‘It’s not a gimmick’: 65-year-old ad veteran Mark Denton on being St Luke’s new intern
Independent creative agency St Luke’s has a new intern. 65-year-old Mark Denton, after a long career in advertising, has joined the agency at an age when most would be considering retirement. Alongside St Luke’s heads Alan Young and Neil Henderson, he tells us why he wants to send a message to the industry that reinvention is vital to creativity.
Mark Denton, who has had a long and successful career in advertising, has joined St Luke's as an intern/ image by Jonnie Malachi
Despite an enviable career that saw him take up a spot on the D&AD committee as well as at the helm of Coy! Communications for 14 years, Mark Denton says he found himself unoccupied at the start of this year. “I started to wonder what advertising is all about now,” he says.
No longer feeling able to answer fledgling creatives when they asked him how to get a job in advertising, he says: “I thought it was about bloody time I found out!”
“I genuinely want to know how the creative department and teams work. This might sound like a gimmick, but I am here to learn and learning should be a part of our entire career – also, I have no doubt the creative teams here might learn a thing or two from me too.”
Denton says that to facilitate his dream of restarting from the bottom, he put out a call on social media to see if any agencies would be interested in taking him on as an intern. It was St Luke’s that got back to him, with chief creative officer Alan Young telling us: “We certainly felt he had potential!”
To some extent, Denton’s hire builds on initiatives St Luke’s has implemented over the last few years, from its return program that aims to help mothers back into the industry to its internships for early career creatives. However, amid the ‘great resignation’, there are concerns about how the industry can attract and retain high-quality and diverse talent.
Ageism was recently found to be one of the most commonly reported forms of discrimination within advertising. “It’s no secret the industry has always favored young people,” says Young.
When it comes to what makes a good creative, St Luke’s chief exec Neil Henderson explains that while many things in the industry have changed in recent years, the fundamentals remain the same: “Creativity hasn’t changed, human beings haven’t changed, the need to gain better insights hasn’t changed.
”However, what has changed is the language of the industry. We feel it blocks certain people, especially as they get older – highly talented people who suddenly feel excluded from the conversation.”
Young adds that, at its core, creativity is about seeking attention: “And that’s partially what this is an exercise in – young people nowadays can get lost in the weeds and I think Mark is sending a great message to them.”
However, the St Luke’s heads maintain that flexible working patterns accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic will only help to attract more diverse talent into the industry, and that agencies ought to take this opportunity to change for the better.
“Our message to the industry is that taking on any kind of intern, from any background – provided they are paid properly in line with the living wage or London living wage – is really a low risk endeavor on both sides, while the opportunities for learning are tremendous,” says Henderson.
Denton says he hopes his story will inspire more people from older generations to rediscover their creativity, rather than feeling like they are no longer useful. “A lot of older people write themselves off rather than reinventing or re-presenting themselves. If you’re really creative, just give yourself a new coat of paint and get in the queue again.”