Monday, September 01, 2008

Where Do All The Old Creatives Go?



The other day, a commenter on this blog wondered: “As a late 30s creative, I'm getting increasingly paranoid about the dearth of 'older' creatives within many agencies. I'd like to know what happens to them. Are they killed off? What are the options open to any creatives unable or unwilling to become senior management?”

And as a supplementary, he asks “is it true that one loses one's creative mojo with age?”

Let’s take the first question first. The answer is there are very few options open to creatives unwilling or unable to become CD’s.

If you want to justify a big salary, you have to take some responsibility. That means creative directing.

If you can’t or won’t take responsibility, why should an agency pay you a big salary?

It doesn’t make sense for them to hang on to older, modestly-paid, ‘flatlining’ creatives when for the same money they can hire people on their way up.

That partially explains the dearth of older creatives. The other explanation is that some people get brought down by all the normal problems that can bring anyone down – drugs, alcohol, illness, wanting to move to Australia. And some people wake up one morning and suddenly realise “Oh my God, we’re just doing adverts… that’s all it is… adverts!” Each year you live increases the odds of one of these happening.

Now on to question two – whether one loses one’s creative mojo with age.

The answer is yes and no. First of all, it takes time to find your mojo in the first place. It probably takes ten years to become good (there’s a theory that it takes ten years to become good at anything).

Then you have your ‘golden window’ – the period after you’ve become good, but before you become complacent (or get brought down by one of the factors listed above). When you’re in it, you must milk that window.

Once you’re out-of-window, your ad writing skills will decline or disappear (many exceptions of course, we’re just talking the average career path here).

But by then, hopefully, you will be in management… and a whole different ball-game begins.



(I’ve moved some of the comments on the previous thread to here, to get us started)

65 comments:

Anonymous said...

one doesn't necessarily lose one's creative mojo with age. but the culture moves on. and your ideas can become culturally irrelevant. same net effect. 
depressing but true.

Anonymous said...

old people get safe and lose the fear i reckon.

trott's got a good post on fear in his place.

you get a nice house and your creative work becomes like eric clapton's music

Anonymous said...

Older creatives absolutely don't lose their mojo. What happens is that they get married, have kids, need cars and all the money to pay for them. Older creatives just get more expensive. And because they don't have too much client contact in this country - they get fired. The agency says, "ah, they lost their mojo, got too long in the tooth" and replace them with a couple of young teams that are cool, relevant, on the edge and, er, dirt cheap.

Anonymous said...

If all the older, culturally irrelevant creatives are the creative directors (and I dopn't see many 25 year old creative directors)everyone's fucked.
When you get older you realise that advertising itself is culturally irrelevant and leave to go and count your dubloons. Then you do the odd bit of freelance because the younger more culturally relevant creatives can't spell, can't do posters or press ads and the clients, who are also of culturally irrelevant age, don't want culturally relevant ads.
That's right and if you disagree with me you're wrong.

Anonymous said...

listening to older creatives contemporise themselves with words like "blog", "viral" and "microsite" is like watching your dad dance. it's just not right. jade jagger is probably the only person in the world that could ever disagree with this point of view.

Anonymous said...

old - young...it's all bollocks. hope i can pull out such award winning work as reddy and bellford et al when i'm knocking on the back doors of 50. and blog, viral and microsite are all just words, words of a trade, like kerning and ligature...they're everyone's property, when you start thinking words are cool and the property of the young you're missing the point.
how long till the bus pass scamp? i'm sure you're mid 40's aren't you?

Bias said...

Besides models, advertisers suffer the most with the old wear and tear. They hang on to dreads, hair transplants, shite rock bands that don't really jam anymore, Harley's, exotic psychotropics, not so exotic tropical destinations and the sudden realization this glamourous life you build around yourself is ultimately as empty as your saving's account.

rhayter said...

Where are you in your window, Scamp?

Anonymous said...

@2:59(2)

Clapton's back, don't be silly.

Scamp said...

3.35 - "only" 40.

rhayter - I feel like I'm right in the window, but perhaps that isn't for me to say.

No doubt I will know when I'm out of the window because I will feel my face connect with the pavement.

Guy and Sarah, creatives said...

There was a show on Radio 4 last year about the ten year theory, it was quite interesting.

Apparently, scientists calculated it takes so long to master your chosen field because the amount of practice you need to become an expert equates to about ten years.

As for the Eric Clapton comment, I think he's become better with age - his playing on the Cream reunion DVD was out of this world.

Guy.

Anonymous said...

Watch this and tell me Clapton isn't God:

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=X5IdtqFf95g

PH said...

