I’m an old creative director and copywriter. Which in this business might mean I’m about 45, in my early 50s at the outside. But I’m older than that. So old in fact that I don’t get direct mail from AARP anymore. Probably because I’m a member. They’re pretty good at scrubbing their lists. I’m also old enough to have Medicare, which as a freelancer, makes the whole healthcare shopping nightmare a bit less onerous. So what kind of advice could I possibly have for young creative professionals?
It’s this: be kind to people as you ascend the ladder, get promoted, and make big money — because you never know who you will meet on your way down. And for many, if not most, there will be a down — or a way out or a way on to something else — where every kindness shown finds its way back to you.
The ad business is ridiculously unkind to seniors. There’s always someone coming up through the ranks who’s cooler, more with it, more tuned into the cultural zeitgeist than you are. It’s not that you stopped paying attention or that you aren’t tuned in. There’s nothing rational about kicking old creatives to the curb. Well, it isrational because it’s about money. That kid coming up the ladder is hungry and will do what you do for less — usually lots less. And in this business, like any business, it’s money that matters. The young turk’s ideas will have a certain je ne sais quoi about them — and in advertising it’s only natural to rush to the new, and new by definition is not old and it’s certainly not improved. It’s just novel. You’re in a business where no one knows why some things work and some things don’t. It’s subjective and generally a crapshoot. It’s like when clients ask for something that will go viral — as if anyone knows what the feck is going to go viral.
Being kind to people means taking some interest in their worries and fears, being honest with them about their talents and opportunities, and accepting them for what they are rather than what you want them to be. In my experience, people don’t change much. Time will sand their sharp edges — it just doesn’t remove them completely.
And finally, remember that sucking up has its advantages. Everyone likes to hear nice things about themselves, especially bosses. But saying nice things to colleagues and subordinates is really just a form of sucking up when no one’s looking — because it doesn’t get you much until you’re coming down the ladder, but it will get you something eventually if nothing other than admiration. Being liked is a gift that gives lots back over time. You might not race to the top, but you won’t plunge to the bottom. And even if you do, they’ll be commiserating souls looking out for you.
Hardly anyone will take this advice. If they do, it’s probably because doing these things is already part of their nature — or they acquire it slowly, well past its expiration date. They say that youth is wasted on the young. Advice generally shares the same fate.
©2017 John Hofmeister
When I'm not writing for clients, I write about things that interest me.