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232: Marc Middleton

Marc Middleton, Founder and CEO of Growing Bolder, shares how his experience as a professional broadcast journalist combined with a passion for telling stories sparked his media company which focuses on featuring the under-appreciated, under-valued, under-served, and misunderstood stories of older adults. 

Growing Bolder shares stories of ordinary people who embrace risk-taking and overcome fear of aging.

Recorded at Florida Senior Living Association (FSLA) Conference.

Lucas

Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We are in sunny Orlando, and we have a very exciting guest on today. I want to welcome Marc Middleton. He’s the founder and CEO at Growing Bolder. Welcome to the show.

Marc Middleton

Thank you very much. I’m thrilled to be here, Josh and Lucas.

Lucas 

Well, it’s great to see you again. I was a longtime central Florida resident for many years, and moved to Texas about four years ago, but I loved seeing you on the news channels covering a lot of different things and aspects here in central Florida. So it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. 

Marc Middleton

You grew up watching me on TV, right?

Lucas

That’s right. That’s right. And I have fond memories of that. And so, like I said, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person. And what is more exciting is to talk about it’s not necessarily a new venture, but growing Bolder. Tell our audience what Growing Bolder is.

Marc Middleton 01:44

Growing Bolder is a media company and a lifestyle brand. And it’s taken a little bit longer than I hope that it would. But as you know, the mainstream media in general, Hollywood, Madison Avenue has been very slow to appreciate the value of the older demographics. So I decided that I wanted to build a lifestyle brand that represented the positive side of aging. So we don’t ignore the reality of our mortality. We don’t pretend that bad things don’t happen to good people, but we just choose to look at aging through a lens of passion and purpose and possibility instead of simply lost in limitation. I’ve really come to believe that in a really true sense. And I don’t mean this in some sort of conspiracy theory. I think that everybody that’s listening to us has been indoctrinated in a sense. There’s this form of mass cultural hypnosis studies have been done that show that by the time we’re three, we have a very negative image of aging.

Marc Middleton 02:43

And we’re just hammered with this type of messaging as we grow older. And we see it in the media all the time. So we reach a certain age. And the most ageist people of all are older people. And it’s that mindset, it’s that belief system that to a large extent controls the way we age. So we’ve chosen to tell stories of ordinary people. We don’t do stories of genetic super freaks. We do stories of people that we can all relate to who show what’s possible as we age, because I tell you guys, the boundaries of possibility are being redrawn on a daily basis.

Josh

So Marc, Growing Bolder, your content, you’ve been producing this for a while. You’ve been putting it out there, tell our audience that may not be familiar, which I know they’re gonna want to go and connect, but where are you finding your stories? Are these mainly here locally or are they all over the country or are they all over the world?

Marc Middleton 3:33

Well, we tell stories all over from everywhere. One of the great things about living in central Florida is that the world comes to you. We work very hard to remove any non important reference to time or place. We kind of like to think that we lead the league in, in producing evergreen content stuff that can be repurposed. We did stories 12 years ago that is relevant today as they were before. But we have two national television shows. We have a show on PBS public broadcasting stations now in its eighth season. So you can find us on your local PBS station. It’s on 345 channels at last count throughout the country. We’ve got a commercial television show here in the state of Florida that’s on 11 affiliates in the state one and every media market in the state.

Marc Middleton 04:19

We publish a magazine, we’ve got a 48-page digital digest that comes out monthly. We’ve got about a million people who follow us on Facebook. We’ve got a podcast, we’ve got a radio show and we’re doing live events. We’ve got a live event coming up in two days, Growing Bolder’s Launchpad to What’s Next, which is based upon the premise that we all have this opportunity for two and three and four decades of active life beyond what’s considered normal retirement age. And we’re all wondering the same thing and what’s next and how do we get ready for it? So I think the place, a long answer to your great question is just go to Growing Bolder.com and you can see everything that we do and, and all the different media products that we produce.

Josh 04:56

Wow. So now that is a lot going on. I don’t even know how you and your team, how have time to do all that, but you’ve been doing this for a while. We’re just getting to know you. So you had a very, very successful career I’ve heard. And what was the trigger point for you that said, ‘this is what we need to do and now.” Was there a moment that you can go back to, and it was like, “this is it?”