Thanks for including the query Simon on 'the UK's premier advertising blog' (as I saw it described the other day - congrats!). I like the comments by anon 3.35, who's rightly censured the previous poster. Technology and terminology aren't the preserve of people under 30 eh. Skinny jeans should be though.

Alan Wolk said...

Things are a bit different Stateside.

There are far more older creatives wanting CD positions than there are CD positions. As the big agencies shrink and shrivel, there are fewer CD positions period, and the pressure from the holding companies mean those jobs are often going to much younger creatives who'll take much smaller salaries.

Many of the older creatives I know have been launched on a sort of sad path of less glamorous jobs and lower salaries. Direct Response and Pharma agencies are filled with guys who used to work at better agencies in their day. And a lot more are freelancing, taking those gigs to pick up a paycheck.

The whole mortgage/kids thing is tough too, since few of them are making the money they once did.

I was lucky to see the whole digital thing coming and get in early. Many of my peers did not and in the US it's nearly impossible to get anyone to look at you without digital experience. (To put it in context, I laughed at your post about portfolios, because no one in the US has an actual portfolio anymore-- it's all websites and you're considered a serious dinosaur if you don't have a website.

Noreen O'Leary (she's a reporter, not a creative) has a great piece in the current Adweek about the fate of older ad people in general: http://is.gd/26Xb

FWIW, though, people in NYC have been asking the same question ("Where Do All The Old Creatives Go?") since I was a junior and no one has ever come up with a satisfactory answer on this side either.

PH said...

That's pretty depressing reading Alan. And as we're a little behind you in digital terms, then I suppose there'll be a similar trend here :(

Anonymous said...

Sorry to go off topic scamp, but apparently Berbatov's off to Manchester...




...City.

Anonymous said...

scamps got another 4years or so before the 'big H' sends him off to set up BBH manchester.
that's where you get sent when the glue yard is full.

Scamp said...

Superb. I will be able to watch Berbatov every week.

Anonymous said...

I hear they get them in a van, take them to the country side and they er, set them free.

Anonymous said...

Are you even from Manchester Scamp?

Either way, you're a filthy bastard for supporting the bell ends.

Ben Kay said...

Does anyone in the UK agree find that Alan's assessment chimes with their experiences? Or those of the article he links to?

It seems that, in the UK at least, the digital heat has gone down somewhat. I remember all that furore about a year ago where digital was all and lack of digi-experience marked you for an early grave, but it doesn't really seem to have come to pass.

Maybe we're just a bunch of backwards yokels. Or I missed a big meeting.

ben Kay said...

You can remove the word 'agree' from the first line of my comment.

And maybe change the 'where' to a 'when' in the second paragraph.

Anonymous said...

"Nobody knows where old admen go when they're all used up. I've asked very wise and important people, and they've always changed the subject and looked away. Probably some terrible hotel on the south coast"
Mark Wnek said that.

Anonymous said...

...in that article where he said all of his underpants are Calvin Klein and that he and Tiger would live together in throbbingly overpublicised mediocrity until the ends of time, or until one of them got a different PR; whichever's first.

rhayter said...

That's a relief Scamp. I'm 39 and feel quite freshly into my window...

john woods said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

they go to Publicis

john woods said...

Older creatives don't lose their mojo, even if we want to believe that they do to justify an ignorant position. A few individuals probably start to come up short, for a number of reasons but it's not like anyone goes past a certain age and then dry's-up. If the proletariat is now getting older then I would suggest advertising starts to wake up and smell the ovaltine. I don't reckon they will do it with cheap immature cannon fodder coming up with the weird and wonderful but ultimately irrelevant. I guess there are just way too many people out there that are coming up short in their attitudes to the last discrimination battle to be won. If other creative fields can accept the sage like qualities that comes with experience then so can Advertising and it's similarly associated brethren.

Anonymous said...

As a late 40's creative currently freelancing (and I'm staying anonymous because my career's fucked enough already) here are a few thoughts:

1) Like the legal professions, advertising has a culture of "up or out" i.e. move upwards towards being a partner/creative director, but if you don't make it, you'll eventually be made redundant. Of course, there are many more junior creatives than creative directors, it's a pyramid. That's what's happened to most of my peers, they didn't get to the top of the pyramid.

2) Carla Bruni (M. Sarkozy to you) was once asked why she gave up modelling. She replied, "I didn't. Modelling gave me up." Same applies to your lifespan as a creative. You just get a bit old.

3) 40 is the old age of youth. 50 is the youth of old age. Maybe Robert Campbell's onto something in targeting the over fifties. They've certainly got the dosh.

