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A Millennial Talks: What the Job Owes Us and What We Owe the Job

Tracking the Career of a Young Agency Exec

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The higher you climb in the agency world, the easier it becomes to pass judgment on the next generation of talent. They lack loyalty. Have unreasonable expectations. Need to be pampered. Won't put in the time.

To test some of these assumptions, I decided to take a closer look at the career and work ethic of someone whom, for better or worse, I first introduced to the advertising business.

Ten years back, I offered a young woman about to graduate from high school a summer job answering the phones, stocking the kitchen and running errands. Amy turned out to be a find. I would occasionally wonder if someone shot her out of a cannon in the morning. We're talking dangerously high energy levels. It was a good summer, and Amy went off to college. Over the years, she has checked in to update me on her career.

She has done well, and while the stereotype is that the millennial generation can be lazy and self-absorbed (really, what generation isn't?), Amy put in the hours. She landed her first job as an assistant at a small agency in New York and worked up to coordinator. She changed agencies to become an assistant account executive and soon got promoted. Wanting to work at a large agency, she landed at one of the major networks as an account executive. That's a pretty good trajectory, and all signs indicate that she's just getting warmed up.

As an agency CEO, always on the lookout for good people, I wanted to learn what motivates her and what she values in a job.

There's always the fundamental question of "Why advertising?" It's not the easiest way to make a living. For Amy, a fascination with psychology and the challenge to break through the clutter for a brand captured her imagination. A number of other factors will resonate with most of us in the business: social, collaborative, high-energy and young.

That's all good stuff, but more importantly, I wanted to know what kills the youthful enthusiasm that motivates us at the start. Many of Amy's responses are universal and pose danger signs for the health of any agency. These include monotony and lack of growth opportunities on current accounts or on new business pitches; the inability to make things happen because ideas get slashed or stuck in review for months; poor team dynamics; and a "bad office environment."

Because I was curious as to whether Amy had realistic expectations, or was possibly an entitled brat, I asked what she thinks the job owes her, and what she owes the job.

She told me the job owes her the opportunity to learn and grow, whether through personal development courses or the chance to participate in new business. Mentorship is important, and also fairness. Often agencies dramatically increase roles and responsibilities without adjusting compensation.

On the other hand, she said she owes the job hard work, respect, dedication, and passion to drive the business of her clients. She also owes it to the job to show that she is "essential" and to add something to the agency's culture.

You can't turn around these days without bumping into the word culture. I often wonder why it seems to be an obsession of so many younger people. Amy offered a few clues. She said culture is more important today because "we can never turn work off. We're expected to be reachable and always on. In return, we want to be surrounded by good people who care about the quality of our work life."

This business has always demanded a pound of flesh from its youngest employees. They now have greater transparency into the inner workings of the industry and their own options. It seems that they're using that knowledge to strike a fair deal.

It seems only reasonable that senior management should be listening.

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