Rebels, Misfits & Innovators: 50over50 – Monty Munford

We think it’s time to recognise and celebrate the true talent in our industry, the creatives, technologists, founders and leaders that are really driving our industry and shaping society, who just happen to be over 50. 50over50 is a series of interviews, shortly to become a podcast, with our most influential and inspiring industry leaders aged 50 and over.  

While the digital, marketing and advertising industry remains in thrall to the cult of youth, continually celebrating young talent, accelerating generational shifts over the last three decades mean this focus is becoming dangerously short sighted.

Never mind that this shuns the consumers who are the true influencers when it comes to household spending –  78% of over 50s command the purse-strings in their households, with the age group accounting for half of all consumer spending in the UK – in the digital economy it means the industry in danger of losing out on the knowledge and experience of those who have built the digital industry from the ground up.

The infamous Monty Munford is a journalist, speaker and advisor. In addition to writing for Forbes, The Economist, TechCrunch and many more he advises companies across the digital economy.

What one thing are you proudest of in your career?

Proud is a strong word, but I’m pleased that I successfully retrained as a journalist when I was 38 after previously being a bum, betting shop manager and 12 years (including winters) as a London despatch-rider.

I was also very lucky, digital was taking hold at exactly the same time, so it meant I could catch up with my peers by learning and practising it while others were stuck in older ways.

What creative heights are you now capable of that you wouldn’t have been able to achieve at the early or mid-point of your career?

I think that after 20 years, you have a good idea of creativity, especially because my first 20 years were spent doing exactly what I liked… travelling, gambling, lots of risks and riding motorbikes. Those experiences, which I originally thought of wasted years, were fundamental to how I have evolved. 

I still take a lot of risks (some things you don’t need to know), but I weigh them more ‘creatively’ now. Earlier in my career, I needed to catch up, I needed to teach myself and I did some very hard yards to do so, putting money first and that fucks up creativity. Now, as I touch the wood next to me, I’m not as poor and now act only on things that create a spark and I think I’m still improving.

What gives you the most satisfaction in your role today?

The most personal satisfaction is pushing myself to the limit, being scared shitless along the way and somehow pulling it off. The higher human satisfaction is meeting the most amazing people, some 35 years younger than me, and learning from them. No bullshit, I really mean it, learning from them.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?

Without doubt, resilience and no small amount of courage when it all goes tits-up. It’s a cliché, but tomorrow is always another day, but there again, a year is always another year. Don’t give up, even if shit lasts longer than expected.

What one piece of advice would you give your 25-year old self?

I still think I’m 25, so I’m not much good on that. Although I probably would tell him to look after his heart… in more ways than one.

What is the biggest mistake companies – brands or the industry – are making in their attitude to age today?

I think that the model, especially with brands and agencies, to keep people on until their forties, then pay them off with usually a life-changing redundancy sum is insane. I’ve seen it so many times with friends of mine. 

Of course, young people are faster with the new and they have to advance, but technology means older people are just as fast to learn the new. ‘Peng’ and ‘peak’ are words that I understand, so are other terms of reference and that comes from having a teenage son. And I know I’m way better at social media than so-called influencers.

The industry needs to include older people in their businesses on the ‘shop floor, not just shunt them out, hire them as expensive consultants or put them on the board. 

What are you most excited about in your industry over the next 10 years?

Blimey, good question, hopefully I’ll be around to see it. Alas, my body has never been a temple, more like an amusement park, so one day at a time and all that. But younger people are fucking awesome, so much more clued-up than I was.

While I am proud to have survived and escaped the stupid racism, bigotry and sexism from being born in 1961, I am excited about what they’re going to do with the industry. More women please everywhere, paid the same money, the same for anybody suffering under lack of diversity. Also big-up to (some of) the older white males who haven’t abused their privilege, they’re awesome as well.

What is your biggest regret about the industry today?

See previous question. Untalented white men running the show who don’t read books, who’ve lived in a bubble most of their lives, who have never been occasionally skint (that’s when creativity and risk really kick in), who haven’t slept on an overnight bus to Kathmandu in a lightning storm or been punched in the face in South Central LA for being a dick, and who have never ridden a motorbike at 70mph, standing on the saddle, using only the wing-mirrors for balance.

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