In cranky economic times, we seem to pay closer attention to strengths and opportunities alive in our professions, as if that hopeful counting of resources will guide us to our next successful chapter. For the advertising and brand development world, a substantial shift in opportunity is now taking place, one that speaks to the essential character of our profession and what it will become in the next few years. The latest generation to enter advertising—Millennials or Nextgen or 21st century 20-somethings—embody that shift in how they think and how they live. They’re teched-up, smart, productive, savvy; but those descriptors are too breezy to give full measure.
Instead, let me make a bolder statement: This generation of talent delivers us from the evil of how it’s always been done, and by doing so, changes the nature of the industry.
My perspective on this comes from teaching and consulting in the talent development ranks of advertising’s major universities and agencies for twenty years. Trends are notable: the conservative 1980s made for watered down approaches from young professionals and safety-net thinking for a decade. The 1990s tech boom gave us some new tools as young people led the way in experimenting happily, but the experimenters always felt like anomalies rather than the norm for a creative industry. Certainly, each year, each cohort brings with them a certain enthusiasm for the professional world, a way to tap into the business as usual.
But a short time ago, say in 2005 or so, the shift occurred. Students began inventing new approaches to brand storytelling, pushing back on the conventional wisdom of job seeking, inventing different titles and approaches to work well done. This, of course, did not happen just in one school or region, nor did it occur in a vacuum; the tsunami of organizational and technological changes in the agency world over the last decade—especially at the most successful creative agencies—gave us new positions, new technologies, new specialists and professional interface. Cultural trends also push thinking: authenticity and transparency in business, green culture and economy, global relationships. Obviously, this generation of advertising and brand development students is reacting to the energy world around them.
Yet a broader view tells me this shift is something bigger. I believe this generation now drives much of the change we’re witnessing, pushing the evolution of process and approach like none before them. They fuel the trenches of the advertising profession with energy and a penchant for producing good work. From my perspective, this phenomenon grows from three specific cultural trends in which these Millennials are immersed: digital culture as the overarching theme of all they do, late twentieth-century American middle-class upbringing, and the pleasures of immediacy in their lives. Each of these areas sparks the brilliance of this confederacy of new talent and, ultimately, brings a notable shift in the advertising profession. Importantly, it also speaks to strategies as to how talent should be developed in this new era.
Trend 1: Digital Culture
The realities of the shift in talent are nothing short of extraordinary. Obviously prevailing conventional wisdom tells us that technology skills are high on the list for young professionals proving themselves ready for a career. But more than simply using specific technologies, the Millennials live it. Everything they are comes back to living the social media experience, the digital lifestyle.
All of this centers around connection. Email, though necessary, is last generation, too slow and cumbersome, though a Gmail account is vital. Youtube, StumbleUpon, digg, blogging, and updating happen in a personal highly productive bubble. This group posts to Vimeo, updates Loopt and jaiku, and connects on LinkedIn and zooomr. Up-to-date info comes from RSS feeds, photos and art collect on flickr and smugmug, evites via zvents. Delic.i.ous is archival and thematic for all the digital stuff—best blogs, bookmarked ideas, favorite sites—collected. Time-honored Craigslist still works as the global arena for buying and selling. And everyone has an opinion on the Wordpress or Typepad dilemma. If you’re going to blog, you have to be ready. Even faster, Twitter updates are...