When the legendary Charlotte Moore nominates a writer to participate in your conversation on ageism, you get in touch with that writer immediately. And we’re so glad we did. Teresa’s career started with a story most of us creatives wish we could tell as our own -- apparently Dan Wieden was so impressed with the memo she'd drafted as a W+K office manager, he hired her as a writer. Since that not-so-slight promotion, Teresa has gone on to write ad campaigns that helped define the likes of Nike, Coca Cola and Microsoft…as well as to win an Emmy. When not working as a freelance ad writer or traveling the world, Teresa says she “focuses on novels and screenplays that don’t sell” and “a play that probably won't either.” Considering her incredible talent, we can only guess this is an attempt at not jinxing herself.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
I didn’t get into the industry until I was 40 so it never crossed my mind that I was already a dinosaur.
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 don’t think I’ve been affected by ageism, but I’ve been freelancing since 2004 so I’ve not had a typical experience – in an agency watching younger people get the plum assignments. My autonomy has shielded me from certain realities, I believe. But also, isn’t it illegal to penalize a person for their age? And so if it happens, wouldn’t it be subtle and not actionable?
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?
Ah, my creative journey! It started with me crashing a legendary Wieden + Kennedy party and realizing that I had to work there, in any capacity. A couple months later I was hired as the office manager. There were 45 people on staff and only a few had computers so office memos had to be placed on peoples’ chairs. One day Dan Wieden came to my office waving my most recent memo and said, “This is the funniest thing I’ve ever read. Do you want to be a writer?” I said yes. Having been at Wieden confers a certain status; it served me well when I wanted to move to Austin and was hired by a big agency there. But the Wieden experience can’t be duplicated, I was naïve to think so. Hence, freelance.
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
I suppose it did, in that I could never again be on staff, just freelance. I can only work for people I don’t respect for brief periods of time.
"I can only work for people I don’t respect for brief periods of time."
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
Take vacations. Learn stuff. Think about things other than advertising. Don’t be an asshole because word gets around. Be well-rounded and not only will you’ll find something to enjoy about every assignment, you’ll have something fresh to bring to it. Jeopardy is a case in point: I watch it every day and have noticed that, as smart as those people are, if they haven’t lived through certain eras, there are gaps in their knowledge. If you’ve been paying attention to the world your whole life, and you’re old, you will know that “What is the Ed Sullivan show?” is the correct answer.
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Make friends with people who run companies. I think the agency model is on the ropes these days. Why go through an agency when you can sub-contract every aspect of communication? Client-direct is where it’s at.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
I will continue to freelance and hope for half the luck I’ve had so far. I have never turned down a job. Except for traveling to shoots, I get to spend my days with my husband and dogs, unshowered, often wearing what I slept in. Life is good.
"Short of a collective realization that if you’re lucky you too will get old, and the older you are the more you know, and the more you know the cooler you are."
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
Short of a collective realization that if you’re lucky you too will get old, and the older you are the more you know, and the more you know the cooler you are...I don’t have any other solutions. Unionizing? That’s interesting but I don’t get how it would work.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
Recently my creative partner and I were hired because we’re older, by a similarly “chronologically enriched” person whom we met during another gig, and who now runs marketing for Best Buy. Maybe you have to be older to understand that aging is not some horrible disease, it’s actually how you get smarter. Our Best Buy buddy gets that. And thanks to him, last year was the most lucrative and satisfying of my career.
"Maybe you have to be older to understand that aging is not some horrible disease, it’s actually how you get smarter."
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Charlotte Moore and nature. And kindness. Kindness in almost any form brings me to tears. Is that sad or what?