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January 2, 2008
"Why's Everybody Always Pickin' On Me?" My Impressions of Generation Broke

In 1957 The Coasters put out a song called “Charlie Brown” about the little guy who just felt like everyone was out to get him. It had the title above firmly as the chorus. It was considered a silly song but it’s pretty germane to me now.

That’s how I, a constantly suffering, sighing, then laughing, CEO of a veteran PR firm, sometimes see these so-called Millenials that everyone is yapping about.

There’s a kind of dourness to this generation that makes me think that they are being defensive about everything (and yes I’m generalizing but don’t you wish you had my job—not?).

What I call Generation Broke, most – though I’ve recently met a few who differ — always have their hand out but are not really willing to work for it. They have a few serious dilemmas within their makeup that I urgently need to bring to your attention as a service to mankind over age 29:

1. They have no money woes, whatsoever. Why should they? They pay rent and Martini costs. And there’s always someone out there who will cover the freight.

2. They have their parents navigating and engineering lives for them – and have since day one. A pal who is President of a PR firm SWEARS that three of his young employees had their parents negotiate their raises. I rest that case.

3. They don’t subscribe to the so-called learning via school of hard knocks or that other thing, making the grade, or that other thing, rising up the ladder, or that other thing, earning your keep, or that other thing, proving value, or that other thing, starting at the bottom, or that other thing, paying your dues! Because they don’t get why—and no one who raised them has told them they’re anything but fabulous. “You’ll get it, don’t worry, honey.”

4. They do believe in oat sowing. I see them out every night—work is an afterthought for many. I think the fact that most of them aren’t writers of any repute is because they’re so blurry from the night before. (Man, I wish I could hold my liquor that well—even then.)

5. Can I stress how funny that is? Twenty dollar gimlets every night are no problem and when my assistant asked someone to go and buy a magazine, she said she only had three dollars on her. Hello.

6. They need to be told they’re amazing at all times. Thus the title of this essay.. If you don’t they quit. “You did not make me feel good,” someone said to me earlier this year. I’m still in hysterics thinking about such earnestly-felt and wrongly-directly sentiments...

7. They are too emotional and — as a rule, because here is a recent discovery — they have not separated the professional and the personal. No one showed them how to. Or to balance a checkbook. Or to say please. Or to... I’ll stop and I go wash the sweat off my brow.

It is, sadly, a truism how in their short lives not a single person ever pointed out how there is a supreme difference between activity and pro-activity. Just showing up, sorry, is not good enough. I’ve never seen a group come to meetings to simply sit there, take notes, act all interested, en masse. I firmly believe that PARTICIPATION or FACILIATION has never been explained to the new 20-somethings and it’s probably because they spent so much time in front of monitors IM-ing people and never really talking.

Me, I loved like hell those fabulous Gen Xers with their heaving shoulders who felt they should get it now — money, prestige, power, respect! Let me explain. To me, entitlement means someone will work their ass off to get something they feel due them. They ask questions, they demand real answers and will get in your face if you try to hem. Or haw. That’s passion. Those guys and gals had balls, wow. They lived to get things done – they moved up fast because they had to (no choice, it seemed).

See, if you were 27 in 1998 you had never lived through an adult downturn and as far as you knew all that chitchat about prior slowdowns was lore, like what my own parents said to me about “going to school in the snow” during the stone age. If you existed only through the good times – and they did – why not think everything was going to come to you?

If you’re smart you’re wondering, wait a minute. How does this guy know so much, know being a relatively strong word! After 20 years of managing 20-somethings, I’ve recently decided that this is a group who collectively work hard to get credit for a job done rapidly and, for all intents, poorly.

This Gen feels they already own the world before they started out in it and so aren’t we glad to know them? Every single person needs to be shown slides of those fabulous Musical Chairs we witnessed in 2000, when kids who went and moved jobs every few seconds for money or glory found themselves so low on the pole one day they ended up working at the Gap when the bubble took a hit.

Here’s a one-sheet to define the GBers for your refrigerator… They are big on eyerolling and for the most part (there are wondrous exceptions, I possess a few right now at my own firm, praise be all the Lords!) think being taught is not for them since they already know it all, gosh. They would rather work a bit, get paid a lot, hang out, dance, fall down, start again.

When I was 22, just over a million years ago, I worked with some of the toughest overseers on earth forcing me to envision the big picture so while I’m flip, I’m sad.

Who will mentor people with their arms so folded? Why no one, interestingly enough.

I caution everyone to not bother worrying about the day when Brokers “take over the world.” No oldsters will be retiring—they will have to outsource to someone, chump! I am thrilled to take their money. If you think I’m wrong, put up your dukes via richard@laermer.com. Put “Charlie Brown” in the subject; it will come to a special mailbox I’ve set up for the fight.

Above is derived from a forthcoming book, “2011,” from McGraw-Hill, truncated naturally.

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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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