Annie Price is creative director at J.Walter Thompson Melbourne.
Four years ago, disillusioned with my current agency and looking for a new challenge, I met with a recruiter. One of the first questions he asked me was how old I was. I distinctly remember thinking he shouldn’t be asking me that, but not one for confrontation, I replied “44”. There was a dramatic pause and then he responded, “Ah right, so your next gig will be your last.”
It honestly didn’t sink in at that moment, I think I was too stunned. We kept chatting away for the next half hour as if it hadn’t been said, but when I got home that night, it hit me like a ton of bricks and I was fricking livid. He’d literally given me an expiry date. Telling me my advertising career would be over in my fifties. And I was only 44. I didn’t feel old. I didn’t feel past my prime. I barely had any crow’s feet or grey hairs.
So why are we so ageist in our industry?
Two educated guesses:
- Young people are cheaper, older people cost more.
- Advertising is about being progressive, older people are thought to be less progressive.
Firstly, it’s so short sighted to think money before talent. I have watched as some agencies naively fill their creative departments with recently graduated juniors and interns working for free, all in the name of saving a buck or two. Does it work out? Never. Clients see right through it. How do you put those poor people in front of a client, or on a pitch? And who is mentoring them and helping them grow?
Secondly, yes, it’s true, some more experienced people, me included, aren’t across things like the latest trending hashtag, #quickmaths for example (learnt that from the fabulous Jack & Lochie). But we most definitely do have a wealth of other, very valid learnings. Swap you a hashtag for a VW Lemon case study?!
And why do some advertising stalwarts CHOOSE to leave the industry before retirement age?
Advertising years are a bit like dog years, 20 years in advertising equates to about 140 in any another career. It’s bloody exhausting, it takes it out of you and it’s relentless. So, it’s little wonder barely anyone makes it to the “normal” retirement age of 65.
For me, after the shock of being given an expiry date, I think I became acutely more aware of my age and more sensitive to signs of being “past it”. Almost overnight, you go from being one of the crew to finding yourself looking around the creative department and thinking, “I literally could be their mother”. You’re no longer drinking at the pub with them, you’re going home to hit the couch and watch TV. And you’re the last to hear the gossip, when you used to be the one spreading it.
But you know what, I wouldn’t do anything else.
I absolutely love being inspired and stimulated by the clever young people I share a workspace with. I wish I had their confidence and swagger when I was their age. And I literally learn something from them every day. I’d like to think the feeling is mutual and they learn from and are inspired by me. I try to support them, guide them and help them learn from my mistakes and my learnings from 27 years in the job.
Surely the best creative departments, the best agencies for that matter, have a diverse mix of ages, cultures, genders, backgrounds & interests. After all, the target markets on our briefs span the whole of Australia and the vast majority of Australians are not 20-something hipsters with beards, turned up jeans and T-shirts with ironic slogans. So, let’s not fill our agencies with them.
I feel strongly that as an industry, we must acknowledge, celebrate and reward our more seasoned colleagues. Where would we be without them? We need to keep a check on what we say, and how we refer to people, even in jest. A successful agency needs youthful thinking but it cannot be made up of ONLY youth. We can make a change here, but it has to come from the top and work its way down, permeating the whole agency.
Oh, and a message to that recruiter from four years ago, I’m pleased to report I’ve changed agencies twice since our meeting and I’ve progressed my career with each move. So no, that next gig wasn’t my last.
But now it’s time for my nap. Excuse me, will you?