By Ashleigh Horn
There’s no denying that each generation is different. Baby Boomers, Generation X, Xennials, Millennials, Generation Z, I’m sure as you read each of these titles, you may have recalled your own thoughts toward each group. During a time where as many as five different generations are working together in the workplace, it’s important to understand how they all function and what each brings to the table.
Though I could certainly cover all five of these and the impacts they have in the workplace, I want to instead provide first-hand insight into a generation that is seemingly misunderstood by its predecessors. This is a generation with a desire to create change; a generation that I have nearly 21 years of experience being part of.
Who are we?
Although the lines defining the age range of my generation are a bit blurry, the Pew Research Center identifies this group as having been born after 1996 (Parker & Igielnik, 2020). Today, some Gen Z-ers walk the halls of middle schools, whereas others are hunched over books in their dorm rooms, working full-time agency jobs or even preparing to vote in the upcoming presidential election. There’s no doubt we’re all at different stages in our lives; however, somehow, some way, there are a few common desires and passions we all seem to share.
How is this generation different?
Generation Z is the largest generation to date. We also have access to more technology, media and quite honestly, each other, than any generation before us. It may be our sheer size, or it quite simply may be the comfort we feel in sharing our thoughts and ideas through Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat, that compels us to reach for our dreams and to stand up for what we believe in. Politics, social injustice, sustainability, ideas for new products or businesses, we Gen Z-ers are a researched, opinionated, innovative, change-making group.
The Target Incubator
A few years back, the Target retail chain set out to better connect with this next generation of consumers. One way they did so, was through directly engaging with young Gen Z entrepreneurs in what they called the “Target Incubator.” Inspired by these young adults’ big ideas about “better for people” and “better for the planet” products, the company selected eight business pitches, created by students, to help become a reality.
You may be asking, “Why would the company do this, and what was their reward?”
Generation Z is often referred to as the “Changemaker” generation. Target recognized that many of its Gen Z consumers have big plans to change the world and sought to help make their dreams become reality. The students’ ideas ranged from producing compostable single-use products to using juice pulp waste to create healthy snacks. These eight businesses were not only unique—they did not simply provide innovative products or services—rather, they were all created as solutions to a number of the social and environmental issues we face in the 21st century.
I think James Sancto, founder of We Make Change, hit the nail on the head when he described Generation Z’s passion as “not willing to accept the world as it is, [who] believes [it] can address the challenges the world faces today, and [who] will do whatever [it] can to make the change [it wants] to see” (Sancto, 2019). The product of the Target Incubator is a testament to Gen Z’s eagerness and willingness to ensure the changes we wish to happen are made.
Gen Z’s not so breakthrough solution to creating change is to have a purpose. Whether you’re a business, college institution, or just someone we pass on the street, Gen Z-ers want to know what you’re all about.
What are your goals?
Who or what do you stand for?
Does your vision align with what we believe?
Generation Z prioritizes purpose and “[looks] to engage with brands and organizations that have a higher purpose that goes well beyond a simple transaction” (Beal, 2019). Unlike generations before us, we don’t simply purchase a product or rep a brand because we like it or it’s “convenient.” Rather, we use the power of reviews and our access to technology to compare prices, product availability, to research a company’s CSR practices and what it values, in order to make educated purchases (Salesfloor, n.d.).
Google, Netflix, Spotify and the Walt Disney Company are all examples of some of the most loved brands by Gen Z consumers. It’s no coincidence that all of these same companies placed in the Digital Marketing Institutes (2020) list of the “Top 16 Brands doing Corporate Social Responsibility Correctly.” Generation Z values these brands because they do more than provide their specific products and services; these companies use their platforms to create change on issues important to their employees and to each company as a whole.
As I mentioned earlier, Gen Z-ers look for ways to impact our own corners of the world. In fact, we often make decisions with long-term consequences in mind. We’ve been called lazy, self-involved, tech-dependent, and more (The NPD Group, 2020). Yes, some of these monikers may be partly true. But, we are also a passionate generation focused on standing up for only those issues or movements that align with our interests. Our passions drive our actions. We just might change the world.
As each new year has passed onto the next, Generation Z, or the “Changemaker” generation, has become older and older. With this age has come new responsibilities, both in our own lives and in contributing to the world around us. We are growing up, entering the workforce and making an impact in our own generationally-unique way. Slowly but surely, we are revealing who we are, what we value, what our goals are, and are debunking the generational stereotypes that have defined us since we were babies. In turn, we are using these differences to provide new perspectives in both the workplace and in society, and are doing all in our power to create change.
By: Myah Duncan
“Your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” -Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon
Actively branding yourself via social media can go a lot further than a resume and cover letter when it comes to getting a first internship or job. It can also keep you from getting that internship or job. Employers never hesitate to do a quick Google search to see how a potential employee represents him/herself online, in fact, according to CareerBuilder, more than 70% of employers check a candidate’s social media content BEFORE deciding to hire. So ask yourself, do you want what you are posting to be seen by a potential employer? Do you think you’d get that internship you want so badly? As a college student, this is the best time to clean up your social media and build your online personal brand in a way that benefits you.
It is easy to get caught up in the moment and post every picture that you take to your social media accounts. But do you really want your future employer to see the wild time you had when drinking last Thursday night on Pine Street? You don’t want them to see it just as much as they don’t want to see it. They want to make sure you know how to act professionally when in public. So, the first lesson is, don’t post that picture. But if you have, this is the perfect time to start going through all those photos on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that may not shine that professional light. Delete them from your social channels, but you can keep them if you save them on your laptop, make a scrapbook, or do whatever feels right. But do not leave them on there for the world to see. Oh, and don’t forget to ask friends to delete questionable images of you from their own feeds. It’s time to draw that line between personal and professional life. You can still post fun experiences, but you have to make sure it’s strategically fun content.