Marc Middleton 05:20

I do remember it was a series of moments, but I was a journalist. I got into local television because I like to tell stories. And back in the day, you were allowed to tell enterprise stories. We could do features, we could come in and pitch an idea. And at some point the business model changed. Back in the day, there was two or three or four stations in every market, and now there’s, yeah, 10 or 12. And you get your cable news, you get your online news. So the business model changed and we were no longer doing investigative reporting. We were no longer doing anything, any feature reporting. Local news became a crime report. And I think everybody in almost every city can relate to that because that’s the down and dirty and easy thing to do.

Marc Middleton 06:06:

You know, put up a headshot and talk about the drug deal that went bad or the mobile home fire, or, you know, whatever it was  the traffic fatality. And I just found myself doing a lot of that. And I was a sports director. I anchored the six and the 11 sports for 15 years. And then I switched to news and I anchored the early morning news and the noon news. And so when I found myself doing the news, and I had young daughters, and at some point I never wanted them to watch their dad on TV anymore. I didn’t want them to see the pool that I was swimming in, if you will. And so that started me thinking that I wanted to do something else. And I wondered what could I do to leverage the skills that I had built?

Marc Middleton 06:43

And at that time station management called me in and showed me market research so that we could learn what we could from it. And I looked at it and the first question is your name. And the second question is your age. And if the age was 55 or older, there was nothing else on the form. And I said, what’s, where’s the rest of this? And they said, “we discontinue the interview. If they’re over 55,” I said, “wait a second. I know that the average age of our viewers is 58. So you’re telling me you don’t care about the opinion of our average viewer?” And they said, “no, we do,” but advertisers don’t. So that sent me on a year long, deep dive into demographics. And I became an amateur demographer. I read everything I could about the age wave, not just the fact that there’s this 10,000 of us says, as you guys know, we’re turning 70 every day now. 

Marc Middleton 07:29

Now we’re a different 70 year old than has ever existed. We’ve got more money. We’ve got more ambition, we’ve got more desire. We want to continue to live with passion and purpose. And it’s unlike anything. So everything that I thought that the advertising agencies, the advertisers, the sponsors had come to believe was wrong. So I thought, well, that’s something interesting. I can get back into telling stories. And so I just quit. I just decided I wanted to do something called Growing Bolder because I believe that’s what happens as you grow older, you have to learn to take risks. Life is about risk taking. I don’t mean the kind of risk where you risk your personal safety or injury, but risk of embarrassment, risk of failure, risk of just about anything that we, in general, as we get older, we’re afraid to do.

Marc Middleton 08:12

And I believe that’s one of the real keys to living a happy, engaged life as we age. So I thought, well, if I believe in this concept of Growing Bolder and I’m afraid to Grow Boulder myself, then it doesn’t make any sense. So I walked in one day and negotiated my exit and left without really any money at all to start what I wanted to do. And it took me a year and a half really to start hiring people. And they have said that I’m the only guy that ever made it over the wall that came back for others. And within two years I hired the two best producers that ever worked there. The best videographer that ever worked there. In fact, he was taking our picture here a moment ago. 

Lucas

Yea we saw him. 

Marc Middleton

And so we’ve, we’ve got a good core team that’s been together for a long time. And we just love the mission. It feels really, really good.

Josh 08:58

Well, what an awesome why and what an awesome response. Congratulations on the success of your mission. And I hope our listeners, Lucas are gonna run out and listen and download and all the different things attend the event. So how special is this?

Lucas 09:16

Yeah, it’s really great. So as we kinda round out the conversation, what’s the future for growing Boulder? What’s next on the horizon?

