By Justine Clay
As some of you may recall, I wrote a newsletter a few months ago about what being over-fifty means to your creative career. I had such a nice response to the newsletter that I decided to put together a series of interviews with creative talent that have thriving freelance careers and just happen to be over-fifty.
We kicked off the series with Copywriter and Blogger, Laura Silverman whose writing, recipes and all-around lifestyle people around the globe to up their game and live their best life.
Today, I’m thrilled to be featuring, copywriter, Mark Welsh. Mark was one of the first people to join Plum Creative, when I opened the doors nine years ago and we’ve been going gang-busters ever since. Mark’s clients include Joe Fresh, Rent the Runway, Vogue, Condé Nast Entertainment, Jonathan Adler, Bloomingdale’s, Target, West Elm and many nore.
JC: How old are you?
MW: 55. But I could easily pass for 60.
JC: How would you describe yourself as a creative professional?
MW: I’m an effective, dynamic, fun to work with, totally modest copywriter/creative director with 30 years of experience. So far.
JC: You went freelance in 2000. What motivated that decision?
MW: I’d been working for Ogilvy and Mather for 18 years, and it was an incredible experience. When I became a Creative Director things changed, and suddenly I was spending all my time in bleak third world countries at depressing focus groups eating moldy cheese for dinner. And that was the good nights. I missed the fun stuff like actually doing the writing and producing ads and TV commercials. So I took my gold watch early, and leapt into the abyss. Who knew the abyss was so deep?
JC: You have a very distinct ‘voice’. How would you describe it?
MW: Cheeky, irreverent, stylish, and persuasive.
JC: Would you say that being a freelancer has enabled you to cultivate – and remain true to – your natural voice?
MW: At Ogilvy I had to dial down my voice, which makes total sense. American Express and AT&T aren’t exactly the cheeky, irreverent types. But working directly with brands is a whole different story. The muzzle is off! Clients want a voice that’s distinctive and original; something that can really set them apart and give them an edge.
JC: What do you do to distinguish yourself and build your presence?
MW: I strap on a sandwich board advertising my services and skate up and down Madison Avenue. Joking aside (for a moment), I like Instagram for its picture-caption efficiency and immediacy. I also share projects on Facebook and LInkedin, and post “Gripping Observations of a Wordsmith” on my blog, Markmywordiness.com. And I mix and mingle – strategically.
JC: Throughout the course of your career, communications and technology have changed dramatically. Has this changed the way you approach a project?
MW: Whether it’s a video, website, catalog or brand book, the challenge is the same – to tell engaging stories about what a brand makes, stands for, and believes in. Technology has created new platforms for these stories to live on, but people are reading less. So now more than ever a brand voice has to pop and seduce.
JC: How do you adapt and stay relevant?
MW: I’ve cultivated a growing harem of young creative types whom I regularly consult/grill. They keep me updated on what’s new, and I reward them with cheap wine and stories of what the ad business used to be like before budgets were cut. Helicopter from the East River to JFK, anyone? Also, fear of becoming irrelevant is a great motivator.
JC: What skills/thought processes/execution strategies remain the same, no matter what the platform?
MW: I organize massive amounts of information and distill it into strategic, succinct, and compelling communications.
JC: I’ve worked with you for 8 years and you’ve never been busier! What’s your secret?
MW: We talk about this a lot. As a freelancer, you’re only as good as your last job, so we really have to perform and deliver beyond a client’s expectations every time. There’s no sitting back waiting for a paycheck every 2 weeks (said the poor, struggling copywriter). Building professional relationships is key, and we have a growing network of clients who come back for seconds and thirds. Being versatile also helps. Last month I named a new digital entertainment platform, devised a 50–year anniversary ad campaign for a hair care company, and created a brand book for a recently repositioned women’s retailer. All without breaking a nail.
JC: What do you have to offer that only comes with age and experience?
MW: Confidence, clarity, calm. In my 20’s and 30’s my ego was flailing wildly out of control, and I fell on my sword for every idea, good or bad. Believe me, that sword was blunt. These days I know a good idea in an instant, and don’t waste time developing the middling ones. I’m also organized, quick, and never miss a deadline.
JC: Since you turned fifty you’ve started a ceramics and art studio with you partner, James Salaiz. How has that experience impacted you as a creative professional?
MW: It gives my brain a breather, at least the part of the brain that has to think in an ordered, strategic way. After typing all day I make collages at night. For months I’ve been making a life size replica of John J. Audubon’s iconic flamingo using 19th C. illustrations of human anatomy. No strategy, no deadline, no client; just myself with an X-Acto knife and an emergency medical kit. Slicing and splicing miniscule pieces of paper is very restorative and relaxing.
JC: Do you think others perceive you differently since you’ve gotten older?
MW: Fortunately, my clients see my age and experience as tangible, desirable assets. That’s why I love them. On the flip side, a young guy on the subway called me, “Sir” the other day, and offered me his seat.
JC: Whom do you admire (over 50)?
MW: Simon Doonan is amazing. He juggles multiple careers – including being the ambassador-at-large for Barneys New York, writing a column on Slate, and authoring 6 bestselling books in his spare time. I feel like an underachieving slug next to him. John Bartlett, the CFDA award-winning designer and animal activist started The Tiny Tim Rescue Fund, a charitable organization that raises and distributes funds for animal rescue groups. It’s his genuine passion, and he’s making a major difference in the world. My copywriting colleague Laura Silverman (she of the glorious silver mane) radically reinvented her life when she relocated to an idyllic cabin in the country and started the fabulous blog, Glutton For Life. That’s totally admirable. And I really admire George Clooney, because he’s the closest thing to Cary Grant we’ve got.
JC: What 3 words best describe how you feel about your work and life?
MW: Happy. Happy. Happy.