Why the millennials of the advertising industry get a hard time, by Robert Harwood-Matthews

In each print edition of The Drum, we give one person from the media and creative worlds the chance to have The Last Word in the magazine by sounding off about a subject that matters to them. It could be a rant or a eulogy, the topic is entirely of their choosing. Here we publish The Last Words from our most recent editions.

In each issue of The Drum, we give one industry figure the opportunity to have The Last Word by sounding off about a subject that means something to them. This week Robert Harwood-Matthews, president of TBWA\Chiat\Day NY, delivers a message for his young counterparts in the ad industry.

Robert Harwood-Matthews has The Last Word

I’m sorry. I truly am. You guys get a horrible time. The phrase ‘millennial’ has come to mean lazy, entitled, distracted, disaffected underpaid slave in the big bad ‘industry’ that is advertising, and it’s just not fair.

What’s surprising is that you are the most researched and yet seemingly least understood generation in the workplace. There are countless studies, reports, blogs and so on hawked to marketers on a daily basis. Reports which claim to know the ‘now’ generation and sympathetically position you as ‘always on’ and one step closer to the singularity.

What I object to most, though, is the demonisation of ‘millennials’ in the workplace. The idea of the slack-jawed, hoodie-wearing youth with headphones always on. The idea that this individual is just passing through the workplace, updating their status before taking some more time out. All said without a hint of irony before they ask you if Instagram will kill Vine or whatever today’s tech query is (because obviously you know all of that stuff, right?)

Want to know a secret? That boss of yours, you know, the one with the latest iPhone, the slightly too-tight clothing and seeing a stadium-filling band at the weekend. They suck more, and let me be the first to out myself and admit it.

You don’t know the meaning of entitled. I started work in Mayfair in London, with my own office and my own secretary. I went to the pub at lunchtime with my favourite art directors or writers or the boys from dispatch. I had a pager that might flash, and if suitably motivated I would find a working pay phone to dial in. I spent my afternoons pacing the sixth floor trying to get a glimpse of the grey-eyed beauty that captured my imagination. I wore out the carpet making circuitous and entirely unnecessary routes around the building just to see her. Beats your five minutes on Facebook or OKCupid for timewasting.

When I travelled anywhere it was time off, no laptop on my knees or phone glued to my ear. I was told to be quiet in meetings. Sorting out the technology might have meant holding card over an acetate or plugging in a projector. I went on training courses in fancy hotels where I learned how to sharpen pencils, pour coffee and straighten notepads. It wasn’t exactly tough.

So here’s to you. I know you fought your way here, I know that we’ve been judging your online presence like dictators with a new toy. Frankly we should all shut the hell up with our negativity. It just makes us sound older still and more out of touch. I’d stick headphones on to ignore me. Given half a chance, I’d have wooed my girl with a fabulous and entirely fictional online profile too.

So remember, bosses: that ‘millennial’ opposite you is human, just like you used to be. Ease up with your boring stereotypes. Stereotypes suck.

I have navigated recessions and turbulence all my career. The brief halcyon period I’ve described didn’t last long, but I know the average graduate now has had to fight harder than I did, sacrifice more freedoms, and didn’t come all this way to listen to our boring stories about how it all started with the Pixies in the late 80s or about how easy they got it. We’re in this together.

Robert Harwood-Matthews joined TBWA\London in 2002, leading the Nissan and PlayStation business, followed by three years heading up TBWA\Manchester. A stint in LA came next, and in 2002 he was appointed president of TBWA\Chiat\Day New York. His column is The Last Word from the 5 February edition of The Drum.

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