Why a Millennial Mix is Integral for Ad Industry Success

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My Advertising Week experience kicked off with Monday morning’s seminar at the Liberty Theatre, An Industry at a Crossroad: Recruiting, Retaining and Cultivating Talent. Four industry leaders who are changing the game when it comes to D&I (the HR shortening for “diversity and inclusion”) addressed the problem – there is a lack of diverse talent entering the advertising workforce. Perhaps more importantly, the panel also pushed for conversation and actions to reach a solution.

Before I jump ahead to the proposed solutions, I want to share a few genius insights from each panelist.

ESPN Director of Diversity and Inclusion Heath Rosenthal took the driver’s seat and facilitated the conversation. Rosenthal is no stranger to constructing a diversely represented workplace. He has helped create key strategies and lead D&I initiatives at the Worldwide Leader in Sports for the last six years.

Joining him from ESPN was Vice President of Global Business Operations Molly West, who highlighted what a diverse talent pool can do for creative innovation. “We can bring people in” she said, “but if we’re not open to their perspective, then what’s the point?”

Also chiming in on tapping into this diverse talent pool in an age of rising Millennials was Ty Adeshola, Senior Parnter and Manager of Sports at Twitter. Adeshola, who was ironically dubbed the panel’s “Millennial voice,” stressed not just diversity but inclusion-getting new talent involved in a dialogue. “We all want to be Steph Curry on day one,” Adeshola said of fresh talent entering the industry. “What’s really important [for Millennials] is making them feel they have a seat at the table.”

Jack Myers, President of Myers Business Network (just one of his many roles), believes learning about what motivates Millennials plays an integral part in retaining diverse talent once they are hired. “You can’t expect to have outstanding, impactful creative if your creators aren’t representative of the diverse people you’re trying to reach.”  Myers thinks the search for future leaders in advertising would be more diverse if it wasn’t limited to communications schools and included college students in other majors, as well as high school kids.

Vice President on Premise Strategy and Multicultural Marketing at Diageo, Marc Strachan pointed out that diversity in the workplace isn’t a new concept. In fact, it’s something that’s been talked about for the last thirty years. Strachan says it’s time to start talking about tougher topics like race and gender in advertising from C-suite level on down. “In order to change the game,” he said,  “we have to embrace individuality” to cultivate, include, and nurture in order to keep up with nuances of today’s variety of consumers. He says leadership should be challenged on the cultural shift that needs to happen.

What about the solutions I promised to share earlier? One is this cultural shift that Strachan mentioned. Conversations need to take place on the leadership level about making diversity a priority in order for it to be a company wide priority.

Next, the way agencies approach Millennials needs to change. All five panelists mentioned we’re a group focused on “experiences” over money (yes, I as a 23-year-old fit within the confines of that sometimes dreaded and broad category).

All hope is not lost for us Millennials. According to Adeshola, those of us labeled with the “M” present great value to the industry. Employers need to take the time to mentor, listen, and work with those of us trying to get into advertising in order to reap the benefits of a fresh perspective that meets the needs of their audience.

In their parting words, the panel asked employers and leaders in the audience to take an honest look at diversity in their workplace and to empower young talent coming in. As a recent graduate who (hopefully) falls into that “young talent” category, I left the seminar on a mission to require that my future workplace is one that accurately reflects the unique variety among the consumers I’m trying to reach.

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