"I was You"

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Their clients range from E! Entertainment, Universal and Nike to Goodwill, Loreal and El Al Airlines. 

A door in the hallway of a traditional Westside LA office building leads me into a hip, industrial designed open floor plan. Millennials inhabit the space, comfortable as if they are in their own living rooms.  I’m told because so many “Knewbies”  are coming, that instead of speaking in the conference room,  I will be speaking “over there” at the “bleachers.” I turn around and at the far end are actual aluminum bleachers, like the kind I don’t sit on any more at this age, because they give me a pain in the disk that ruptured two years ago when a Thai masseur hanging from a bar on the ceiling, walked on my back.  


That familiar feeling.

The whole place feels familiar, taking me back thirty-five to forty years when I needed to believe I was among the hippest ad guys in town. The designs may have changed, technology may have taken over,  but there’s the same atmosphere, pressure and crackle in the air. I knew where I was. 

Twenty five or so Knewbies gather around for the “Lunch Roundtable.” I’d been referred by one of my former USC Annenberg School of Communication graduate students, Kathleen Bryson, who is now a member of their creative team. Brand Knew is venturing further into the nonprofit sector and Kathleen told them about both my advertising/creativity and the nonprofit advocacy classes. 

If I thought I was having a great time teaching at USC, this turns out to be the best experience, now being back in the old country. 

I have no plan how to begin talking. But “I was you,” just tumbles out of my mouth. So stunned I had said that, I then share that my biggest revelation regarding this career, wasn’t until I was in my late fifties. 

 

A story.

I tell them this story: 

When the great recession began eight years ago, the last of my generation was being tossed out of this business on their ears. By then I had been long gone, pouring my skills into the nonprofit world. But many of my former colleagues who had remained in ad agencies were now calling me, asking what it was I was doing that kept me working. 

When the twenty-fifth call came, I invited all those aging colleagues to my home for dinner. The first question I asked them at that dinner was, “Is this profession about being ad people, copywriters and art directors, or is it really about creativity?” Almost all of them responded they were copywriters and art directors. At that moment I knew they were sunk. And as the years have gone by, they indeed have been. 

 

The lesson: Unleashing Creativity.

I explain to the Knewbies that what saved me professionally over the years and now into my mid-sixties is recognizing that my root profession is creativity. And the legs of creativity could carry me in many directions, as they have, continuing my relevancy. I tell them about teaching creatively, helping raise millions of dollars creatively through Conversational Dinners and how all of that and so much more has now migrated into the success of The Red Table, which we have positioned as “Unleashing Creativity.” 

 

Hungry for meaning. 

As much as I feel I had been them, these young people quickly show me they are not me.  Different from my generation in the ad/media biz, this generation is hungry for meaning in their work. Not just after work. They want to use their skills and talents, to not only sell products and services, but to change the world. That’s when the roundtable, or the bleachers, took a turn into the integration of products, services and causes. 

They were now digging into every word I said. 

At that moment I realize my own life was taking on another purpose.  I understood that because of my background in advertising for fifteen years and the nonprofit sector for twenty years, and now my teaching experience of the last seven years, I feel a responsibility to explain to Millennials such as these, how business and causes could successfully work together, and the powerful role that communications/media companies could play in the middle.

I realize more at that moment than ever, that because of my background in advertising for fifteen years and the nonprofit sector for twenty years, and my teaching experience of the last seven years,  I am uniquely capable of explaining well how business and causes could successfully work together, and the role that communications/media companies could play in the middle. 

 

The two-sided benefit.

They tell me at the end that I hit the nail on the head and what I have just done for them. They have no idea what they’ve just done for me. And they ask me to come back for more. They gave my life meaning. 

Gary Wexler