Before the students took to the streets to show us a thing or two about the power of youth, I had been talking to some of the Millennials in our media agencies. I was well aware that many of my contemporaries regard this generation as self-absorbed, high maintenance brats, wholly lacking in loyalty and a sense of work ethic. However, some of my media agency colleagues spoke with enthusiasm about the youngsters with whom they were working. I decided to find out what made these individuals shine.
The Millennials with whom I chatted came from encouragingly diverse backgrounds. These ranged from rural to urban, and from local to international, upbringings. But their educational backgrounds were surprisingly similar. They tended to have BAs or BComs with marketing specialisations. I recalled that when I joined the industry, most of us who had attended university came from the Arts or Education faculties.
They all seem to have “fallen” into the world of media. For one, who had had a couple of false starts in the agency world, it was about simply about getting that felicitous lead from a head-hunter that introduced her to a sympathetic agency. For another, a family friend who had a good relationship with a media agency CEO managed to arrange an interview. The youngster aced the interview. For another, it was it was a purely pragmatic decision – there were more opportunities for graduates in the digital media sphere. Once again that certainly stirred my memory.
Neither I, nor many of my contemporaries, had set out to join the media departments of our day. Having read David Ogilvy’s ‘Confessions of an Advertising Man’, I then met a real live copy-writer, and was intrigued. I managed to get myself selected for a cadet scheme. It was only once I was working in an agency that I discovered media. Deeply pragmatically, I noted that there were fewer candidates for media than client service roles and made my career choice.
Intro to media agency life a shock
These Millennials told me that their introduction to media agency life was something of a shock. After university life, it was horribly “real”, as they discovered a very deadline driven world and a high stress environment. For one person, there had been the disorientating discovery that there was little support and little explanation of the requirements. The international intern pointed out that while her company trained and taught her how to plan and book media, no one actually thought to orientate her to the South African landscape. Realising that she “actually didn’t know anything” she set about remedying the situation by “figuring those things out over the weekends”. I certainly recall my nauseating sense of ignorance when I first started working, and the determination to dog paddle rather than sink.
Another point they made was the quick realisation of the necessity of building relationships with media owners. They were envious of their more established colleagues who “knew exactly who to call, who they could set up a meeting with and bounce ideas off, who they could negotiate fantastic deals with”. The sentiment that “who you know, it everything” is certainly one that resonates with my generation.
Fortunately, these 20-somethings were good at building relationships and quickly set about developing and coddling their networks. They found it easy to integrate themselves into teams. They recognised the importance of the ability to prioritise tasks and the need to pay attention to detail. While their personal consumption habits were strongly inclined to social media, they strive to think about their target objectively. They all relished the analytical aspect of media, the intricacies of targeting and the ability to support decisions with numbers. I still remember the revelation that AMPS was to me as a means to build an argument. Of course, the young digerati have more performance feedback to work with than I did and they enthusiastically embrace this accountability.
Interestingly, in discussion, they recognised their digital obsession, but clearly did not want it to cloud their vision. There was the frank recognition “that digital is not everything and still needs to be supported by other media types”. It is here that they spoke about the value the of the “oldies” in the industry and recognised that their seniors have much knowledge on areas that the digital generation may be inclined to overlook. As one of them said to me “I know my generation can be a bit ‘know-it-all’ sometimes, but it’s important for us to understand that the ‘oldies’ have been in this industry for 20+ years. There are things that the ‘oldies’ really know lots about and kick ass at’.”
While happy for their senior colleagues to provide them with guidance in certain areas, they nevertheless wanted them to “learn digital and get on board”. They mentioned that they wished they would ask them to ask questions and probe their knowledge of the digital world. These Millennials recognised that an intergenerational dialogue must lead to better solutions.
Their call to their management was to simply connect with them – to listen to them and to treat them with human decency. They wanted feedback. Affirmation was something they sought – not because they were endlessly praised by their parents, but because it gave them confidence to push their boundaries. They needed to know that management had confidence in them and believed that they were succeeding, that they were “getting it”.
When they talked about the best reward for a job well done their responses sounded very familiar to my ears. There was the delightful comment that “nothing beats a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc!” I will never forget the pleasure of being given a glass of decent wine from my MD’s fridge in the days when my budget confined me to box wine. Then, of course, there was the very practical desire for “a substantial increase in pay”, which was linked to an awareness of getting older and assuming more responsibilities in their lives. I recall the desire to move to a more salubrious area and become more settled.
Yet another commonality that I detected with my career was the importance of a mentor in these youngsters’ lives. The mentor was valued not only for training input, but for guidance in terms of personal development. As one of the youngsters enthused, “I was very fortunate to gain an incredible mentor at the beginning of my career. She taught me all the ins and outs of the industry, who is who, introduced to me many inspiring people that have had a huge impact on media in South Africa. She has always been there when I needed some guidance or advice on my career path. She has become much more than a mentor to me”. It struck me that a constructive approach to mentoring may the solution for those of my contemporaries who battle with the Millennials in their agencies.
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