. I wanted to bathe in their genius. Not look at their birth certificates.
"I wanted to bathe in their genius. Not look at their birth certificates."
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.
No, it hasn’t. Sorry. I know it must exist or we wouldn’t be talking about it. I just haven’t experienced it. There’s a lot of bigger, worse isms in the ad world, aren’t there? Sexism. Racism. You-don’t-fit-in-ism. Burning the candle at all ends and treating those around you horribly...that’s not an ism, but it should be.
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’m grateful and lucky and grateful and thrilled and grateful and busy and grateful and, oh, right, occasionally very tired. But that’s not age, that’s just normal exhaustion. I keep thinking I’m going to finally finish the short stories and book I’ve started but instead I keep taking jobs and having a life and then more jobs. In the beginning of my career I was just holding onto my job like a kite in the wind. Surprised and grateful and thrilled. So I guess I’m not as surprised anymore. The only strangeweirdwtf thing about constant freelance is you almost never get to put your produced work out with your name (hello Superbowl, NDA’s, winning pitches, etc) or they go produce they work without you, wahhhh. But luckily this biz is filled with incredibly wonderful, kind, interesting people. So you do the best work you can and get a nifty relationship at the same time.
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
The reality? It’s all in our heads.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
Moisturizer. But also, depending on the person, those little offerings that add up: experience, irreverence, passion, humility, kindness, resilience, hope, more resilience. Being at the dance so many times you can comfort someone when it sucks. Laugh when it’s awful. Commiserate when it’s GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Again I look at Dan and David. At Barbara Lippert and Dany Lennon and Susan Hoffman. At Lee Clow. Brilliant creative people with the generosity and humanity to care about other people and still raise the bar incredibly high. To raise people around them high regardless of their chronological number. We can all learn things from each other. Who cares what their age is? Age is really the most boring thing about almost anyone. Yawn.
"Age is really the most boring thing about almost anyone. Yawn."
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Stay alive, that always helps. Stay curious. Do your best work ever this week. Refuse to rest on laurels. Keep evolving and instead of envying the plethora of 20-30-somethings out there, learn from them. Ask them whatwhywherewhen. Shut up already if you think you’re the greatest blah-blah around because boy are there a lot of people in this business who think that, and arrogance really doesn’t age well. Refuse to judge others by their gender or color or age and refuse to judge yourself as well. Be kind. Fail harder. Wonder more.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
Other than hoping our political system changes in the next 6 seconds, I’m approaching it the way so many of us are: working for good instead of evil. Anything/everything I can get that fights cancer, sexual abuse, racism, the insanity of easily-accessible guns, the chaos that is climate change, poverty and inequality, the horrendous state of healthcare in our country, the list, unfortunately, goes on.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
We’re too spread out to unionize. All over this country. But if someone literally judges you by your age I wouldn’t be so keen to work for them.
"If someone literally judges you by your age I wouldn’t be so keen to work for them."
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
That a whole big fat bunch of us are still here. And that this business can still be fun. And that life is really what comes first.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
This split second it’s Colson Whitehead, AOC, Tommy Orange, Elisabeth Moss, Damian Lillard, my husband Rick McQuiston who has the first-ever Emmy awarded for a commercial (he co-created ESPN: This Is Sportscenter) my gorgeously diverse friends, Jordan Peele, Lauren Groff. And my dogs, because they don’t much like this typing thing.