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Agency Life

Tackling Ageism in Advertising

Tackling Ageism in Advertising

Patricia Murphy

Patricia Murphy

November 19, 2019

Havas Dublin’s Adrian Fitz-Simon talks about a career that’s led him to his latest accolade, the inaugural Cannes Grey Lion.

"The Cannes Grey Lions is a fantastic way to draw attention to the contribution over-50s make to our industry"

In October, Havas Dubliner Adrian Fitz-Simon was the first to win the Cannes Grey Lion, a new award celebrating the work of marketers over 50. Fitz-Simon, who joined Havas in 2016, is no stranger to winning big at Cannes, but says the introduction of a new category celebrating older marketers is vital to pushing for greater diversity in advertising. A recent report found that just six percent of marketers in Ireland are over the age of 50, which Fitz-Simon says is indicative of an inherently ageist industry. Here, the Creative Director talks about the value older demographics bring to advertising, his winning Cannes Grey Lions pitch, and how a hand-written note landed him his job at Havas.

 

How did you start your career? What drew you to a career in advertising?

“Spends too much time daydreaming” was a consistent remark on my school reports, so off to art college it was for me! There, I developed a specific interest in advertising, but when the time came to look for a job, my portfolio was way too arty. I spent a few months building a book of spec ads and it was these that helped me land my first role as an art director at BBDO. I recently found that book and considered whether or not I would have hired me—the answer was yes, but just about. 

You took up your role as Creative Director in 2016—what brought you to Havas?

By that point, I’d spent 11 years as an art director in the Irish agency Chemistry and, having taught and mentored advertising students for a few years in my spare time, I decided to step up to a role in which I could nurture emerging talent in my day job. Havas Dublin were starting to make a name for themselves around that time. I don’t believe in waiting around to be called, so I sent a letter—yes, an actual letter—to the then managing director, explaining why he should hire me without hesitation. And he fell for it.

The Cannes Grey Lions was designed to celebrate advertising and marketing professionals over 50. Why do you think the representation of this category at the awards is important?

In a word, ageism. Interestingly, the idea came from a young Irish art director, Dean Ryan (JWT Folk), who wondered why there was a Cannes Young Lions competition for under-30s, but nothing for “Old” Lions—an astute observation. This is a group of people who have enormous experience to draw on, yet all too often, that experience goes unacknowledged, or worse can be rejected as irrelevant in today’s youth-obsessed market. I have seen many of my industry peers unceremoniously bypassed or let go, and this ageist attitude needs to change. The Cannes Grey Lions is a fantastic way to draw attention to the contribution over-50s make to our industry. Being an Irish initiative—it ran in Ireland only this year as a sort of test market—there is hope it will roll out internationally from next year.

"I have seen many of my industry peers unceremoniously bypassed or let go, and this ageist attitude needs to change. This is a group of people who have enormous experience to draw on, yet all too often, that experience goes unacknowledged"

How do you think the advertising industry in Ireland compares to other regions like the U.S., London, and France?

Small! Given our close proximity to London, we naturally—and unfairly—compare ourselves to what I consider the most brilliant creative city in the world. That’s not to say we don’t have the talent—Ireland is bursting with creativity. We punch above our weight in literary, theatrical and musical spheres, but we have some way to go in creative communications. One of the difficulties is our market’s over-reliance on localization. This is an issue for creatives globally, but we certainly seem to have more than our fair share of small budgets based on pre-existing assets. The key is to identify unique creative opportunities that pop up in unexpected places, grab them, hold them hostage and refuse to release them until you have an award in your hand.

A 2019 report showed that only six percent of Irish people working in advertising and media agencies are over 50, while 47 percent are under 30. What do you think these numbers reflect?

It is good to see the industry attracts so many young people and that advertising is still seen as a “cool” career choice. The most enjoyable part of my job is helping young talent become better talent. Ultimately, though, these are not pretty stats—they reflect an inherently ageist industry, one which willfully ignores the talent that created it in the first place. If you think about that, it will make you sad.

