“So you have a college class visiting you today?” The comment came from one of the 10 small agency CEOs visiting Mullen last week as part of a 4As tour. He watched as 20 or so twenty-somethings filed past to take over the conference room where we’d just met.
“What are you talking about?” I replied. It never dawned on me that he was referring to a team of social media strategists, creatives, media planners and developers who were gathering to get briefed on a new client initiative.
He pointed to the team that had just gathered.
“Oh them. No, they work here.”
His look suggested surprise that we could actually have that many young people in one place at one time working on an actual project.
Yesterday, I encountered a similar reaction when the founder of a big New York rep company was visiting to show off his clients’ work.
“So, how do you manage to stay fresh in this business after all these years?” he wanted to know.
“I get out of the way,” was the honest answer, explaining that the wisest thing anyone my age could do was to hire smart young people, load them up with responsibility, point them in the right direction and hover in the background until someone needs you.
He, too, was stunned, assuming that no one would do that out of a need for control, or a fear of becoming irrelevant, or a concern that everyone else would get the credit.
To me, these reactions reflect some of the vestiges of the old days in advertising. They’re left over from a time when the industry made people pay their dues instead of rewarding raw talent, an age when people spent way too much energy protecting their turf or their rung on the ladder, the days when agency staffers were more obsessed with crediting people instead of the idea.
I find that the smartest, most inspiring people I work with tend to be the youngest. They move seamlessly from one medium to another. They have the courage to try new things. They’re so familiar with technology and its potential that nothing seems impossible.
In the last week I witnessed a team on which no one was more than a year or two out of college conceive and launch the Good Belly Project. They came up with the idea, took it to local restaurants, sold it internally, got it online and into the press. No one cared about personal credit; they just wanted to make it.
It was the same kind of initiative and determination that led to TNGG signing a deal with boston.com. Three 24-year olds had the idea, did the work, initiated the dialog and have been delivering the goods.
Take a look at the companies that are thriving, inventing, creating new stuff. Big companies like Google. Small companies such as Hubspot. New companies like Kickstarter or SCVNGR or Livefyre. They’re filled with 20 year olds making products, reinventing service, and leveraging new technologies.
Want to stay young, relevant, and deserved of some control? Want to attract the kind of talent you actually need to prosper long term? Focus on the bigger stuff: culture, vision, standards, organization and casting. Then let go and out of the way.
Video: Young minds from Zeitgeist 2011. Eric Derdinis, 20-year-old U Penn student, talks about his prototype belt to aid the blind.