Millennials advocate for technology and promotion at agencies but are slow to take risks

(Charlene Prounis (left), CEO and managing partner of Flashpoint Medica, moderates a panel discussion featuring Jane Townsend and Alan Gross, co-founders of Gross Townsend Frank Hoffman, and Francis Gace, co-founder of Lewis & Gace. Townsend, Gross and Gace are Medical Advertising Hall of Fame inductees.) 

Millennials who work for pharmaceutical agencies are driven, focused and tech-savvy but they also pay too much attention to promotion and the shape of their careers rather than learning to take professional risks and finesse the work they produce.

One issue addressed by both agency leaders and staffers is the question of how long is long enough to stay at an agency. A job at an agency used to last three to five years, said Charlene Prounis, CEO and managing partner at Flashpoint Medica. Now an agency stint is more likely to end after one to two years.

“They're thirsty to learn,” Prounis said. “It's okay to move around and try something new. But the challenge for them is learning on the job and working through problems ... It's up to you to make it better.”

Still, younger executives say that agency leaders don't always do enough to recognize their talent. Many of the younger staffers only choose to leave agencies in order to get a promotion or a pay increase.

“A lot of people are focused and frustrated by what seems like the need to leave an agency to get promoted or get a pay raise,” said David Hurwitz, a 28-year-old copy-writer at FCB Health.

Agency leaders, on the other hand, argue that millennials need to pay their dues. “Agencies cherish their talent,” said Robin Shapiro, president and chief creative officer at CAHG. “It's an expensive proposition to replace someone.”

But times are unquestionably changing. The oldest millennials are now in their mid-30s and are starting to take leadership reins. It shouldn't come as a surprise that there are disconnects between what millennial executives say about their work at agencies and what agency leaders say about their millennial staffs.

Advertising account executive is considered one of the top jobs for millennials, of which there are 34 million, making the generation bigger than the baby boomers, according to a 2015 list compiled by CareerCast, an online jobs site.

Technology is now a key rather than a tool. Millennials, in particular, are a generation known for demanding more when it comes to work–life balance but they also seek out work that they find fulfilling and meaningful, traits that well may lend themselves to the world of healthcare advertising. “You're helping people,” said Shana Wachowski, a copy supervisor at FCB Health.

Scott Watson, EVP and chief creative officer at Ogilvy CommonHealth, believes there now may be fewer opportunities for younger executives starting their careers. Leaders are too willing to protect younger staff from making mistakes, he added, and the younger generation is coming to expect that rather than learning what failure entails.

“There's not enough patience for this younger generation to make mistakes,” Watson said. “We made mistakes. You were thrown into the fire. [Now] we coddle too much and they expect that in a way.”

The Medical Advertising Hall of Fame held its Young Executives Night Out, a learning event aimed at educating advertising executives in the first five years of their careers. The 2015 event, held in October, featured a panel discussion with Jane Townsend and Alan Gross, co-founders of Gross Townsend Frank Hoffman, and Francis Gace, co-founder of Lewis & Gace. Townsend, Gross and Gace are Medical Advertising Hall of Fame inductees. 

One of the Hall of Famers asked the room of about 165 young executives at the event a question: Who wanted to start their own agency one day?

(Each of the three Hall of Famers who participated in a panel discussion that night co-founded agencies, as did Prounis.)

Only a few tentative hands went up. Shapiro said she thinks that has more to do with the fact that almost everyone had a boss in the room and not as much to do with a lack of interest in founding an agency. There's still a need, even in a market defined by large agency networks, for entrepreneurs, she said.

“It's the highest honor if you've grown someone and then they do that,” she added.

To read more about the MAHF's Young Executives Night Out, click here to download an eBook about the event.