Old dogs and new tricks: One generation sharpens another

Kids on a pier

What will define Generation Z…and what will they learn from us?

Last week, Shira Harrington of Purposeful Hire spoke about generational differences at an IPRA luncheon. Listening to her talk, I was transported back to the early days in my career when beat-up old reporters ran PR shops and the typewriter was the only technology you needed to know how to use.

Shira gave a great presentation on how to work with and reach Millennials, but in the larger context of overlapping generations—beginning with the Veterans Generation and moving on to the Baby Boomers, Generation X and then Generation Y (Millennials), the largest generation at over 80 million. Much of what she had to say I had heard before, but it made me think in new ways about my own generation, my parents’, my son’s and the generation to come after the Millennials.

As if on cue, a member of the newest generation, Generation Z, appeared at my side as I was writing this post. Kylie, age 7, watched for a moment, then asked, “How did you learn to type so fast?” I told her I learned on a typewriter and asked if she had ever seen one.

“In a museum,” she replied. I had to laugh, but I realized she was right. Where else would you see a typewriter these days!

I let Kylie type on my laptop as we talked about writing. She wrote a note to her mom and dad without any help and asked me to print it. I was surprised at how comfortable she was on the keyboard and that she knew how to change font styles and point sizes in Word.

I suspect that some day PR bosses will say they are just beat-up old content marketers, and a new generation of practitioners, Kylie’s generation, will roll their eyes and say, “You are so 2014.”

Thankfully, writing is one PR skill that hasn’t fallen out of favor and isn’t likely to in the future. Writing seems to be a hot commodity these days with storytelling all the rage and like-worthy content in high demand.

I got my start in community newspapers, then had a stint as the editor of a Washington newsletter. So I came to PR like many who toiled away in print before finding their way into the growing field of communications.

I cannot imagine good writing ever going out of style, although surely there will always be debate as to what is style and how best to engage an audience. You wouldn’t expect a copywriter today to write in iambic pentameter, but that doesn’t mean Shakespeare wasn’t one heck of a writer.

Each generation must reinvent what has come before and make it its own. In the process, one generation sharpens another. Defining moments such as the birth of the Internet, 9/11 or the Great Recession impact us all—not just Millennials or Gen Xers.

I may have started my career with the typewriter and the Compugraphic machine, but I would no sooner go back to them than a Millennial would give up his smart phone. We all arrive at the future at the same time, just with different experiences under our belts.

I had the experience of sending press releases through the mail. Gen X had the experience of creating targeted emails and using online distribution services. Millennials are masters of social media. My dad, who was a mechanical engineer, relied on a slide rule and produced detailed technical drawings by hand, but he was also an early adopter of something called the computer.

It’s interesting and helpful to know the characteristics of each generation—how they view themselves, experience the world and approach the workplace—but as Shira suggested, we shouldn’t stereotype. Nor should we forget that old dogs can, and do, learn new tricks. And sometimes in the process they teach the youngsters a thing or two.

You might be a Millennial if…

SelfieIf you need some help understanding the Millennial Generation, you can’t go wrong reading this Bulldog Reporter article that Shira Harrington recommends: “PR for Millennials: The Five-Factor Recipe for a Winning Campaign” by Talia Sinkinson.

Here are five key qualities of Millennials that Sinkinson says PR and marketing people need to keep in mind:

  1. Experential. Millennials want experiences more than things.
  2. Self-broadcasting. Millennials have a propensity for documenting themselves and their activity constantly—and then sharing it with their followers.
  3. Passion-pointed. Millennials are “Generation Us.” They are community-focused and self-organize around passion points.
  4. Authenticity of strangers. Thanks to Yelp and other social media review tools, Millennials are the first generation to trust strangers more than friends or family when making purchasing decisions.
  5. Noncommittal. Millennials don’t like commitment. They want to try things, rent for a while and share.

So when designing a campaign that targets Millennials, Sinkinson says to remember these five points:

  • Be a conduit to experiences.
  • Provide opportunities for self-broadcast.
  • Join passion-point online hubs.
  • Leverage strangers over friends.
  • Give them a taste—without the pressure to buy.
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