The Millennial View of Agencies

Yesterday Digiday published the thoughts of agency executives on the challenges they face managing the newest generation of adland’s workers.

There was, of course, considerable frustration with some of their young charges. A few common themes: a sense of entitlement and an unwillingness to put in their dues. Some disputed the characterizations as crude generational stereotypes. Many others, particularly over the age of 30, saw truth in many of the characters described.

Digiday has invited millennials working at agencies to respond. We promised them anonymity so as to not rattle the nerves of their old bosses. True to their forthright reputation, many millennials stepped forward, so many that we’re going to break the responses into two parts. (Try to guess the response that arrived in via the millennial’s outside PR firm, oddly enough.) We asked each millennial the following question: What’s the biggest challenge you see for your generation working at ad agencies, and do you think you’ll stick with advertising as a career?

Millennial 1:
I have to agree with (and have cringingly seen firsthand) some of these horror stories: a lot of entry-level “millennials” with some warped sense of upward mobility and unreasonable expectations, when they’re just going through the motions with a complete lack of professionalism. (Seriously, learn how to compose a real email.) I’d say the biggest challenge working at an ad agency is the lingering old-school siloed divisions of labor, directly clashing with client/industry demands for faster, more all-encompassing service. A lot of smaller, more nimble shops are winning out due to flexibility. As for hiring the right people, any generation has its duds. Use your gut.

Millennial 2:
The biggest challenges I face in my career revolve around honesty. Most people view advertising as a dishonest effort. Some of my young agency friends and I have personal moral objections to a good amount of advertising. (I refuse to work for the likes of big banks, oil companies and human rights violators.) It’s a constant challenge for millennials to balance our desire to remain open and honest — important values for us — with the desires of the clients we represent. I think if I were continue working in advertising, it would have to be from an autonomous position where I could make honesty and transparency a priority or for an agency dedicated to social good.

Millennial 3:
The biggest challenge I see my generation facing while working in the advertising industry is the difficulty of integrating digital advertising with traditional. Millennials are going to have to learn to adapt and keep in mind the importance of traditional advertising when developing the strategy for campaigns. I will definitely continue working in advertising despite this challenge — it just makes it that much more interesting and ever-changing.

Millennial 4:
Speaking as a millennial, with only six months’ experience working in social media and digital marketing, the biggest challenge I have found is trying to convince account people and clients that I am right. When it comes to social media strategy and content, we know that we are right most of the time. The older generation has a very traditional POV on social media, and they are sometimes unwilling to change that perception. Or I have seen them treat it like print or TV. I see myself sticking around this industry, though, because I enjoy the challenging environment.

Millennial 5:
The obvious issues associated with the cross-generational relationships in the workplace and the necessary work for millennials to buck this label aside, the greatest challenge facing my generation’s work in ad agencies is reversing the inertia toward (failing) traditional thinking. Antiquated thoughts about success metrics, channel-specific campaign construction, and rigid workflow and organizational structures are largely producing diminishing results, and I think we will face tough questions about the efficacy of the client-agency relationship as a result. Personally, I think it’s a very exciting time to be in the business, and I look forward to working in this industry for years to come.

Millennial 6:
Should I help brands make more money, or should I try to make my own mark in the world? That is the one question that continues to consume most of my generation who work in advertising. It is easier than ever to start and execute an idea — and advertising teaches you how to do that. We are surrounded by creative folks who are taking risks, maintaining dual careers to feed their passions and, most importantly, enjoying both of them. Also, we live in New York and are surrounded by incredible youth icons and millennial entrepreneurs. It is inspiring. But there’s the other negative aspect to it — which is this sense of allure in wanting to be an entrepreneur or work at a startup. There’s a lot of glitter out there, but not all opportunities are gold. And I think sometimes we are so consumed by the idea of making our mark that we refuse to read the writing on the wall. And get burned. So how to maintain a balance and not lose focus — how do we satisfy both the dualities is the challenge. So far, my career graph as a marketer has been built at advertising agencies, but I know at some point I will need to venture out of the agency business to develop skill-sets that I cannot develop here. That said, the one thing advertising agencies offer that rarely any other industry offers is the freedom to pursue and explore the dualities I was talking about before. But not a lot of industries think that way so this will be a huge factor in helping me decide whether or not to stick to advertising agencies as my career advances.

Millennial 7:
We are at a crossroads in advertising. Millennials are working in ad agencies that pretty much shun the the title of “ad agency.” Let’s face it, “advertising” itself isn’t cool. As a matter of fact, more than any other generation before … advertising is seen as ingenuine (not a word) and sucky. What I think excites a millennial working in advertising is the scale and platform that many projects and clients provide. You can reach thousands and sometimes millions, and you can potentially change behaviors, habits and mindsets. But Gen Y doesn’t want to talk at people with advertising in the traditional sense; rather, we dream of delivering experiences and ways that we can engage consumers beyond the print ad or 30-second TV spot. I think that advertising for me has opened up my mind to the world of creativity that stretches far beyond the world of advertising. From film to design and music, you realize how cool it can be to create without boundaries and limitations. I’d like to be able to eventually take what I’ve learned and create outside of the confines of a creative brief, or an “ad agency.” So will I stay in advertising? Probably not!

Millennial 8:
I admit that a lot of people in my generation (and younger) expect a lot more than they should; however, there are quite a few of us that see just as much lacking in the older generations. The biggest complaint I have is focused around mentorship. A lot of managers are spread too thin to set aside proper time to make sure that juniors are learning the basics of their craft. Most juniors are left sitting around at their desks waiting for their bosses to drop an assignment here or there with little clarification of what the assignment means or what the bigger picture is. Those first couple years are crucial to the development of habits, skills and attitudes. I believe that a lot of the problems people are having with millennials can be solved with simple conversations. Managers should take the time to set expectations and explain how the industry works, what’s expected of them and what things they can do to get what they want in the future. I can definitely say that the main reason most millennials want to leave so soon is because they feel uninspired. Most agencies lack senior talent that is up to date with and shares innovative media, new ways of thinking, emerging platforms, etc., with juniors. At most agencies, only senior talent attends all the conferences (SXSW, Internet Week, etc.) and brings nothing back to share with the agency. This leaves the junior talent frustrated because they weren’t allowed to attend or even hear about what happened at the conference. In the end, it’s a balance of managers being present and active in nurturing the junior talent — and, on the flip side, having the juniors actively trying to improve and learn proactively without expecting immediate rewards.

Millennial 9:
One of the biggest challenges is following through. We’re prone to jumping ship for shinier objects, and I am no exception. Since preschool, I was thrust into extracurricular activities. Whether it was ballet, theater, flute, gymnastics or any other indoor kid classes, I was taught to explore my options from an early age. More importantly, I was told that I didn’t need to continue anything I didn’t enjoy. We all tackle jobs with the same mindset. Employers need to be cognizant that not only are we multitaskers but also multitalented. Don’t get mad at us for being flighty; we just want to learn as much as we can and often feel restricted in one specific role. You can prevent us from leaving too soon by providing us the opportunity to explore our options and skills laterally through growth within the agency so we don’t seek them out in other companies. Will I stick with advertising as a career? It would be naïve of me to answer the question either way. I am flabbergasted at how different every year of my 20s has been and how much my needs and wants have shifted in a matter of months. I think it’s hard for most of us to predict anything beyond six months. That in and of itself is an issue in the workplace.

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