Interactive Millennial Marketing Exchange Invigorates Big Business

A generation that grew up absorbed in technological advances, Millennials are now making a huge impact on the business world. Two sister cities, Austin, Texas and London Borough of Hackney, developed a dynamic, skill-building program to address and develop the role of millennials in today’s economy.  

The idea came about after Fred Schmidt, Austin businessman and a co-organizer of the Millennial Mentors Program (MMP), went on a trade mission to find a sister college in London for Austin Community College (ACC). The Austin-Hackney Sister Cities Program found that ACC and Hackney Community College (HCC) would make a great match as partner institutions. 

Soon after the sister college relationship was established, Ian Ashman from HCC started an apprenticeship program aiming to engage students in the interactive media workforce. At the same time, Nadya Powell from London social media agency, MRY, and Jon Burkhardt from the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Advisory Board were brainstorming ways to get the digitally native millennial population to connect with brands and marketing agencies. 

Current technology makes communications instantly global and ever-evolving thanks to constant contact with social media platforms, especially amongst millennials. With both a need for students to gain additional business experience as part of their apprenticeship program and for companies to learn the value of having young people in big business, the schools and private sector came together to form the Millennial Mentoring Project. 

Students were vetted by their respective community colleges after an application process for the program. Six students from ACC and seven students from HCC, all ages 18-24, were chosen to be on three cross-functional teams. Each team consisted of students from both schools with diverse majors, tech capabilities, and media and production experience. 

After completing training on topics including marketing, research, and prototyping, each team was presented with an advertising brief from either British Airways, Adobe Systems, or RetailMeNot, Inc. Mentors from tech startups and agencies Capital Factory, Poke, MRY, Nineten, Real-Time Content Labs, ShellsuitZombie, and 3 Day Startup were there to coach the students throughout the three month period. Mentors appreciated the hard work and dedication put forth by the students on each team, “These students are an untapped well of talent, passion, and innovation,” a mentor described. 

Once team challenges were announced, the students received weekly input from a business expert on a key topic. They then used Skype, Google Hangouts, and email across the pond to work on their projects. Given the virtual nature of the exchange, students found that it was important to “work as if you are actually in each other’s presence. You get to know each other surprisingly well.” Forming personal bonds during the process helped students understand one another’s work habits and therefore develop teamwork skills in a more cohesive fashion. 

To create solutions, students vetted ideas in the field, conducted personal interviews, and held scheduled teleconference calls. Allowing students to participate in hands-on learning gave them the opportunity to experience what it would be like to work in a team structure, present ideas, and understand daily life in a commercial context. 

For their client brief, British Airways sought ways to better position itself as an “innovation airline” known for great service in ways that might resonate with a younger generation. RetailMeNot was looking to entice millennials to use its vast offering of online discount coupons. Lastly, Adobe Systems wanted assistance with an early adoption of its creative suite of software products. In each situation, students conceived and market tested a variety of possible ideas before settling on and refining their final recommendations. 

After three months of hard work, British Airways brought the HCC student teams over to Austin to pitch their final solutions to top executives at Hackney House Austin, a custom pop-up venue created and programmed for four days by London Borough of Hackney, during the acclaimed SXSW Festival. The program garnered excellent community support and media buzz leading up to the final event. Hackney House brought in 30 companies and judges from Google, Whole Foods, British Airways, IAB, Adobe, and MRY participated. 

Clients and judges exchanged notes and provided feedback to each of the teams. There were performance “trophies” – Red Bull cans gilded in gold – for contributions like “Good Citizen,” “Seismic Shift,” and “Silent Assassin,” as well as certificates of participation for everyone involved. Following the final event, the clients offered internships or other work experience opportunities to the students in Hackney and Austin. 

This summer, MMP organizers have been creating a manual to expand, facilitate, and institutionalize future programs. They hope to bring the teams to meet each other in person to start the program off this fall and solidify bonds before working virtually. Additionally, the project hopes to include more students and participating industry experts. 

Students had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to their experience with Millennial Mentoring, as one student described, “Having a global perspective and collaboration is vital to our future. I left each session feeling excited, motivated, challenged and ready to take on the world.”