The competition involved creating a pitch for Alone, an Irish organization supporting people over the age of 65. What was the thinking behind your campaign “Add Your Voice”?

Alone’s aim is to combat loneliness in older people by appealing for volunteers to regularly visit or call an older person they’re matched with. During the briefing session, we heard a quote from a man in his 70s who said when he attends soccer matches, surrounded by thousands of people, he can feel like the loneliest man in the world because not one of the sea of voices is directed at him. This inspired the idea that the simple act of speaking could help cure loneliness.

“Add Your Voice” was the campaign idea, but also a call to action. The executions revolved around hearing this call to action in unexpected environments where many people normally congregate—supermarkets, trains, stadiums, etc. Creating awareness was the first part of the pitch. The second part was about demonstrating the emotional benefit, and I did this by suggesting we use traditional media to allow individual volunteers to send a message of gratitude to the older person they’re matched with. This reversed the usual point of view, and showed how volunteering can end up being equally beneficial to both parties concerned.

You won a Gold Cannes Lion in 2005. How does your latest win compare?

The Gold Lion was a major achievement, not least because, along with my then partner Emmet Wright (Chemistry), I was the first-ever Irish winner. Thankfully, Ireland has since upped its Cannes game! The Grey Lion win has a certain satisfying symmetry in that I’m also the first recipient. I dearly hope I’m not the last and that the competition becomes an annual international event.

Outside of work, your passion is music. You’ve had some of your music in ads. Can you tell us a little bit about your work and how it has added to your life?

When I wrote my very first TV ad in the mid 90s, somehow I convinced the client it would be an amazing idea to bypass the musical composer pitch process and assume the role myself—there’s a lot to be said for youthful hubris. These days I prefer to keep my music separate from my career, although the two areas converged a few years ago when I conceived an elaborate marketing ploy for an album I released. The campaign ended up winning creative awards and ultimately became more successful than the music itself, which I think may be the definition of a hollow victory.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

My grandfather told me, if you ever get lost in the mountains, find a river and follow it downstream. Make of that what you will.

"The Cannes Grey Lions is a fantastic way to draw attention to the contribution over-50s make to our industry"

In October, Havas Dubliner Adrian Fitz-Simon was the first to win the Cannes Grey Lion, a new award celebrating the work of marketers over 50. Fitz-Simon, who joined Havas in 2016, is no stranger to winning big at Cannes, but says the introduction of a new category celebrating older marketers is vital to pushing for greater diversity in advertising. A recent report found that just six percent of marketers in Ireland are over the age of 50, which Fitz-Simon says is indicative of an inherently ageist industry. Here, the Creative Director talks about the value older demographics bring to advertising, his winning Cannes Grey Lions pitch, and how a hand-written note landed him his job at Havas.

 

How did you start your career? What drew you to a career in advertising?

“Spends too much time daydreaming” was a consistent remark on my school reports, so off to art college it was for me! There, I developed a specific interest in advertising, but when the time came to look for a job, my portfolio was way too arty. I spent a few months building a book of spec ads and it was these that helped me land my first role as an art director at BBDO. I recently found that book and considered whether or not I would have hired me—the answer was yes, but just about. 

You took up your role as Creative Director in 2016—what brought you to Havas?

By that point, I’d spent 11 years as an art director in the Irish agency Chemistry and, having taught and mentored advertising students for a few years in my spare time, I decided to step up to a role in which I could nurture emerging talent in my day job. Havas Dublin were starting to make a name for themselves around that time. I don’t believe in waiting around to be called, so I sent a letter—yes, an actual letter—to the then managing director, explaining why he should hire me without hesitation. And he fell for it.

The Cannes Grey Lions was designed to celebrate advertising and marketing professionals over 50. Why do you think the representation of this category at the awards is important?

