1stFive Experience: Gen-Z, A Diverse New Generation of Future Leaders

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The room was abuzz with over 300 interns from advertising, marketing, media and entertainment businesses across New York City, from Viacom to Turner, from HBO to NBCU.  These future industry leaders gathered at the corporate headquarters of Horizon Media for the 4th Annual 1stFive Summer Intern Experience, led by Jack Myers, Founder of 1stFive.org and Publisher of MediaVillage.com.  This year was special, as Myers pointed out, in that these attendees are the "first class" of Generation Z, those born in the era of technology with virtually instant access to the Internet.

After a welcome by Eileen Benwitt, Chief Talent Officer at Horizon Media, and an intro by Donna Speciale, President of Turner Ad Sales, Myers briefly spoke about the differences between Millennials and Gen-Z, two very different generations that are often combined into one general group. "Gen-Z does not believe in perpetuating anything that isn't working," Myers said.  "You are not destructive; simply disruptive.  You believe yourselves to be both responsible for and capable of manufacturing your own happiness and success."

Following the keynote, three more industry leaders joined for an impressive panel line-up: Otto Bell, Vice President and Group Creative Director of Courageous;  Mollie Rosen, Executive Vice President, Agency Relations and Membership at 4As, and Donald "Donnie" Williams, Executive Vice President, Chief Digital Officer of Horizon Media.  The panel, led by Myers, shared insights and information on their businesses and what they've experienced on long road to their careers.

Benwitt explained the value in learning one's strengths.  "One thing I learned about myself over the years is that I'm really comfortable being uncomfortable," she said.  "That's a bit of a strange thing to say but it really resonates and I see a couple of heads [nodding].  To me, what it means is I'm a seeker and I'm a builder," she explained, adding, "it doesn't get better than that" when working in environments that play to one's strengths.

Myers and Benwitt also mentioned the value of "two-way mentoring" between the interns and their leaders.  "We have so much to learn from one another," Benwitt said to the crowd.  "You guys are in a powerful position because you have something that a lot of us don't have.  Never lose sight of that and take it with you with whatever you do moving forward."

Williams, also from Horizon Media, offered this advice: "If you're going to work in this space, it's really simple," he said.  "You have to have a big appetite, you have to have a big motor, you have to work really hard, push yourself really far, really fast, and you have to be creative ... you basically have to be superhuman," he laughed.  The words were made more powerful after hearing Williams talk about his own career path, which started with working as a bartender to get through college, unsure of what he wanted to next.  "I do this for one reason and one reason only," he continued.  "I do this because I believe our industry is moving in a really interesting direction.  I believe that we'll be able, at some point, to quantify how we improve business."

"This is an industry that particularly now needs people of all types of backgrounds" added Rosen.  "We are reflecting the world around us and so we need people who are coming from all walks of life and experiences and interests."  This topic in particular was further expanded on in subsequent breakout sessions where the interns were divided into groups to participate a talkback with different members of the panel.

Diversity became a key subject in most of them.  In the breakout which Benwitt and Williams led, they asked, "What could have been done to improve your internship experience?"  One NBCU intern said, "Definitely diversity.  It was kind of scary for me to see that most of my intern group members all came from Ivys or private colleges while I was the only one from a public university.

"Earlier in the panel we were stressing diversity and inclusion but I think that starts during the internship recruitment process," he continued.  "I don't think that it's fair to go for these 'name brand' schools or rely heavily on executive referrals.  I grew up with a lot of kids who come from nothing and we go to these public schools and we try to become someone.  It's really hard when you have to compete with families that already have all these things in their circle.  I think it's something that all major companies need to work really heavily on."

"The investment that's tailored toward multicultural initiatives is significantly less than your native language or English-speaking campaign activity," Williams noted.  "Advertisers don't know how to operationalize multicultural advertising initiatives as effectively as they have other types of advertising national efforts.  It's a totally fair point and a real challenge in the industry that has existed for an extended period of time."

After the breakout sessions, interns and execs alike went on to the Horizon Media terrace for a cocktail hour where connections were made, LinkedIn invites were swapped and future business relationships were sparked.  These leaders, present and future, know what the biggest problems are in this industry and current society and they seem ready to tackle them head on and bring forward inclusion, diversity, innovation and change in the near future.  As Myers said, this generation believes in disrupting the status quo in order to improve the happiness quotient.

Clickhere to view our 1stFive Experience photo gallery.

Photo credit: Juan Ayala photo at top.  Christian Taylor photo in body. Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.

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