Redundancy as a creative comeback may at first glance appear a slightly strange concept, especially for a creative over-50 in a youth-obsessed industry. Yet for Madeleine Morris, losing her job provided her with the opportunity for nothing less than a complete creative reset.
Life as a freelance creative – she is currently working for Publicis – has given her the chance to rediscover her own worth and creative voice, as well as set up a vibrant social community, The Society of Very Senior Creatives. "I feel like now I am being valued for my skills, some of which younger creatives do not have, such as old-school copywriting skills. I love experiential and emerging disciplines but sometimes you just need a really good end line," she says.
In a market that demands constant creative reinvention, increasingly not just for the brands they create work for, but in the structure and make-up of the agencies themselves, remaining static is no longer a viable career path. "I know people who have been in the same agency for 25 years and it isn’t that they lost their relevance, but when new management came in they didn’t get to know them. In many ways it feels safer [for new management] to just get in fresh new talent, especially in creative departments," she says.
The truth, of course, is that fresh talent is often already there. As Morris proves so effortlessly, creative innovation is not predicated on youth. "We can’t give people a sell-by date. It is only now I feel more free in the work I am creating. It goes back to feeling valued and appreciated," she says.
Morris is also refreshingly honest about the fact that freelancing brings its own demands. "I have always been a slogger and that hasn’t changed since I have gone freelance," she says. "After I put my daughter to bed, I’m doing the same as I have always done. The creative challenge doesn’t disappear the minute I leave the office."
For Morris, working out the best way to manage being a good mum and "a fucking good creative" is a work in progress. Yet her experience suggests that while the industry will never solve the fundamental challenge of needing to be in two places at the same time, progress is coming.
"I’ve had agencies ask me what my perfect week would look like, how I would shape my week," she says. "In decades in the industry I have never been asked that before."
According to Morris, a "fear factor" can come into play for very senior creatives, resulting in people staying in jobs for too long to avoid rocking the boat. "The truth is that a lot of older people are very frightened and, as a very senior creative, you think you are going to be a target. When you are older you have more to lose if you have a mortgage and family commitments," she points out.
Starting over is never easy but, as Morris proves, it can offer the promise of building a creative career without fear. It is thanks in part to Morris’ bravery and honesty in speaking about the challenges she has faced in rebuilding her creative career that the taboo of ageism in adland is finally being addressed.
Madeleine Morris is a freelance creative and founder of The Society of Very Senior Creatives