I love young people. Have even had two of my own for twenty years now (which is crazy). Over that time I’ve had the privilege of working with young people, hiring them, and engaging them on social. Plus [checks phone], most most of the people I routinely text with are younger. Go figure.

As an older guy I totally understand and respect that young people are always coming into the workforce. It’s just the circle of life. Normal.

Only, I work in advertising. And while I’ve been away from the big agency world for a while, I stay connected to it enough to know that in advertising young people dominate the workforce. Something about the idea that they have fresher ideas.

I didn’t exactly follow this trend, however, as I entered the ad biz at 35. And I didn’t think for a second that I was too old. But today I’d probably struggle just to get past the stigma (and the gatekeeper.) And now, after 20 years in the biz, I’m considered something of a relic. According to the stigma, I mean.

But here’s the thing—I flourished as a 35 year-old junior copywriter. Killed every project I worked on. B2B. Retail. Automotive. Health. Didn’t matter. Stuff I wrote won awards, filled appointment schedules, sold out car lots, and made a lot of clients very happy.

… But how?

I was 35, that’s how.

Being 35 gave me this deep pool of cultural reference to draw upon which allowed me to connect with people both older and younger. Kids fresh out of portfolio school or college simply don’t have this kind of range.

Unless …

If I were to hire a young creative person today, at some point during the meeting I’d bring up family. Not in a creepy way, but out of curiosity. For one thing, people in an agency are something like a family, so it makes sense to inquire. But for another, it illuminates whether someone has a good relationship with their parents.

You see, when someone has a good relationship with their parents, that usually means their parents have had a strong influence on them. And when you’ve been influenced by someone older, their wisdom leaves an impact.

When you hire a young person who has a good relationship with their parents, it’s like hiring two people for the price of one.

People who can connect with people outside of their generation, scale.

Last I checked, most advertising is aimed at people with buying power—which, traditionally, are people who have worked to earn that buying power. Over time. Older people. And when you need to sincerely connect with a target audience, you have to become them. Or, at the very least, understand them.

Hire young people. Absolutely. But if you’re hiring for a creative position, you should probably look for signs that the candidate is capable of connecting to people outside of their own generation. And one way to do that is to consider their relationship with their parents.

Me and my 19-yo daughter who is a sophomore at NC State studying Communications. And yes, we have a good relationship.



Why i talk to to the butterfly bush
Please Accept My Apology

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.