Andy Polansky
Andy Polansky

Millennials have changed the course of business, to a greater extent than any of us could possibly have imagined. Coming of age in the new millennium, 22-to-37 year old Millennials are a different cohort than GenXers, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation. While there’s no shortage of research and information on what Millennials want, think, do and say, there are indicators that might be overlooked. Signals that might provide a window into how future generations will expect businesses to behave and contribute.

Here’s what we know already about this most influential group:

• When it comes to business, Millennials want to work for and buy from companies that they believe deliver on their promises, care about social justice and defend their values.

O'Dwyer's Jul. '18 50th Anniversary MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jul. '18 50th Anniversary Magazine

• If Millennials do not agree with how a company treats its employees, takes a position on hot-button issues or engages in sustainable practices, they will think twice of it as a place to work and a brand to buy.

• Millennials aren’t afraid to take action. If they disagree with a company’s political view, they will boycott it and often go one step further by intentionally buying the products of companies that align with them on controversial issues of the day. In other words, BUYcotting is in all of our futures. 

Millennials grew up on the cusp of the digital revolution. They led other generations in their adoption and use of technology and watched how technology disrupted markets, sometimes even making their own parents’ jobs obsolete or outdated.

Certainly, digital and social media-savvy Millennials will continue to make a huge impact on how businesses communicate and engage with key stakeholders.

Given this special edition of O’Dwyer’s celebrates 50 years in covering the PR sector, what can we learn from our youngest practitioners about what the next 50 years will bring, both for our clients and our industry?

A lot, I think. Here are a few considerations for the years to come:

Corporate values will matter even more

With the retirement of Baby Boomers now upon us, more than one in three Americans in the workforce are Millennials, making them the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

However, Millennials have a reputation for being nomadic, hopping from one job to another. Weber Shandwick’s research on employee engagement, The Employer Brand Credibility Gap, found that nearly 60 percent of global Millennials are very likely to keep working for their current employers for the next year, a rate significantly lower than that of older generations. Therefore, employers must promote things that matter to Millennials, and communicating values may help to attract and retain this generation: nearly four in 10 global Millennials say whether an employer has a clear mission and purpose would be a very important factor if they were looking for a new job.

Values also matter while on the job. One-third of Millennials who say they’re aware of their employers’ values strongly agree that they consider these values when faced with decisions at work.

Values and purpose increasingly play a role in Millennials’ purchasing decisions. According to Weber Shandwick’s study, The Company behind the Brand II: In Goodness We Trust, four in 10 Millennials are buying from companies or brands that share their values more than they used to, and are significantly more likely to be doing so than older generations. Millennials also increasingly want to feel good about the company that makes the products they buy (37 percent) and are purchasing more from companies that have a social purpose or strive to make a positive contribution to the world or market in which they operate (33 percent).

In further research that investigates the rising trend of BUYcotting — where consumers show support for companies by intentionally buying from them — we found that BUYcotters are more likely to be Millennials or Gen Z. U.S. and UK consumers who BUYcott primarily do so because of product or service quality, but their support was secondarily driven by values displayed by a company or brand.

As Millennials continue to gain influence as employees and customers, companies devoid of clearly defined and articulated corporate values will be at a disadvantage.

Business leaders need to be more vocal

The past few years have shown an increasing intersection between business, brands and policy. Millennials especially have heightened expectations for how leaders and companies respond to current controversial issues of the day, whether it is immigration, gun control, climate change or gender equity.

Millennials not only see a responsibility for CEOs to speak up on societal issues, they favor it. In Weber Shandwick’s latest CEO Activism study, we found that Millennials have higher favorability toward CEOs who speak out on societal issues and a higher likelihood of buying from a brand whose CEO speaks out on hot-button issues — with 51 percent more likely to buy from a company led by a CEO who speaks out on an issue they agree with.

Millennial support of CEO activism comes naturally and we can expect to see more in the decades ahead. A 2014 Pew Social Trends report found that the Millennial generation may be detached from organized politics but are politically active. They’re more supportive of gay marriage, climate change solutions and social justice. They are also America’s most racially diverse generation. Coupling these differences with their immersion in social media, they have more confidence in the power of networks and connectedness to make change. We can expect them to be more vocal as well as they turn to social networks to make their opinions known.

Ending gaps in diversity, equity, inclusion

Fifty years from now, I hope we’ll be able to look back on 2018 as an inflection point year in the pursuit of equality for people of all backgrounds. With movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp cementing in our cultural zeitgeist, the next half century in the workplace will (and should) look a lot different than the last. While DEI should be a priority for everyone — across generational lines, at every level — I suspect that demand from Millennials and Gen Z will have a greater impact on the issue.

We know that Millennials seek diversity and inclusivity at work more than their older counterparts — in a Weber Shandwick study, nearly half of Millennials said diversity and inclusion would be an important factor in job searches, compared to about one-third of Gen Xers and Boomers.

We also know from our most recent Civility in America annual tracking study that a diverse and inclusive workplace is more civil. If it’s not clear by now that we should be proactively advocating for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace for employees now and in the future, I expect the Millennial voice will make a difference. I also expect Millennials will ensure it won’t take 50 years to achieve our DEI goals.

Takeaways for our industry

Millennials are without a doubt making their mark on the communications industry. Their expectations should be taken seriously because they have a great deal to contribute and as the next generation of PR leaders, they will drive progress forward. They have pushed our sector to be more connected, more diverse, more accessible and yes, more accountable. Here’s to the next 50 years of seeing what this group will help our community achieve.

***

Andy Polansky is CEO of Weber Shandwick.