With the likes of Peter Souter being made creative director of the
country’s biggest agency, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, at the tender age of
35, you could be forgiven for assuming that advertising is a young man’s
However, you don’t have to scratch too hard beneath the surface to see
that this is not always the case. Most agencies, particularly the bigger
ones, employ people over 45, even in their creative departments. In
fact, a 1997 IPA census revealed 540 men and 187 women over the age of
50 working in member agencies.
One of the reasons the industry is largely unaware of these characters
is that they are universally modest. They have rarely, if ever, hit the
Campaign headlines. In fact, the Bates Dorland art director, Derrick
Hass, profiled here, refused to be interviewed.
Their humility is important: it’s the key to the longevity of their
Patrick Collister, executive creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, says
of Hass: ’He is staggeringly talented, but he has never tried to be a
creative director, or tried to earn a pounds 250,000 salary. Lots of
people allow themselves to get promoted and then they require huge
salaries.’ It’s cheaper to get a young tyke with five years’ experience,
than it is to promote a creative director for 20 years.’
Though cost is one of the factors in keeping the average age down, there
are others. Clients don’t like to be taken out for a night on the town
by agency staff who are much older than them.
Another reason is that as more agencies merge into business giants,
corporate rules are imposed, among them a strict retirement age. It has
been rumoured that the search for a group chairman for Ogilvy & Mather
has been hampered by the network’s 55-year-old retirement rule.
But this isn’t the case in America - or ’grey beard central’ as one
adman calls it. Paul Hammersley, managing director of Lowe Howard-Spink,
who worked at Lowe & Partners/SMS in New York for four years, latterly
as general manager, says: ’It’s ageist the other way round. They don’t
trust able young people. There are people interpreting Nielsen reports
in America who would be account directors here.’
The US logic is that long-term relationships are built with each client
by having the same team on the job for as long as possible. In the UK,
the 29-year relationship between the Daily Mail and FCB is a good
example of this theory. Brian Watson, profiled here, has worked on the
account for 19 years.
But the biggest benefit of clinging on to agency staff, even after they
have turned grey, is experience. There are no short cuts; it simply
takes years to have seen it all before, to know that there is life after
a merger, that agencies can survive even after they lose huge accounts,
to know how to avert crises, or deal with them when they arise.
Molly Godet, an art director at Publicis with at least 20 years’
experience under her belt, says: ’Young people can only talk in the
language they have learnt so far.’ But she questions their ability to
communicate to older people, the ones with the cash.
Lee Clow, US-based chairman and chief creative officer of TBWA
Chiat/Day, says in an ad for The Wall Street Journal: ’There are those
who say advertising is only for the young. But that’s true only if you
let people strip you of your personal integrity until you’re tired and
worn out. If that happens, it’s not a matter of being old and burnt out,
but having sold out. Focus on the work. Don’t be distracted by stuff
that’s not about making advertising.’
These sentiments are echoed by the four individuals profiled here. They
all have an enthusiasm for the business that has not waned. They have
not become jaded by the industry’s negative features which put others
off. They simply seem not to have got involved.
Molly Godet is coy about her age and how long she has worked in the
business, but most of her working life has been with Publicis as an art
director. She was behind the agency’s Boots No 7 advertising and now
works on Renault and United Biscuits.
Molly Godet says she is not aware of advertising being an ageist
’Perhaps I am myopic. I suspect it can be but I haven’t noticed,’ she
says. But then this could be because she has had to deal with
advertising’s other great prejudice: sexism.
She admits she has witnessed other women being the victims of
chauvinism, but has been untouched by it herself. ’Sometimes people are
natural victims,’ she says.
Her sentiments show not only that she is tough, but that she has not let
the industry’s prejudices get to her - no doubt a key contributor to the
longevity of her career. She is almost proud of the fact that she can’t
draw - that she has not let that shortfall get in the way of a long
Godet claims she does not know how long she has worked at Publicis.
She also can’t remember exactly when her career began. However, she does
recall that it started ’thousands of years ago’ at J. Walter Thompson,
where she was taken on as a trainee art director.
She cites computers as the most important change to influence the
industry during her career. She also notes that there are fewer women
working on the creative side of the business than before, but more
working on the client side and in account management.