In a word, ageism. Interestingly, the idea came from a young Irish art director, Dean Ryan (JWT Folk), who wondered why there was a Cannes Young Lions competition for under-30s, but nothing for “Old” Lions—an astute observation. This is a group of people who have enormous experience to draw on, yet all too often, that experience goes unacknowledged, or worse can be rejected as irrelevant in today’s youth-obsessed market. I have seen many of my industry peers unceremoniously bypassed or let go, and this ageist attitude needs to change. The Cannes Grey Lions is a fantastic way to draw attention to the contribution over-50s make to our industry. Being an Irish initiative—it ran in Ireland only this year as a sort of test market—there is hope it will roll out internationally from next year.

"I have seen many of my industry peers unceremoniously bypassed or let go, and this ageist attitude needs to change. This is a group of people who have enormous experience to draw on, yet all too often, that experience goes unacknowledged"

How do you think the advertising industry in Ireland compares to other regions like the U.S., London, and France?

Small! Given our close proximity to London, we naturally—and unfairly—compare ourselves to what I consider the most brilliant creative city in the world. That’s not to say we don’t have the talent—Ireland is bursting with creativity. We punch above our weight in literary, theatrical and musical spheres, but we have some way to go in creative communications. One of the difficulties is our market’s over-reliance on localization. This is an issue for creatives globally, but we certainly seem to have more than our fair share of small budgets based on pre-existing assets. The key is to identify unique creative opportunities that pop up in unexpected places, grab them, hold them hostage and refuse to release them until you have an award in your hand.

A 2019 report showed that only six percent of Irish people working in advertising and media agencies are over 50, while 47 percent are under 30. What do you think these numbers reflect?

It is good to see the industry attracts so many young people and that advertising is still seen as a “cool” career choice. The most enjoyable part of my job is helping young talent become better talent. Ultimately, though, these are not pretty stats—they reflect an inherently ageist industry, one which willfully ignores the talent that created it in the first place. If you think about that, it will make you sad.

The competition involved creating a pitch for Alone, an Irish organization supporting people over the age of 65. What was the thinking behind your campaign “Add Your Voice”?

Alone’s aim is to combat loneliness in older people by appealing for volunteers to regularly visit or call an older person they’re matched with. During the briefing session, we heard a quote from a man in his 70s who said when he attends soccer matches, surrounded by thousands of people, he can feel like the loneliest man in the world because not one of the sea of voices is directed at him. This inspired the idea that the simple act of speaking could help cure loneliness.

“Add Your Voice” was the campaign idea, but also a call to action. The executions revolved around hearing this call to action in unexpected environments where many people normally congregate—supermarkets, trains, stadiums, etc. Creating awareness was the first part of the pitch. The second part was about demonstrating the emotional benefit, and I did this by suggesting we use traditional media to allow individual volunteers to send a message of gratitude to the older person they’re matched with. This reversed the usual point of view, and showed how volunteering can end up being equally beneficial to both parties concerned.

You won a Gold Cannes Lion in 2005. How does your latest win compare?

The Gold Lion was a major achievement, not least because, along with my then partner Emmet Wright (Chemistry), I was the first-ever Irish winner. Thankfully, Ireland has since upped its Cannes game! The Grey Lion win has a certain satisfying symmetry in that I’m also the first recipient. I dearly hope I’m not the last and that the competition becomes an annual international event.

Outside of work, your passion is music. You’ve had some of your music in ads. Can you tell us a little bit about your work and how it has added to your life?

When I wrote my very first TV ad in the mid 90s, somehow I convinced the client it would be an amazing idea to bypass the musical composer pitch process and assume the role myself—there’s a lot to be said for youthful hubris. These days I prefer to keep my music separate from my career, although the two areas converged a few years ago when I conceived an elaborate marketing ploy for an album I released. The campaign ended up winning creative awards and ultimately became more successful than the music itself, which I think may be the definition of a hollow victory.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

My grandfather told me, if you ever get lost in the mountains, find a river and follow it downstream. Make of that what you will.

Patricia Murphy is a content creator with a background in digital health and lifestyle journalism. She loves to chat and tell stories.

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