30 should not feel like a deadline in advertising

What's in a number? According to The Core Agency copywriter Sarah Mould, age is everything - but what about experience?

When I say I feel like I am running out of time in my career, my mum laughs at me. You’re 26, she scoffs. In my head, I immediately make a calculation. Four – ticking closer to three – more years until an important window of opportunity closes. The dreaded 3-0.

When I first landed in the creative department, I was partnered with an art director who was over the age of 30. We were at similar career levels, she maybe had a year on me. We had the same ambition. The same work ethic. We stayed late, we drank wine, we talked ideas and we pushed ourselves.

Excited and naive, I searched for competitions we could do together. That’s where I hit a snag. There was next to nothing we could enter as a team. Every terms and conditions page I read, every entry form… they all said for people aged 30 and under. She had ticked over. I had not.

Ageism in advertising is not a new discussion. It’s a topic that has been analysed over and over. But as a young person, I was and still am incredibly surprised by just how much the advertising industry’s obsession with youth affects me too.

We are told to hustle in our twenties. We’re meant to eat, sleep and breathe the mad world we find ourselves in. Think outside the box. Create the best work of our lives, quick smart, and make sure we PR it all so that our name sticks. It’s an incredible amount of pressure when you’re just not sure who you are and what kind of work you even want to create, anyway.

Then suddenly at the age of 30, the door slams shut. You can’t be clapped at awards as a child genius. An up-and-comer. You were meant to be here, already. What were you waiting for? The shine wears off at such an arbitrary number.

Perhaps the assumption is that by the age of 30, you will have established yourself a career in advertising and can gracefully step aside. That, frankly, is no longer the world we live in. In Australia, the average person will change careers five to seven times in their life. Much of this will be done between the ages of 20 to 30. By then, the advertising world is already saying that it’s much too late.

There are many people who don’t write a sentence of copy or draw a scamp until they have somehow stumbled into the creative department after multiple careers. Arguably the most famous man in advertising is one of them: David Ogilvy was nearly 40 before he got around to creating one of the most well-known ad agencies in the world. He’d worked as a chef, researcher, farmer and in the British Intelligence Service. He’d had a full life of experiences to draw ideas upon. And isn’t that where creativity thrives?

For women, the pressure to succeed young is increased ten-fold. You have to be exceptional, near legend-status, to stand the test of time. And if you dip out of the industry for a moment, it can be difficult to get back in. Women over the age of 50 are some of the least likely to get a job interview. They’re also the fastest growing group experiencing homelessness.

It seems nonsensical that we don’t value the experience, knowledge and frankly incredible ideas of people who have had and continue to have a rich life they can draw upon. As Cindy Gallop has said, “Our industry badly needs older people – or, as I like to call us, experts.”

My question is: why do we talk about age, whatsoever? Your level of experience in advertising has no bearing on age. Your ideas are not only for people your age. In fact, it’s the space where experiences merge and combine where the best ideas can happen. And it is the people who come to advertising from a strange, twisting path who often come up with the most challenging ones. So why aren’t we giving them a platform to do it?

Let’s do away with age-restricted competitions, lists and interviews that are only given to launch young careers. I want to hear from people who failed a couple of times in their 20s and are killing it at 40. I want to compete with someone who is older than me so that we can challenge each other. Make each other better. I want opportunities for people of all ages, without constraint.

I talk about this now – at the age of 26 when most people will be saying oh just you wait – in the hopes that this pressure won’t always exist. That when I reach the age of 30 I won’t think of it as an expiry date or feel like I’ve missed the boat. And that I won’t have to stop and look around at the age of 50 and think, god why won’t anyone hire me? I know so much more now than I did then.

Until then, I’ll be re-reading the parody 30 most disappointing under 30 as a consolation prize and a reminder that we don’t all have to have it together by a certain age. 30 isn’t the end of a chapter, it’s the beginning of a whole new story. I can’t wait to keep writing mine.

Sarah Mould is a copywriter at The Core Agency.


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