The Last Word

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.

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7 February 2014 - 11:00am | posted by | 4 comments

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

Robert Harwood-Matthews has The Last WordRobert Harwood-Matthews has The Last Word

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.

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.


7 Feb 2014 - 17:08
alan_rogan's picture

Sorry Robert, but we're not all in this together, they are boring, hoodie-wearing, slack jawed stereotypes! You shouldn't object to their demonisation as most of them deserve it, as the only thing they probably worked hard for is to cleverly extend the duration of their gap year, by extending their loan from the Bank of Ma & Pa! Which will no doubt have been written off on their return to good old Blighty, prior to deciding on Advertising as an easy career choice.And let's face itl they don't need to earn much as their substantial inheritance shouldn't be too far off, thanks to their parents purchase of property in the halcyon days when you could buy a detached five bedroom house with grounds, for the same price as a shitty eco car today! No, I say bollocks to em! And if this is how you have decided to out yourself by admitting your propensity towards your favourite Art Directors, Writers and the young boys from despatch, then good for you Robert! Maybe that goes some way to explain just how you started work with your own office and secretary in Mayfair? Nice one Rob!

8 Feb 2014 - 07:27
eyupsharpy's picture

I've read your comment a number of times Alan. I was looking for some irony, or hint that you were trying to be funny. It seems from what I can tell that you mean what you say. How very shocking and sad that this is how you feel about what is a fantastic emerging generation.

My experience is completely the opposite.

I've worked with the NUS for many years, and our company actively and enthusiastically embraces GenY in work placements, co-create workshops and employment. I have always found this generation to be hard working, committed and extremely talented. They see the world through fresh eyes that I find quite frankly refreshing. They are the future and they will make it great.

In fact their biggest challenge is people that share views like your own, and who fail to recognise the incredible talent and potential that this generation offer us.

But then maybe you are joking after all Alan? I really hope so.

10 Feb 2014 - 10:44
alan_rogan's picture

Eyupsharpy, you're obviously not as sharp as your name suggests... of course I'm f'kin joking!

14 Feb 2014 - 09:17
jsb991's picture

Completely agree with this- as a Millennial I've finally landed a job in advertising, but only after years of hard work at university, working for free on the side to get experience, a placement year and learning a foreign language all to get rejected by countless agencies with application forms that take days, interviews that last hours with no expenses topped off with no feedback because they "don't have the time". I've worked damn hard to get where I am, and I think it's sad that people who have been in the industry for years (not all) have this warped and almost always untrue, opinion of millennials.

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