John writes from West Hampstead: I’m a 53-year-old creative and, having stepped away from the industry for a short while, I’m now looking to get back in. I’ve been taking my book around old contacts and some of the industry headhunters, and someone I know has suggested I do a bit of personal repackaging. I’ve always thought of myself as being quite youthful in appearance and frame of mind too, but do you think a rebrand will really help? Swap my Cotton Traders for Superdry etc. I thought grey hair was in, but maybe I need to think about highlights. Isn’t skill more important than appearance?
There’s something more important than either. I’ll come to it later.
If you’re to get a decent job, one or two people will not only have to believe you’re unusually creative but will also be required to persuade others that you’re unusually creative. So, however mighty the status and reputation of those making initial judgments about you, they know they will need more than their own gut instinct if you’re to be hired.
Gut instincts can’t be shared – so they will need something that can be. They will need evidence; or, at the very least, something that seems to be evidence.
And that, of course, is why you’re touting your book around. But your book is very unlikely to contain so much outstanding work – almost all of it garlanded with Lions, Pencils and Effies – that you are self-evidently, beyond argument or debate, highly creative. This is not your fault.
Such books are rare. In fact, the only people who can honestly assemble such books are the only people who don’t need them. They already have A Reputation.
And that, even more than evident skill or a hip appearance, is what you need now. Like any other brand, you will greatly benefit from what we in the trade call A Backstory.
Put yourself in the place of an agency executive creative director introducing you to his chief executive.
Or that chief executive introducing you to a client. What can they say about you that makes you immediately different and immediately interesting? Gratifyingly, your age and seniority are now no longer matters to be brushed aside but rather a rich seam of history to be mined for nuggets.
"This is John. He worked for Donald Trump in New York… did that Harry Potter pastiche for Burgrips… started at Saatchis with the ex-Thatcher group… helped the Coe team with the London Olympics presentation…"
I would be amazed if you couldn’t drum up half-a-dozen perfectly legitimate equivalents. Please note that, to qualify, they don’t have to be actual achievements; simple associations work just as well. Names are important: if you (or your brother) had anything to do with Carlton Television when David Cameron was there, you’ve got a winner.
Then get yourself interviewed by a journalist and photographed by a photographer. And get the interview printed – in a traditional print-on-paper publication. And make multiple copies of it. And make sure that everyone you go to see has a copy. And has extra copies so that the creative director who wants to hire you can say to his chief executive: "I wonder if you saw this piece about John? As you can see, he’s got a bit of a name for himself, as a matter of fact…"
Most people feel a bit insecure about taking on a 53-year-old creative person. Knowing that you have an external reputation will make them a great deal braver. And you won’t have to embarrass yourself by going in for hip hop and highlights.
During the pre-Christmas party season, most of the people I met talked about themselves relentlessly and almost never did I hear: ‘That’s enough about me, now what about you?’ What am I doing wrong?
The original New Yorker version has the elderly sugar daddy at a dinner table with the chorus girl. And the sugar daddy is saying: "Now that’s enough about me, let’s talk about you. Tell me – what do you really think about me?"
I think you’ll find that more people are more likely to want to talk about you if you’re in some way interesting. Try it, anyway.
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