Creative Works Ageism Agencies

I was an old agency dog, but I learned new tricks

By Jon Ashwell, Creative Director

George P. Johnson


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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April 2, 2024 | 7 min read

Our industry has a problem with ageism, says Jon Ashwell of George P. Johnson. But seven years after losing his job, he's working with the latest technology and some of the world's biggest brands.

A brown dog wears a pair of wire-framed glasses

In a fast-changing market, experience still counts. / Ben Moreland via Unsplash

For a decade, I worked as a creative director at a successful agency that claimed to be a world-leader in brand activation and shopper marketing. Due to various mergers and acquisitions, over the years the place had evolved, developed... and confused itself more than a chameleon at a disco.

I had some fantastic times there though, and met some very talented people (and a few not so talented). And we did some great work. Over the years, the company had become a big part of my life. But a new chief creative officer was brought in and one afternoon, surprisingly while we were working on a pitch, it was decided that time was up for this old dog.

It was a disruption. A sudden diversion on my career path. But deep down I wasn’t too bothered. It had happened to me before. Of course it had. I was fifty-five and part of the 7% of over 50s in our industry. A tiny fraction compared to other industries that boast just under 30% of their workforce on average being 50-plus category.

During the redundancy process I discovered that my performance was measured against that of the agency’s other Creative Directors. And, apparently, I wasn’t creative enough in the areas of digital or experiential. It was an excuse. And not really a great surprise.

The agency at the time didn’t do any of that work. Truth is, I was doing as well as anyone else in those areas. No one there knew anything about those disciplines. Despite all its transformation, the agency wasn’t a digital agency and was still wetting its marketing paws in the new wave of tech.

Whatever. My time there was up. My particular creative skill set was no longer required. Ironic then that the agency I joined the day my redundancy was finalized was George P. Johnson (GPJ) one of the world’s leading experiential agencies.

A new challenge and new skills

GPJ has been around for years. It's even older than me! George even introduced the first car on a rotating turntable at a New York automobile show. The agency was already creating award-winning work. But they were hungry for more and knew that the world of digital and experiential was changing. Under new management – and eager to mix things up a bit – they took a chance on me.

It didn’t take me long to realize that a single thought could ignite a whole army of people. My work was no longer just about a headline, a poster or piece of point of sale. Now, 3D, 2D, content, motion graphics, digital activations and architectural design could all kick in – as long as the concept is strong enough to carry the work.

GPJ opened up a whole new exciting world. They were willing to take a chance. On me and the work. To leap into the unknown. To disrupt the norm. And discover new innovative ways of communicating their client’s message. Face-to-face with customers. Hands-on. Touchy-feely. No place to hide.

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Age shouldn't be a barrier

I got lucky. Again. My creative thinking has evolved and been enhanced. Improved by working with specialists who hold job titles I previously never knew existed. As an agency, GPJ continues to win awards in areas where I was told I couldn’t compete.

This old dog now has a few more tricks up his sleeve. I’ve discovered a whole new marketing discipline. But I’ve also learned a lot more. Age shouldn’t be a barrier or a reason to quit. It’s possible to turn disappointment into motivation. And the old adage of ‘everything happens for a reason’ is likely true.

So, if you’re thinking you’re past your sell-by date. Forget it. Losing my previous job was a good thing. It was probably just an excuse to offload the old bloke, but it helped me find a fresh outlet for my creative thinking. It taught me to embrace the new. And that with the right people around you, you can be creative for as long as you like.

Creative Works Ageism Agencies

Content by The Drum Network member:

George P. Johnson

George P. Johnson is the world’s leading experiential marketing agency. We power brand experiences by enabling marketers to benefit from integrated experiential...

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