What next for the 45-plus creative?

When many in adland are reaching the top of the ladder, others can suddenly find themselves sliding down back to square one, Rooney Carruthers writes.

What next for the 45-plus creative?

You’re a 45-year-old creative with a six-figure salary, two kids at private school and all the trappings of advertising success. You’re one-half of a senior team looking after a £50m-spending client you’ve known and worked on for eight years. All is well. 

Then that client calls a pitch – global realignment. The agency loses the pitch and alarm bells ring. Redundancies are being talked about and you feel exposed. A month later, you’re called into HR. Someone who you’ve never met before, who doesn’t know how many late nights and weekends you’ve worked and how many millions of pounds worth of billings you’ve added to the bottom line, tells you why they are terminating your contract. You know what happens next. Three months of personal hell. You’re out.

Two weeks ago, Paul Bainsfair, Rae Burdon and I spoke of this very subject. The reason for our conversation was so raw and personal, I can’t expand in too much detail but a senior creative who Rae had worked with had taken his own life.

When the bubble bursts for the senior creative, what next? 

There aren’t many jobs knocking about offering a six-figure salary for you and your partner, if any. Three months ago, you were flying business class to South Africa for a ten-day shoot, staying in a hotel you couldn’t afford if you were on a family holiday. Every sycophant in London was saying how great your work was and now you’re staring into the abyss.

You ring a few so-called mates – no luck there. You look overseas – nothing going on. Finally, you split with your creative partner of 18 years because it might be easier to find work on your own. Everyone said you were the talented one. You give it a go and, ten weeks later, nothing. Why me?!

I know some very good account men who after redundancy go client-side and are now holding down some of the biggest corporate marketing jobs in the industry. I know one planner who has set up two failed businesses and returns to a senior agency planning role whenever he fancies loading up his bank balance again. I’m not saying that it’s easier for the other disciplines in advertising, but consultancy and bridge-building aren’t the creative’s strong point.

Our 45-plus creative has now hit the freelance trail. A couple of weeks here, a few days there – his going rate is £350 a day but we’ve only got £200. It’s work and he takes it (begrudgingly). It’s a life outside the comfort zone but it pays the bills.

Don’t get me wrong, some creative freelance talent are absolutely brilliant. It suits their lifestyle better and they have made it work for them. They more than likely fell out of love with agency life when they were younger and hit the trail. The good ones can spend a year or two in one agency – great work if you can find it – but our 45-plus creative has not been so lucky.

A creative brain is incredibly fragile, filled with paranoia, empty white pages and moments of sheer brilliance. I’m not crying for special treatment for the creative department, knowing glittering careers come to an end at some point and thankfully Nabs is there to help.

I don’t want to sound full of doom and gloom. There’s a thriving industry that accepts all ages. Six months ago, I hired two creative directors, both in their forties, who I’d been hunting down for the past year. We’ve always kept in contact with each other and they were the final piece in the George & Dragon creative department. They’ve brought fun, vibrancy and a telepathic knowledge of how to work together. This only comes with experience and a desire to do great work. Whether you’re 25-plus or 45-plus, there is room for everyone.

Rooney Carruthers is the creative partner at George & Dragon

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