What to do after redundancy in your fifties

Things I've learned while navigating life post-redundancy.

You’re a great creative. You crack briefs in no time and get on with everyone. You’ve been in your job for years and survived countless redundancies. You’re part of the furniture. Then a new executive creative director comes in who just doesn’t get you. They bring in people they know who they’ve worked with before. Which is fair enough, really. But you get siloed. The good briefs stop coming. You start to feel demotivated. Then you get the email from HR. Your heart sinks.

Getting made redundant is never fun. And, unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of it about at the moment. I know everyone says it will be great. You’ll go on to bigger and better things. Take the money and run etc. However, you can’t help but feel a bit crap about yourself. It’s like getting a school report that says "could try harder" when you’ve been busting a gut for years.

So, what happens when older creatives get made redundant? Apart from the obvious emotional rollercoaster and the financial negotiations? There are loads of practical stuff you have to do that is a lot more complicated as a creative.

Here is a few tips I have learned on the way.

The happiness factor

First off, if you can afford it, take time out.

Don’t just leap at the next job – unless it’s the job you’ve been looking for your whole life. Quite apart from anything else, it’s great to refresh your head. But, also, it’s a really good opportunity to spend time with your kids, or go to museums, or the flicks in the middle of the day. Giving your brain a break makes such a difference to your creativity too.

It will also help you decide if you really want to stay in the industry. Or if now is the time to think about other options.

If you decide you do want to continue working as an ad creative, then here’s what you have to do. Most importantly, you have to work out how to sell yourself. You’ll be up against a lot of younger creatives who are cheaper than you. But remember all your advantages. Those younger creatives may appear cheaper but, since you’ll get things done in half the time, you’re probably more cost effective.

On that note, you have to work out what you are worth. Take a look at this for some comparisons.

Sell yourself

Work out your personal brand. Wow, I hate that I just wrote that, but it’s important. And you can look at it as a creative challenge. I mean, you’re great at selling other people’s brands; now is the time to sell yours. Think about how you present yourself.

A question that came up on The Society of Very Senior Creatives page was: "What should I wear to interviews?"

Personally, for my first few interviews, I wore a skirt and high heels, thinking I should look like the mature, well-presented senior bod that I was… but I just felt uncomfortable. In the end, I worked out that jeans, funky trainers and a fun top were more me.

It’s much easier to sell yourself if you are being you, not someone else.

Your book

When most "normal" people are looking for jobs, all they have to do is write a CV and get some references.

Creatives have to do that too, but we also have to sort out our folios. Of course, the sensible types will have already got theirs all spanking and sparkly and ready to go. Us not-so-together ones will have to gather as much work as we can from the company that has unceremoniously booted us out and bung it on a website.

Now, if your last portfolio was an actual paper one with a plastic cover and an accompanying DVD, as mine was, this is rather more complicated. Just gathering all the work is a faff in itself, let alone figuring out what format it needs to be in and attempting to create a website. Sometimes it’s worth getting someone to build it for you.

I talked to several creative directors who were having trouble showing what they’d been doing over the past few years, because they had been mostly creative directing (obviously), overseeing work, talking to clients and going to meetings – all of which are difficult to put in a portfolio. So your CV is also very important. Mostly the bit at the beginning that you can use to really sell yourself – again, personal brand.

Figuring out freelance

Going freelance was a bit of a shock. I hadn’t worked freelance for more than 15 years and it’s so different now. In the past, I could just rock up at a job, do my time and send in an invoice as a sole trader.

I can’t do that any more. Most agencies like you to go through an umbrella company or have your own limited company. So, once you’ve set all that up and worked your arse of for a month or two, you will probably still have to wait a couple of months to get paid. Ad agencies are notoriously bad at paying up. You have to hassle and hustle or get your headhunter to do that for you.

Headhunters

Find two or three headhunters who get you. They’ll give you advice on your folio and help you work out your day rate etc. Andy Knell set up the Jolt Academy and he’s fighting to make creative departments more diverse, so perhaps start with him. And keep hustling all your friends in the industry. Write a blog too or perhaps even a Campaign article.

It is intimidating and there isn’t much help, support or advice out there. I’m mostly making it up as I go along. So, if you’re over 35, join my society and we can all support each other. 

I’m hoping next year to set up a website that covers the above in more detail. And there will be meetings, where we can all sit around in our slippers drinking sherry, moaning about our aches and pains and reminiscing about life as a creative in the good old days.

Madeleine Morris is a freelance creative and founder of The Society of Very Senior Creatives

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