How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Mastering the millennial generation

June 22, 2012: 8:44 AM ET

Besides digital media and the French Riviera sun, the hottest thing at the Cannes Lions International ad festival this week is the question of how to attract millennial to businesses and brands.

I told you here on Wednesday how companies like Coca-Cola (KO) and Burberry (BURBY)—as well as TV stars like Matthew Morrison of Glee—master the challenge. It's particularly complex because this impatient generation, born between 1980 and 1995 and totaling some 80 million, demand extraordinary output from their media. Also known as Gen Y, they crave "a communal connection," MTV president Steve Friedman explained yesterday in a panel discussion moderated by his boss, Viacom (VIA) CEO Philippe Daumon. Twenty-year-old actress/singer/budding businesswoman Selena Gomez, who was also on the panel, said that she involves her young fans in the clothes and fragrances and everything else she creates for them.

To engage this audience, you have to deliver "a participatory role in the creation of content" and "a 52-week connection to a show," Friedman added. MTV has delivered that on shows like Jersey Shore and Teen Wolf, building them into hits.

What about companies that don't necessarily sell to millennial but struggle to attract and retain them as employees? "Restructure your HR and your internships," advises media consultant Jack Myers. Myers led a panel at a Cannes gathering hosted by media-buying agency UM (IPG) and Facebook (FB). He's been studying a narrow slice of the millennial generation, those born between 1991 and 1995, for a book he came out with this week. It's called Hooked Up: A New Generation's Surprising Take on Sex, Politics and Saving the World. The book examines the 17- to 21-year-olds, whom Myers calls "Internet pioneers" because they represent a bridge between the pre-and post-Internet generations.

"They know how to collaborate," Myers said. "They don't know silos because they grew up without them." For this generation, the Internet is "omnipresent and omnipotent." Diversity--mixing with every race and nationality--is "second nature, part of their DNA," he added.

"People born with the Internet think of it like electricity," noted Paul Adams, global head of brand design at Facebook, who joined Myers in the discussion. As you would guess, Adams urged the baby boomers in the audience to get with the program by spending more time on Facebook so we can "understand how they share."

Myers offered another suggestion: Create a "reverse mentoring" program at your company. Many companies, such as Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), already have such programs, pairing graying execs with young people who can teach them how to embrace digital life and constant sharing. Interestingly, J&J keeps its reverse mentoring program informal and avoids labeling the participants "mentors" and "mentees." Why? Well, sometimes it's best not to let the old folks know how much they need to be taught.

Posted in: , ,
Fortune's Most Powerful Women
Fortune's Most Powerful Women For the latest on the most influential women in business, philanthropy, government, and the arts, like us on Facebook.
Guest Posts
Fortune Most Powerful Women Fortune Most Powerful Women The rolodex that redefined power
Profile in The Washington Post
Sheryl Sandberg: Sheryl Sandberg: Don't leave before you leave
COO of Facebook
Wendy Clark Wendy Clark Exec learns firsthand how the homeless live
SVP of the Global Sparkling Brand Center at Coca-Cola
Marissa Mayer's 3 biggest decisions as Yahoo CEO With company stock up over 100% since she began running the company 16 months ago, Mayer reflects on her choices to date. Watch
Chelsea Clinton on running for office: 'I don't know' The vice chairman of the Clinton Foundation talks about her diverse career path and growing up in the spotlight. Watch
MPWomen go Global

The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership brings rising-star women from countries around the world to the U.S. for three-week mentorships with participants of the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit - among them Ursula Burns of Xerox, Laura Lang of Time Inc., Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, and Tory Burch.

Read more

Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by VIP.