Welcome to advertising, the Millennials way

The industry has to change its structural make-up to attract and retain talented Millennials. By 2025, 75 per cent of the global workforce will be made up of Millennials. A group of diverse, tech-savvy, ultra-connected individuals who have a different attitude to the world.

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

The emergence of the Millennial is the most significant change occurring in our industry right now. They are our future leaders, but already they are changing the way we do business and the way we interact with our clients and each other.

While plenty has been written on Millennials when it comes to marketing to them, what about when it comes to how we work with them?

How do we structure our business so that we’re not only set up to hire, inspire and keep the industry’s future leaders but that we’re a place where they want to work too?

Expectation inflation

We’re not talking about introducing the odd bit of flexible working – this is about revisiting the entire agency make-up.

A key talking point at SXSW this year, for example, was the desire of Millennials to work in flatter company structures – put simply, they don’t "do" hierarchy.

Agencies have been relatively ahead of the game when it comes to knocking down internal boundaries, and it’s just as common now to have a chief executive sitting in the thick of the action of an open-plan office as it is to have them hidden away in an ivory tower.

But, as the Mashable founder Pete Cashmore (perhaps the poster boy of this generation) said at SXSW, Millennials want their boss to be their friend as much as their superior.

That’s a scary thought, but the reality is that chief executives must ensure they are valued by employees as much as they are by clients. Even in a company of 800, I make it a priority to meet every new Engine employee.

Across the company, we encourage a "feedback on the fly" culture – something I’ve found more in tune with a new generation who crave regular advice and direction. Gone are the days of the big build-up to the annual appraisal – we still have yearly meetings to set targets, but the trend is towards constant informal feedback.

This generation want to know how they did yesterday and today, not six months ago.

We shouldn’t be surprised – they know in a millisecond what people think of their digital musings. Why shouldn’t they have the same constant feedback tools as in their personal lives?


Part of the reason Millennials don’t want to wait for an annual review to understand their performance is because they don’t want to wait for anything. Seven days is a long time in their world. We need to give them more challenges more often.

Even if that means accelerating their career path in a way that blows out all your norms if they are good enough. You may want to shout "In my day, we had to wait three years for that kind of promotion" – but shouldn’t.

Speed and agility form part of the entrepreneurial traits that make up many a Millennial’s psyche. And if we want to harness these entrepreneurial qualities without driving them out of the door to set up their own businesses, then we must treat employees as "intrapreneurs" – giving them platforms to think and behave like company owners within our own walls.

Intrapreneurs aren’t afraid of failure or to change their plans if they don’t think they are on the right path. They have burning ideas that they are desperate to make happen and won’t let company politics or hierarchies get in the way.

At Engine, we try to create an environment that allows these ideas and passions to be nurtured – whether they are linked to client work or not. That’s everything from donating employees one day a year for projects in the community to Creative Catalysts, a self-starting group formed by our younger members of staff to tackle issues they are passionate about.

Fewer boundaries

Out the window too goes the work/life balance. For Millennials, these boundaries are far more blurred.

They want more sociable, more collaborative office environments. The way information travels and influence grows is also in a flatter, more nodal and less hierarchical way. If you want something to gain traction in your company, ensure it is this group who think it’s a great idea and spread the word.

This isn’t just some flimsy "wouldn’t it be nice" thinking – we’ve seen in the data we get from our Sunday Times Best Companies ranking that this is what matters to our employees. And if they don’t get it at their current company, they will be quicker than ever to go somewhere else.

Because that’s the rub – Millennials are career-savvy. They know what they want and aren’t afraid to move elsewhere to get it. And the pool of competitors is getting larger – we’re not just competing with each other in the industry for the best talent but also the likes of Google and Apple.

So while we should be thankful that exuberance and creativity are emerging from new and diverse places, we need to work harder than ever to ensure that, when we’ve bagged a talented Millennial, we’re all set up to keep them.

Debbie Klein is the chief executive at Engine