Finally, even the most talented creatives can't go onwards and upwards for ever, sometimes you have to go sideways. For example, is it true that Walter Campbell's just been hired as a writer at AKQA?

MarkJ said...

"Listening to older creatives contemporise themselves with words like "blog", "viral" and "microsite" is like watching your dad dance." - Really? In my experience (as a digital CD) I'd say that most ad folks no matter what age are having severe problems with those words.

Back on topic though, I'm not sure why creatives drop off post 30's but it's certainly a phenomenon. I worked in the recording industry many years back and you'd see the same thing there - To progress your career you moved on from being a sound engineer (read: creative) to being a producer (read: CD) and the simple truth was that a. there weren't that many openings for producers (you just kind of became one if people liked what you did and anyone could be one) and b. Most people simply got tired of the life of 7 days a week 18 hours work as they got older and came to the simple conclusion that "hey, we're only making records here, that's all."

Jefe said...

I shouldn't be posting anything because of my 1 year experience as a copywriter (but then again, i am a romanian, and we always have smth to say). From my point of view a "mojo brakedown" doesn't exist. Once you proved you are good, you will always be good. The way this industry works and develops (more chances for the young ones) isn't something bad. This doesn't mean that they kill our "elders". We are not scotch nor lawyers. And - as scamp mentioned - you have to move on in your life. Most of the "old" creatives i know forget that they are, well ... not young anymore. They somehow refuse to accept their age until they become frustrated by this. This feeling grows into a fountain of dissapointments and one loses not the mojo but the passion. Although we only write ads, in our fucked up world, we are heroes. And this is what keeps us on the track.

Anonymous said...

A few of you have said the older guys move up north when they pass their sell-by-date, so does anyone think working up north is a good place to start (i'm just out of uni)? You'd get to work alongside some of the most experienced guys around which can't be a bad thing right?

To add, i know a few older guys who used to work at some of the top london agencies, they said they left london 'for the money'.

Anonymous said...

They mean that Lidl and Aldi in Manchester are cheaper than Fortnums and Harvey Nix down here. And you can buy a whole street for the price of a cardboard box under Waterloo Bridge.

Scamp, are you all a-quiver at your new benevolent Arabian fellow?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

All I know is Droga and Bogusky beat every person on that list. Individually or together. You can even add Juan, the outcome would be the same.

Live with it.

Anonymous said...

re: 9:50

i guess manchester will have to make do with their TWO Selfridges stores hehe.

Anonymous said...

anon 12.37 - wrong thread sonny

Anonymous said...

12.37,

Live with what? The fact that a couple of non-English people are better than a few English people at a wanky job?

Well, it'll be a stretch, but I'll see if I can manage it.

Gordon Comstock said...

Don't they go and work in DM? That's what DM is for isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Anyone have any sensible suggestions for a post-creative career?

Anonymous said...

gordon comstock

what they do is become DM freelancers. and get found out at every job. but there's enough to keep them going.

for some reason they can't do DM. which is weird.

the copywriters can't write and the art directors, rightly, die of boredom.

and they behave like sad old cocks too. their bullshit exposed and their talent not quite as shit hot as they'd thought. like that lad from creme brulee in the league of gentlemen.

it's a different discipline. and atl guys suck at it. which, i'm sure they lose no sleep over.

PH said...

Anon 1.32.
As a copywriter, I've thought about writing a book, but can't think of anything decent and it's too hard. Ditto, screenplays, film scripts etc.
I've also thought about becoming a lecturer on a related course, growing a pony tail and shagging loads of impressionable 18year olds. That's the favourite at the moment.

Anonymous said...

How ironic, we're talking about old people in a font size they can't read. It's like whispering at a deaf person.

Anonymous said...

I have a better question. Why are there so few women creatives in advertising?

Anonymous said...

Or black.

Anonymous said...

There are hardly any black old women

Anonymous said...

As a 54 year old CD, I can tell you that one does lose some Mojo with age. But it's more like just getting tired of hearing the same old stories. I get briefs with the same strategies i answered 30 years ago and I just groan. And I get really tired of the agency crap. It's hard for me at 54 to pretend to be impressed by a hot new Executive Creative Director. I tend to say what I really feel and agencies don't like that. Also, there is very real age discrimination. In some ways I'm more creative than I ever was but nobody lets me prove it. No one's going to give me a Tv spot to do any more. I'll get the trade ad or a Direct piece. I'm lucky simply to be working, even if the work sucks. I try to stay current and my one saving grace has been good genes. I don't have a wrinkle yet and girls in pubs tell me I don't look anywhere near my age. Friends who've gone bald or gray are out of work. But with a huge older generation out there with tons of money to spend it makes sense that the people writing the ads to them should be contemporaries. How can a 27 year old sell old farts anything? So I think there is a growth market in agencies for selling to the baby boom generation, with ads written by that generation. That's my hope anyway. But the truth is us old creatives will probably just be cast aside until someone can find a way to sue agencies for age discrimination.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't it sir hegarty who posited that creatives are good for five years and then start repeating themselves? much like film-makers who essentially make the same movie over and over.

we all have our themes and preferences. my theory is that after a while you just get sick of yourself. and then so do other people.

bk said...

