A couple of months ago, Walter T. Geer III, svp and group creative director at TBWAWorldhealth, had had enough. Faced with a long list of posts in social media around various awards for industry professionals under 40 or 30, he took to LinkedIn for what one might consider an innocuous post on the topic.
Unexpectedly, these 72 words caught fire. To date, over 24,000 people have liked the post, while almost 1,900 took the time to weigh in. Comments included the “myth” that people over 40 have aged out of a “young” industry. Others shared their own stories of success, including starting businesses at later ages, and one noted that a 62-year-old was part of a cohort getting their bachelor’s degrees.
Though there was some disagreement, most applauded Geer for acknowledging the ageism elephant in the room, a topic that is starting to gain more momentum and one with some high-profile lawsuits currently playing out, including at TBWA.
Adweek caught up with Geer to find out what he learned from posting a simple, yet provocative statement for all to see.
Why did you decide that it was a good time to weigh in on ageism?
Geer: I had seen many posts on social media referencing 30 Under 30 and 40 Under 40 submissions and awards. For the record, I had never received one of these, but I can genuinely say that I’ve never truly craved one. Sure, awards are nice. I’ve had a few, and if I had the opportunity to be nominated for [an age-based] one, I would have been excited and happy. I had simply never worked at a company that cared so much about those types of awards, so it wasn’t an option or even top of mind.
While I give much credit and praise to those being nominated for and winning these awards, I had heard so much about it during the week [last November] that in my tired state of mind, I decided to voice my opinion on Linkedin. Not that I cared about many people seeing it, I had just hoped that a few people would share in my way of thinking and agree, that people over 40 are not dead in the advertising space. I am 42, and I can promise you, we are very much alive.
But this isn’t a post about awards, right?
Correct. This post is about the fact that as an industry, we have forgotten that fantastic talent over the age of 40 is abundant. I work with some creatives at TBWA that are well into their 50s and 60s, and they are incredible. Our society puts such a significant emphasis on the success of young adults that many of us are hoodwinked into believing that they are advertisings saviors.
Research shows that the most successful entrepreneurs are 45 years of age and older. These awards, by and large, are age biased. If by me saying that publicly prevents me from ever receiving some kind of award or praise from those who romanticize these 40 and 30 under awards, then so be it.
The responses to your post seem very eye-opening.
Yes. I read as many posts and messages as possible and engaged in every conversation that I had the time for, but, for the most part, it was challenging to keep up.
I knew ageism was a thing, but I never realized how many people this affects daily. Reading everyone’s stories of failure and success allowed me to have a completely different view of how this affects people, and will likely affect me too. Sadly, there are people out there that lack the understanding of how ageism affects people. Most of these comments made on my post came by way of what looked to be younger people.