She comments: ’The industry has become much more laddish. Not that it
bothers me because I can hold my own in most company.’ No doubt she can
- she’s thick-skinned, talented and glamorous.
Derrick Hass started his art directing career at Vernons, working for
Tony Brignull, before continuing his education at many of London’s top
20 agencies including DDB, CDP, Euro RSCG, BMP, Saatchi & Saatchi and
now Bates Dorland. Famous campaigns he has worked on include ’nuke’ for
Victory V, ’stamp’ for Volkswagen and ’rambler’s guide’ for Shell.
’Body of a 19-year-old luv,’ is one of the catchphrases attributed to
Derrick Hass, the inspiration for this piece. He is famous for not
seeking publicity, he is famous for not telling anyone how old he is,
and he is famous for being one of the best art directors in London.
In keeping with his reputation, Hass declined to be interviewed for this
feature - hence the old photograph. He said: ’I don’t really want to go
on about me. I’m just a professional and not an exceptional person.’ The
only comment he wanted to make was: ’I have met some fantastic people.
It’s been worth it for the people.’
Hass has been in the business for at least 35 years and in that time he
has worked at most of the major agencies, with several of the industry’s
most famous creative faces. The reason?
He likes to move around. In a rare interview he gave D&AD when he was
made a life member last year, he said it keeps him fresh and ensures
that he is in touch with what’s going on.
What Hass has is endless ideas. He is famed for his versatile approach -
you can’t tell he’s worked on a particular piece of advertising because
he doesn’t impose his own style on it.
He now works two days a week at Bates Dorland with the creative
director, Jay Pond-Jones. The rest of the time he teaches, draws and
Most of Brian Watson’s 34-year career in advertising has been with FCB,
where he has worked for almost 26 years, latterly as deputy creative
He was behind London Transport’s ’Fly the Tube’ campaign to support the
launch of the Heathrow extension in 1997, and has worked on virtually
every FCB account, including Cadbury, Dulux and Heinz. He is 48.
Starting out in the post room of an advertising agency is a beginning
Brian Watson, deputy creative director at FCB before the Banks Hoggins
O’Shea merger, shares with many advertising greats. He joined Doyle Dane
Bernbach’s post room in 1965 straight from school, when he was only
He stayed for seven years, then joined McCann-Erickson for one year,
before leaving for FCB ’26 years ago this June’. He is in the Guinness
Book of Records for making more commercials for one client - the Daily
Mail - than anyone else in the world. He has worked on the newspaper’s
account for 19 years and has produced more than 500 commercials for
Some would call it a boring career, but speaking to Watson, you
understand exactly why he has stayed in the business for nearly 40
years. He is totally fired up with enthusiasm: ’It’s the most fun you
can have with your clothes on,’ he says, paraphrasing one of the most
quotable admen in the world, Jerry della Femina. He adds: ’No two days
are the same. We all complain about being too busy to go home at the
weekend, saying it’s a pain in the arse, but really we all love it.’
Tony Dell is 78 and has worked in the business for 45 years. He is an
art buyer at Delaney Fletcher Bozell and has been with the agency long
enough to see it change name and/or merge eight times.
’In advertising, everyone’s an individual,’ Tony Dell says to explain
why he likes working in the business. And he is as individual as they
come. When Swan Lake was last showing in London, Dell went to watch it
three times a week for six months. He became so friendly with the cast
that its members went back to his flat after the last night to
Dell must be one of advertising’s longest-serving devotees: he started
at Willings Press Service in 1954. ’It was a scissors job,’ he says.
’The company then tried to evolve into an ad agency, which eventually it
did, to become Overmark.’ He then joined a few agencies which went bust
until, in about 1960, he landed at Butler & Gardner, which became Butler
Dennis & Garland, then Slaymaker Cowley & White, then Delaney Fletcher
Slaymaker Delaney ... until eventually it reached its present form -
Delaney Fletcher Bozell.
’It’s an amoeba,’ comments Dell.
He loved the 60s when swinging London was at its height: ’People
destroyed themselves with pleasure. That’s more fun than the gloom and
grimness we have now. It was a time of great excess and great
There was a great deal of money floating about.
’Nowadays, though, it is so sophisticated. I come in and turn on my
SyncMaster and my voicemail light is blinking. Life is much faster
He adds: ’Everything is always changing. Although experience is
valuable, experience only started yesterday.’