That's why people get drunk and take drugs: you have to spend all day in the company of someone (you), so you need a mind-altering holiday from yourself once in a while. Or every fucking day if you're a bit of a wanker.

I'd be surprised if Sir Heg said that, anon 8.19. I heard a different story:

A young creative went in to see him and ask for a pay rise.
'Why should I give you one?' asked Sir H.
'I want to be out of this game in ten years,' replied the youngster.
'Well, you've got no chance, then. I didn't write a good ad until I'd been doing the job for ten years.'

I think part of the problem is that the longer you do the job, the more you get paid. Periodically, recessions happen, budgets get cut, and the two guys in the corner who are good and solid represent a potential saving of £250,000. It's easier to do that than fire three similarly decent, younger teams.

The solution, obviously, is to decline pay rises and use Just for Men. And don't win awards early in your career or people will think you've been around longer than you have.

dave Trott said...

To anon 6.54 pm
Why aren't there more women creatives?
I think it's because the creative dept is like a playground.
Noisy, muck about, play games, laugh a lot, and maybe do an ad.
I think women are more comfortable in a responsible, concientious environment.
Which is why they make great suits, planners, producers, art buyers, traffic managers, etc.
Having said that, our best team is two girls.
But then they can drink the blokes under the table and beat them at darts and table football.

Letisha - falisha said...

Clients no longer demand good advertising (look at the ads). Which means that creatives no longer have to be very creative, they just have to be able to follow orders and fool themselves into thinkng they're brilliant. Young people are inevitably better at that than oldsters, making wrinklies even more redundant, what with their insistance on doing good ads. Twats.

clive dunn said...

That's a very good point, letisha. I know of at least one top five agency where the MD is said to be the creative director. He even comes up with ad ideas which the creatives then execute. The ideas are mediocre at best but the clients don't care and, creatively, the agency has been in freefall for a while. So who cares? If an agency like BBH produces the current Surf and KFC work, then why do standards matter so much? Let's get the cheaper, so-so kids in. It makes life easier and cheaper for all concerned and at the end of the day isn't easier and cheaper always going to beat out slightly better and more expensive/difficult? Old farts like myself can rather get in the way and besides the young bosses don't feel comfortable ordering people of their dad's age around.

Anonymous said...

I've heard they go to BJL.

And for the anon who said "A few of you have said the older guys move up north when they pass their sell-by-date, so does anyone think working up north is a good place to start (i'm just out of uni)?"

Don't be fooled into thinking location matters. Anywhere is a good place to start. Anywhere is a good place to progress. As long as you're doing it.

Of course if you mainly want to talk about the price of coke, then go to London.

Anonymous said...

Thatcher's children are in charge now

And they only care about the money, not the work

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

anon 10.45

I agree with this. But maybe it's because how the industry's changed.

You can't argue things through anymore, and your opinion doesn't carry the weight it used to with clients or suits.

Compromise and not pissing off the above is now the order of the day.

And the younger genereation are having to be more political/diplomatic/toadying.

It then perpetuates, as the 'awkward' creatives are filtered out and the pragmatic ones stay.

In advertising's hey day it was the reverse.

Anonymous said...

i'm better than all of you, i have no job because people like you lot are shit scared how how bad i'll make you look.

Serious!

Anonymous said...

no wonder you don't have a job.

Anonymous said...

post removed 11.43

ah come on. that was fair comment.

if mr hegarty dishes it out, surely he's man enough to take a repost.

just because you work at bbh!

Scamp said...

It wasn't a riposte, you were just slagging him off. And it also wasn't a riposte, because he hadn't actually said anything to you. And you can't spell riposte.

Anonymous said...

it doesn't have to be said to me personally to warrant a riposte. the fact is he said it and i responded.

thanks for the spellcheck tho(ough)

Scamp said...

You're welcome.

john woods said...

It seems that the '90%ers' out there 'think' that you get old and you canna hack it anymore and that's it. Brilliant theory!

Anonymous said...

When creatives lose their mojo they start an advertising blog, don't they?

Tom Eriksen said...

No, they comment in one.