Why The Media Kitchen gives its millennials housing loans

At The Media Kitchen, there is a “council” of younger, newer employees that meets monthly over pizza to chat. With no managers in attendance, it’s a way to get people bonding. And what they bond about is what most New Yorkers bond about: real-estate.

Specifically, how expensive it is to find housing and good roommates and deal with security deposits or broken fees.

One of the “chefs” — what The Media Kitchen calls its employees — thought it would be nice if the company could guarantee the lease. That was too big of an ask, but agency president Barry Lowenthal thought of something that could help: a forgivable loan of up to $3,000 that could be used as a security deposit.

The only requirement is, you have to stick around for two years. If you don’t, you pay it back with interest. (The going rate is the Applicable Federal Rate, which is currently 0.56 percent.)

“Not everyone makes a million dollars out of the gate, and we’re sensitive to working and living in New York because we’ve chosen to operate here,” said Lowenthal.

The industry is facing a real salary crunch. While agencies boast about giving people a variety of things to work on, and people do climb up the corporate ladder relatively quickly, the average entry-level salary across the industry is low. According to the 4A’s salary survey, entry-level salaries for assistant account executives and media planners ranged from $25,000 to $28,000. The number approaches $40,000 in the New York City area.

Agencies trying to cut costs after the recession often cut salaries, which led to a salary gap that continues today. 4A’s CEO Nancy Hill has been a loud voice urging agencies to pay more, or at least provide benefits to ease the cost of living.

This is also a demonstrable way to improve retention — a serious issue in the agency industry where the average turnover is upwards of 30 percent. “This helps. I can spend a lot of time trying to figure out why millennials and Gen Y  feel the way they do about loyalty and expectations,” said Lowenthal. “But this is the card I’ve been dealt, so I have to figure out how it works.”

The program was announced this week, and two people have signed up for it. Loans will be given out quarterly. The finance department has set aside enough for 10 loans, which is the pilot program. If it goes well, Lowenthal plans to extend it across KBS+, the agency’s parent company.


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