Marc Middleton 09:23

We just want to continue to grow and expand. Our vision is a global media and a global lifestyle brand. I love the brand and people do too. I think we, I don’t wanna say we got lucky because we thought a lot about it, but it’s kind of like, Nike slogan is good, ‘Just Do It’ because you can find yourself in there. Just Do It means something different to you, and it means something different to me. Growing Bolder means something different to everybody. I will tell you this, of all of the media companies that have ever existed, that produce content specifically for an older demographic. And there’s not that many of them, I don’t think there’s another one that has been able to do what we do. And our secret sauce is the fact that we produce content that appeals as much,

Marc Middleton 10:03

And in some cases more to people your age than it does people my age, because we’re showing you something that you haven’t seen before. We’re letting you know that it’s never too late. We’re letting you know that you no longer have to live a linear life that is controlled by milestones along a timeline. And we’re showing people that you can go back to school, you can start a business, you can create a new relationship at any age. I was in Louisiana three months ago watching 105-year-old Julia Hawkins set the world record in the 100-meter dash, the first human being 105 or older to compete in a sanction track and field event, just an ordinary woman that refuses to say, “I’m done.” 

Josh

Wow.

Lucas

What an incredible story

Josh

It is.

Lucas 10:44

You know, so that spurs one, another question from me now is stories like that. You’ve obviously seen so many different stories. Is there one or two that stand out to you right now that you could share with our audience that are just unforgettable?

Marc Middleton 10:59

Yea, every story that we do and that, that’s the great point. Julia would certainly be one of them. We’re the official media partner of the national senior games. And we negotiated that deal just because this is this huge, diverse community of people from 50 to 105, it’s more of a health and wellbeing, grassroots movement than anything. But I’ll tell you one quick story that I think is relative to what you guys do. I love the senior living industry. And it turns out that they love the Growing Bolder message. I’ve given the opening keynote in half a dozen to a dozen national caregiving conferences because our messages align in the fact that we believe that we are all capable of experiencing love and joy, no matter what our condition is and it’s our responsibility to do it.

Marc Middleton 11:48

And so we show people what’s possible by showing the stories of ordinary people. I was at a caregiving conference and I was talking about… internally, we have this thing that’s called the someone like me effect. And I don’t mean me. It’s just when we can see ourselves in others, that’s when the switch goes off. And a woman came up to me afterwards and said, “I was caring for my mother, 92 years old. She broke her hip. She had the most joy of life of anybody I’ve ever known, but the moment she broke her hip and came home, it was over for her. And she lost her will to live. And, and I said, “mom, what’s wrong.” And she said, “nobody my age ever comes back from a broken hip.” And the woman said she was gone in six months.

Marc Middleton 12:24

And she said to me, “if I could have shown her, someone like her who came back from a broken hip, she’d still be alive today.” And I said, I’m gonna find that person for you. The next year we were at the National Senior Games in lo and behold, there’s Dotty Gray, 94 years old, who fell out of bed, cracked her hip at 93. And 18 months later, she’s competing in the National Senior Games. And the reason she was able to do that is because she was prehab rehabilitated. She prepared, which we all should be doing. This is aging’s ultimate, no-brainer. And I say it to you, young guys, there is gonna be an inevitable series of physical setbacks that you will experience as you age. And to a large extent, your ability to bounce back from them, the speed that you will bounce back from them will be determined by your overall health and wellbeing at the time. So get yourself conditioned right now, prehabilitation for what’s going to happen. Dotty gray was prehab rehabilitated. She came back from a broken hip at 93 and competed in the national senior games. 

Josh 13:17

Now that’s a great story, but also great words of wisdom to me and Lucas and all of our listeners. So thank you for sharing your time with us here, Marc. We know you’re busy. Congratulations on your success and we wish you the best in your future success. Lucas, I know we’re gonna want to connect our audience to Marc.

Lucas

Yes, absolutely. And what a great leadership platform. And it seems like you’re also doing a lot of mentorship. Do you do mentorship even for younger reporters that come across you, that they’re getting into the business?

Marc Middleton

You know, not formally or officially. But I I have to learn how to say no, to be honest with you. Because I do think that we all have an obligation to debt to help everyone else to the extent that we can. So I get myself involved in some things that I shouldn’t because I wanna help people.

 

Marc Middleton

Of course, you’re definitely that guy. Well to all our listeners, we’re definitely gonna connect to Marc and Growing Bolder in our show notes and on our website BTGvoice.com. You can go there, you can download this episode, read the transcript and connect with us on social. We’d love to continue that conversation with you on LinkedIn, on Instagram and on our other social sites. So follow us there and thanks to all of our listeners for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

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232: Marc Middleton