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Millennials and Politics in AdLand
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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There has been a battle going on during the last 10 years between the Millennial generation and the powers-that-be in AdLand. GenY versus GenX and the Boomers. As the generations posture for power and relevance, a rift has been created in the industry. What is more important: growing up with social media or the ability to learn it? Talent and skill or industry experience? Which will get you farther: youth and brass or knowledge of agency and industry politics?

Yes, we said it — regardless of what you hear, there's always politics in agency life. Deal with it.

Though these arguments have always pervaded the realm we regularly dwell in, the discussions are hotter than ever. During a time where advertising is getting bombarded by everyone from federal regulators, consumer groups, professional organizations, and lobbyists to even those in the industry (ourselves included), advertising is having a difficult time deciding whether to hold on to the "tried and true" philosophies or to redefine itself in the Information Age. AdLand needs to show Corporate America and the consumers it talks to that AdLand still has the answers and information both groups are looking for. Within AdLand, we need to get our stuff together, and figuring out answers (or settling the debate) is one of the first places to start.

Of course, we'll ignore the issues of racial diversity and women in leadership roles. We don't want to scare anyone off.

Jason Fox of AdHole recently wrote a post replying to the COO of Publicis London, who talked about AdLand skipping a generation. Enda McCarthy, the agitator, stated that 30-somethings will be leapfrogged by the younger ones because of the immersion of technology in their daily lives and the landscape of this "new way" of communicating is unfit for those accustomed to the old way of things. Fox replied that not only will that not happen, but the experience he's learned, the lack of experience the younger ones have and the "fight against conformity" he and others have waged since the beginning will keep him ahead of the curve.

The underlying point in both posts is that AdLand needs a shift in thought about talent recruitment and retention. Those practitioners well-versed in the "hottest" technology and practices will naturally be the most visible and highly sought after. Those too who are well known in the industry and have made their rounds should also get notice. Both made references to the roller-coaster ride AdLand provides; times of "turf wars and consolidation" to "layoffs, multiple agencies, and fending for our lives as freelancers."

AdLand is a tough place to be. But a fun one, too.

Fox then pokes fun of McCarthy's use of "muscle memory" and "siloed disciplines" and that Fox and those he's worked with have always hated that kind of structure. How interesting it is then that the work we all seem to hate is the work we all seem to see? Are the corporate marketers really to blame for the structure or are COOs like McCarthy the common thread and Fox is not? Clearly in bigger agencies like Publicis there will be structure and politics, and smaller agencies not so much. But here lies a clear difference; George Parker's BDAs run the show, and the siloed disciplines are the very standards that incoming talent is measured against. It seems the less we fit the standard and the younger we are sets practitioners up for better success.

A weird equation indeed.

We're not saying that a truce is needed between these trains of thought. Because, let's face it, unless a real conversation about the troubles of AdLand is had, nothing is going to be fixed. Unless agencies and businesses find a middle ground about compensation, unless corporate marketers unleash the creatives and stop worrying about being canned, unless client/agency relationships outlast the average 2–6 years, or unless AdLand finally grows a pair to talk about race in advertising, who really cares about a 39-year-old and 24-year-old showcasing their Facebook talents?


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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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