The following is a guest blog by Seth Barnett from Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) in response to the October 10, 2016 edition of the brandivate blog which can be read here.
Millennials, like most of us at some point in our lives, have been misunderstood. Societal perceptions and a few bad apples have given the Millennials a bad name. I feel that there are some misconceptions about this now largest generation that need to be addressed. Part of the challenge of creating commonality between generations is being able to minimize the misconceptions about any generation, not just Millennials. We also must understand that the few (insert obnoxious Millennial of your choice) do not represent the whole.
In Bill’s earlier post about the Millennial generation, he mentioned how Millennials disparage or mock older generations for their inability to adapt or change. I can say that after speaking to college students, young professional’s groups, Millennials in the industry, and peers, that this is almost completely false for this group as a whole. When people of a generation other than Millennials bring this up I always respond with “respect goes both way”. This means that if a Millennial is discriminatory against another generation it is probably because that person was discriminatory against them. I can say with total confidence that Millennials are the most hated generation in decades. But it is not because they are a generation that is out to get everyone else, it is because they are resistant. If they think there is a better way to do something, they will voice that opinion without hesitation. This does not come from a place of disrespect; it comes from a place of being progressive. Yes, there are those entitled few who are too vocal and too resistant to careful consideration, but every generation has those who are guilty of entitlement.
I certainly agree that some of the most progressive people are in the older generations. However, there is a respect for that progressive mentality that the Millennials want to foster. The reason why Millennials are inherently progressive and push for progressive change is because they were raised by the original “defy all odds” generation in the Baby Boomers. They learned how to be defiant from the most defiant group ever. But what other generations, like Gen X, can teach Millennials is how to embrace and utilize this need for progression positively without harming themselves or others in the process.
Now when it comes to Millennials embracing the status quo and just doing things “the way they have always been done”, I disagree with any Millennial who totally accepts things the way they are and am skeptical of the ‘yes’ Millennial. Look at me as an example of this. I wanted PPAI to tackle this obvious generational challenge, not to be defiant, but to ensure we as a whole are progressive. This was also not done for personal benefit or to directly benefit PPAI, it was done for the value of the industry. But it required me to say ‘no’ and challenge the status quo.
Millennials are all individualistic. Each generation has something unique to contribute to society. I believe that Millennials, like all generations, have the ability to contribute to society in a positive way. However, it must come from a place of respect. When speaking to young professionals in the promotional products business, I always tell them that there is a reason some things just work in our industry. But if they feel that new ideas or adaptations could be progressive, they should voice them with respect. There is a wonderful industry leader named Mary Ellen Harden who is the President of Wall Street Greetings, LLC and is also a Millennial who embraces adaptation really well. When she came in to her company things had been done the same way and with success for years. Again, not for personal gain but for total progression she had some changes to suggest. She tells the story of taking away the fax machine for processing orders in exchange for embracing newer technology. This was a very basic but yet hugely progressive idea. Now her company is more efficient than ever. She has worked to embrace some of the time-tested ways of doing business, but was not afraid to stir things up where she witnessed a need. This is a philosophy that I want Millennials in our industry to hold. No, they should not feel entitled to do this, they should want to help our industry achieve by being part of the solution.
As to adage “think like a Millennial”, there are ways to do this that works positively and doesn’t have to totally change the game. Dan Reading is the Vice President of Boise based In The Bag Promotions. Dan is in his 50’s and owns his business with his wife Lori. They have been doing business in a similar fashion for many years and with continued success. However, earlier this year Dan and Lori took this “think like a Millennial” idea and expanded on it. They hired a new sales team, rebranded and expanded their online marketplace, and used young staff to help move the mark. This not only allowed for their company’s growth into the younger market, it expanded their reach to existing clients. When I talked to Dan about this he said he was cautious with this idea in the beginning so as not to alienating his existing customers. But now he says that he was able to reinvigorate these customers while adding a plethora of new customers. Dan has a team of 9 individuals who collectively make up an average age of 29 years old. Not only is he making waves with these young people, he is making waves in his community. Sure, there are many ways that he does “business as usual” but he is encouraged by what his younger people are bringing to the table. They have tremendous respect for him and his methods as he does for them and their methods.
I want to ensure we, as an industry, are not so quick to dismiss the Millennials. We have all been the ‘Millennial’ at some point, meaning the young person with these new, crazy ideas and a voice we wanted heard. The Baby Boomers were in the Millennial shoes, the Greatest Generation was too, and on down the line. But think about what our world and our industry would look like if the Greatest Generation dismissed the Baby Boomers, or the Baby Boomers dismissed Generation X. We are all in this together. Yes, Millennials are flawed. But we all are flawed to other generations. We have to find a way to teach Millennials about why we must not change everything, and through mutual respect, they can teach others how our industry can succeed in a changing and ever-growing market.
Like me, I think most of us want to see our industry become more and more effective. But the truth is we are on the verge of a mass exodus of Baby Boomers and will look to Generation X to lead this next group of young people. I want to ensure that we are finding the right young people, not to compete with us, but to work with us to lead this industry into the future together.
Seth Barnett is the Diversity Development Manager for Promotional Products Association International (PPAI). As an advocate for the industry's marketplace success, he develops new ways for business to meet the growing demand of a diverse workforce and a changing consumer market. In addition to his role, Barnett has been a private tutor for Texas Christian University undergraduate and graduate students since 2012 and has been a guest instructor at Boise State University, the Florida Institute of Technology, the College of Western Idaho, and Johnson & Wales University. Barnett holds a bachelor of science degree in management from Johnson & Wales University, a master’s degree in public administration from Walden University, a master’s degree in law from American Public University, and has been a special project researcher with the University of Oxford. You can connect with Seth here: