No matter what year it is, it's always popular to bemoan “the kids these days.” There are hundreds of news articles about Millennials, denouncing their sense of entitlement, desire to be entertained, and requirement for constant interaction and validation. They defend themselves by noting they're also achievers, family-centric, and socially responsible.
An irony is that the Gen Yers at PR firms report these days to Gen X managers, who were supposedly a generation of individualistic slackers with a penchant for rejecting authority. They defend themselves by noting they're also the people who brought work-life balance and technology to the workplace. They shake their fists at Gen Y and the difficulty managing them. The work-centric Boomers in the boardroom chortle.
But the whole lot should be either quaking in their boots or readying a saddle, because the next generation of communicators and marketers will be the most formidable yet. Generation Z is the placeholder term for the 90s-born, money aware kids whose current priority is probably most often getting their drivers' permits.
Generation Z is coming of intellectual age just in time to bear witness to a great deal of economic discomfort – for their older siblings, maybe even for their Gen X parents. They don't have inflated and unrealistic expectations for their financial success. In fact, they're the generation with the least belief in “The American Dream.” They are remarkably realistic. They are also more inclusive and tolerant, and some people call them the “Plurals” because they are the most diverse of any American generation.
Add one more to this, and we start to paint the formidable part of the picture. They are digital natives. For them, the device fades into the background like an electric outlet does to the other generations. They have grown up so accustomed to technology that it is a utility rather than a fascination. And they are putting that utility to use to create.
They aren't just fluent in technology, but they're fluent in visual communications. Their Vines are beautiful and funny. They're not curating their images because they're busy living in the moment. They log on to Snapchat to have fun that disappears, not to brag to the world about what happened.
I'm not just getting this from books. My 16-year-old cousin spends his free time learning film technique. He builds his own rigs with PVC pipe although his parents could probably buy him the pro stuff. And he's not doing it to create elaborate selfies, either. He's already putting it to use to film videos for brands.
Generation Z is not so idealistic that they are afraid to earn a living, but they know that life is about more than economic security. They are not so self-obsessed that they can't play on a team. They don't worry about balancing work and life because they're already more willing to pursue their life's work, even without a promise about where it will lead.
Boy, they'll be good at PR. They can create beautiful content. They know how online content affects emotion, social life, preference. They're as connected as the Gen Y'ers, but know better than to prove themselves by prancing online. They're multicultural and respect difference. And they don't care much about applause. They may very well bring to the PR workplace the best traits of the three generations before them.
Or they could be a bunch of entitled young jerks. But just in case, I'm going to go ahead and wave and smile the next time a student driver cuts me off.Ian Lipner is VP at Lewis PR.