From Over Here: The Young and the Beautiful

September 8, 2017 Robin Whalen

Advertising: The Young & The Beautiful

Sounds like a soap opera. AmIRight?  But really, we’ve heard this adage before. “It’s a young person’s business.”

“Advertising burns you out.”

“Go client side before it’s too late!”

While I see elements of truth in all of these statements, I think there’s a certain synergy that comes from having a mix of ‘young’ and ‘old’ in the ad agency environment.

Disclosure: I’m certainly not young. But not sure I want to classify myself as old. I’m not writing this about myself. It’s for a friend. Really.

On a serious note, the topic of ageism in advertising is nothing new. And it’s a double whammy. We know that those ‘long-in-the-tooth’ often feel it’s a challenge to find work within their own industry.  AdAge has been writing about it for years. Check out this story about an experienced creative executive that hunted for two years and felt all the while that it was his grey hair that held him back, not his portfolio. But at the same time, we disproportionately target younger audiences with our own marketing & media plans. One great example: The New Yorker featured a story about Dawson’s Creek and the shows ability to attract a pretty penny for advertising despite small-ish audience numbers. “To an advertiser, a twenty-five-year-old clerk is apparently worth three times as much as the fifty-year-old vice-president he works for.”.

What’s my point? We all age. And many of us that love this business, age IN this business. Present company included. But as we age, we also learn. A lot.

25 things that happen when you get ‘old’ in the ad business.

Stumbled across an amusing read about the realities of grey hair and creaky knees in the communication biz.  And because I’m nothing if not honest, thought I would provide my own 2 cents on how hitting your 4th decade feels when you spend your days and nights making ads, writing web copy and attending client meetings.

1.You’re fast.

Well, not fast in a 5k.

But fast on email. Seriously. I can turn around a social media recommendation faster than a millennial can order a Grande Soy Extra Hot Single Foam Latte. That means my productivity is through the roof. Yay for experience!

2. You’ve got a bag of tricks that you go to.

Spend 20 years working across multiple categories and countless disciplines and you get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.

Challenge is that your bag of tricks doesn’t always include the newest technology.

See? A mix of young and old often produces the best mix. Tried and True + Innovation = a well-balanced plan.

3. You find yourself amazed at how much you’ve learned when you see how little the young people know.

True-ish. Sometimes I feel good about the knowledge I have which was gained through experience. But more often I am humbled by the wisdom of those many years my junior. In my humble opinion, there is no such thing as an ‘expert’ and we should all consider ourselves perpetual students of our craft.

4. You know it’s not about you. It’s really about your client having success that you played a part in.

Ahh yes. The big picture. That beautiful time in one’s career when your client’s success is where you really celebrate. Sure, shooting the TV spot was amazing. Shooting the spot and watching their sales soar, is nirvana.

5. You care less and less and less and less about award shows.

Preach. Spent the first half of my career thinking it was the only thing that mattered. Spent the second half wondering how I’d stay up all night at the show, where to hide my flat shoes, and how I’d function the next morning.

But seriously. See point #4. That’s the real satisfaction in this business.

6. You think about teaching.

Yes. YES. That feeling you get when you can share your passion with younger ‘you’s’ and they want to hear what you have to say. Nothing like it. I’ve started doing this with the Canadian Marketing Association and it feels wonderful.

7. You finally stop bitching about your clients.

See point #4. It’s the end goal.

8. You drink much better wine. More often.

I plead the 5th.

9. The type you approve starts getting bigger and bigger.

My reading glasses are from the Dollar Store which means I still don’t officially need them. So clearly, I can’t relate to this point.

10. 80-hour work weeks seem really stupid.

Here’s the thing. Being old in this industry means we work the hours we need to. We don’t place value on being the last person in the office. But we do place value on doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. Work for the purpose of work. Not for being seen.

11. Fewer things surprise you.

Truth. Run around the block a few times in advertising and you’ve seen it all. There’s a saying that ad agencies are all the same, just the carpet changes. While I don’t actually believe that, I do think there is some consistency in behavior, challenges, and the day to day hurdles we all work through. So, it’s a blessing. You’ve seen it. You’ve overcome it. You can help those around you work through whatever needs to be worked through.

12. You swear less. 

I’m working on it. Not successfully (at all). But I’m working on it (kind of).

13. Loyalty rules over all.

Amen. This business is about people and culture.

14. You no longer feel the need to chase everything.

For a while we pursue the sexiest industries and the hottest clients. And one day you wake up and realize that the sweet spot is working with intelligent, kind and driven people. Regardless of whether they are in the toilet paper industry or technology. It doesn’t matter. Chase what matters. Ignore the rest.

15. You're comfortable with the fact that compromise is just gonna happen.

Not only is it going to happen. It starts to feel good.  Karma. Even in advertising.

16. Fridays start to become part of your weekend.

If not in practice, certainly in desire. One day this will become truth. For now, I’ll just work when I need to work and do what needs to be done.

17. You find ways to "let it go."

A past mentor of mine used to say: “Water off a duck’s back, Robin”. At the time, I thought he was crazy. Fast forward 10-years and I see the wisdom in his words. Sweat the small stuff. Win the war, not the battle. You get my drift.

18. You say "let's look at that" more often.

The beauty of experience is that you are fully aware that you don’t know what you don’t know. Surround yourself with people smarter than you. And invite them to show you what they have.

19. Your go-to people are priceless. So are your go-to vendors.

Again. It’s. All. About. The. People. I call them my tribe. They know who they are. I’d bring them with me anywhere.

20. You're happy that the message, not the delivery method, is still king.

Long gone are the days of believing if you build it, they will come. Content is still king.

21. You don't panic.

False. I panic. And I swear. But then I try to #17.

22. You don't criticize other people's work.

Come on. I may be old but I’m also human. Passion at work can at times give way to expressing opinions. Sometimes positive. Sometimes not so much. But always with respect. And ultimately, I try to #17.

23. You can sum up 25 things in 23 lines.

Because we’re just that fast!

There is no substitute for experience.

While I truly believe this, my experience also tells me that I’ll never know it all. In the wise words of Michael Legrand:

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.” 

Let’s value age. Let’s value youth. Let’s make great things in the process.


"Contrary to popular belief, I'm not always right. But in all seriousness, I've walked the walk in many different aspects and this is just how I see things from over here." 

With a dash of wit and a full serving of insight, Robin Whalen, president of The Tite Group, shares her insights on the things, topics, conversations and general goings-on that have earned her minutes. 

This is an inside look at how her thoughts power her actions. 


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