Ageism is real. I should know.

Posted by on Feb 3, 2019 in Brand Identity

[3:30 Read Time]

To begin, an uncomfortable confession. No, it’s not my age but more on that in a moment. 

Not long ago, I engaged in age discrimination, and I’ve been meaning to write about the event and the broader topic of ageism ever since. So here goes.

One Sunday afternoon, I was listening to a copywriter’s podcast and was immediately struck by how young the voice of the woman moderating the episode sounded.

What could this pup possibly have to teach me, I thought derisively, as she began to share her thoughts on crafting email copy.  

As it turned out, she taught me plenty; enough to make me thankful that I chose to put my prejudice toward her aside and invest 60 minutes listening to a voice that grew wiser with each new example she cited, in direct proportion to my chagrin.

Youth vs. creativity.

Is it true that we do our best work when we’re young? Maybe if you’re an NFL quarterback or a theoretical physicist. We’ll see what happens tonight when New England’s Tom Brady faces off against Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams.

All I know is, as a copywriter, I did my worst work the early years of my career; in hindsight, much of it derivative, self-indulgent, and plain embarrassing.

Experience has taught me to embrace the learning that comes from making mistakes. As a result, I’m more valuable to clients and a better, more efficient writer today than I was even five years ago.

And I’ve discovered, much to my mistake-making joy, in digital marketing it turns out that the only way to succeed is to be willing to fail (fast) and apply the lessons (faster).

As to whether creative professionals lose their edge as they age, Frank Lloyd Wright was relevant well into his late 80s and in 1959 at the age of 92 completed what many consider his masterpiece, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on New York’s Upper East Side.

Forty years into his career, Elvis Costello in 2018 released a new album with the Imposters called “Don’t Look Now” to critical acclaim. At the age of 76, Paul McCartney’s latest album “Egypt Station” debuted in September at number one on the Billboard Top 200 Chart.

What makes the creative output of these and hundreds of other, less luminary artists vital is their passion and desire to keep creating new work instead of repeating themselves or resting on their laurels.

In other words, the same impulses that drive all accomplished creative professionals, at every stage of their careers.

Great brands are built on honesty.

A tightening labor market and a shortage of experienced creative marketing professionals have brought more recruiters to my door since I was in my 30s, and hopefully, that’s a trend others are seeing too.   

At the same time, until recently folks of a certain age in advertising and marketing have been made to feel like having leprosy would less off-putting to hiring managers than being over 50.

There’s a lot of helpful advice out there on career blogs that offer tips for “de-aging” your professional brand and staying relevant that older job seekers should heed, such as keeping your skills up to date, limiting the number of jobs you show on your resume and profile, and strategically updating your wardrobe.

On the other hand, I can’t entirely agree with the many well-meaning bloggers who urge 50+ job seekers to avoid talking about age in the interview. 

First, you can safely assume the recruiter already has a pretty good idea of your age, thanks to Google and a world of highly interconnected, effortlessly accessible databases.

Second, concealing your age like an embarrassing rash sets a deceptive tone, especially when authenticity is the first trait the interviewer is looking for.  

You don’t have to blurt out your real age in the first ten seconds, but your time is too valuable to waste on a company that’s not going to welcome and value the real you. So let it be known that you’re not only looking to fit in but also for opportunities to enrich the corporate culture of the company you’re considering. 

At the same, a note of caution. 

Don’t go into an interview with the attitude that because you have logged more time on the planet than some of your potential colleagues, they should automatically accept that you know what you’re doing.

Regardless of your age, all you want is an opportunity to show your chops. The best way to get it is to bring some humility to the table, along with your skills and experience.

Speaking of age, I’m 60, scary as that is to “admit.” I agonized about the wisdom of wrapping this article with that fact. I was concerned that people I’d like to be hired by might make negative assumptions about my skills or qualifications based on my age.

It’s easy to do, I know.  

Then again, as long as I deliver, the people I work with don’t seem to care when I was born. So I have to trust that the people I want to work with but haven’t yet won’t either. 

Besides, in an era when brands are defined as much by technology and data as design and copy, numbers like open rates, CTRs, and downloads are the only ones that matter. 

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