The content that you put out on your social media accounts does not necessarily have to be all about business and links to different articles. It is still important to be yourself via your own channels; it’s like a portfolio of who you are. First, focus on your grammar and spelling. This is an easy way to represent your writing ability. It’s a huge red flag if all of your posts have many errors in them. Take time to read through your posts and delete or edit those posts that do have errors. Second, carefully evaluate the images you want to post. Ask, what do they say to others about my professionalism? My choices? My values?
Leaving the lasting impression
Just like after meeting a professional in person, those who engage with you via social media want to remember who you are and have a solid impression of the type of person you are. You want your social media to leave a positive lasting impression on a professional who views it. Actively cleaning and crafting now will help you leave a good impression.
By putting the time and effort into your social media you are giving professionals or anyone who views your page a well-rounded peek into your life. Don’t let inappropriate social media end your chances of landing the job.
Salm, L. (n.d.). 70% of employers are snooping candidates’ social media profiles. Retrieved October 4, 2019, from https://www.careerbuilder.com/advice/social-media-survey-2017.
Tips for Building Your Personal Brand. (2019, June 14). Retrieved from https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/tips-for-building-your-personal-brand/.
By: Shelby Bueneman
This summer I was fortunate enough to get an inside look into the life of a blogging influencer. Getting a behind-the-scenes look into how the blog runs, different events that the blogger is invited to, and the creation of pieces after event attendance was eye opening. Influencers are on the rise and they can be beneficial to public relations professionals through their outreach, honesty, trust and mutual benefits that exist between blogger and clients.
Influencers can have a big outreach or a small one. The influencer you choose depends on what audience you want to reach. The blogger I worked for had a small outreach, with followings of one thousand or less. Based in Kansas City, she had a strategic way of connecting personally with audiences. Her posts and blogs were pointed toward the interests of those who were from Kansas City and those who wanted to visit. Because she intentionally solicited a smaller outreach, she could make posts and promotions seem more personable and real. She talked about things her audiences knew about or had experienced themselves. She had a lot of clients and they all wanted to reach Kansas City folks. So, it’s clear that to reach your exact target audience you need to find the right influencer. There are many different bloggers ranging from lifestyle, entertainment, fashion, DIY’s, and so many more. Once you find the right one, it is as simple as reaching out to them with the right pitch. They are always looking for their next blog and more events to attend.
One thing that I found stimulating was that influencers want to be honest with their audiences. As a consumer it’s easy to think that they are only saying a product works or that an event was great because of the deal they have. That is not the case. Just like public relations professionals, they are looking to gain trust with their audiences. The amount of research they put into their blogs to make sure they have all the relevant facts is notable. Honesty is one of their main concerns; if they are dishonest with their audiences, they lose their credibility. Credibility gets and keeps clients. This leads into the third benefit, trust.
Honesty and trust are intertwined. Without honesty there can be no trust. Influencers that are labeled as the everyday person are seen as the most trustworthy in the consumer’s eyes. Business 2 Community talks about how over ninety percent of consumers trust people within their network. Generally, the larger a blogger’s reach, the more celebrity status that influencer holds. If you choose a mainstream celebrity as your influencer, your product or event may not be perceived as authentic because it’s most likely that money changed hands. When you choose an influencer with a smaller outreach, you find the audience that has the most trust. This benefits your brand through the relatability to influencer holds with audiences. Working with the correct influencer can help your brand to stand out against the competition.
Partnering with a blogger is mutually beneficial. By promoting for a public relations professional, the influencer is creating more content and catching the eye of more consumers. This can generate more engagement for both the influencer and the professional. Working with an influencer as a company allows you to be seen in a more positive light and gives you more organic engagement with potential customers.
By: Sydney Halas
In college, time seems to fly quickly. One moment you are moving into a dormitory room for the first time, and the next, you are a senior, hopefully, well-prepared to embark on your professional career. Like many students, I was lost as a freshman. I entered school with an undecided major and no specific direction. After taking a class where I had the opportunity to explore many majors, I found myself considering either a degree in public relations or speech pathology. In several hours of discussions with my academic advisor, we decided a career in public relations would be more fulfilling for me.
My first class in the public relations program was taught by Professor Tricia Hansen Horn, and she wasted no time emphasizing the importance of networking. Being a first year student, I didn’t understand the importance behind her message. I wasted more than two years doing absolutely nothing to connect with public relations professionals. I sat through presentations by guest speakers in classes and conferences hardly paying attention to the speakers’ names. My grades have always been incredibly important to me but taking the extra step to connect with professionals who could offer me future opportunities did not register with me.
Finally, a few months into my junior year, something clicked. I needed an internship. I knew I had a better chance at securing one if I made connections before applying. I began taking extra steps after listening to a guest speaker. I would go up to a speaker after he or she spoke and shake their hand and introduce myself. I would connect with them on LinkedIn, and in some cases, send them a message about what I learned or extra questions I thought about later. They often responded. Networking enabled me to get a summer internship at Worlds of Fun through an employee who reached out to me. Had I not learned about the value of networking, I may have failed to check LinkedIn, and I likely would have missed the opportunity.
Another incredible networking opportunity was presented to me earlier this year. I was discussing my plans as a future public relations professional with my best friend from back home, and she gave me the name of a young woman who might be of interest to me. I connected with her online, and we made plans to get coffee in Kansas City. As a gesture of good will, I offered to buy her coffee, just like Professor Hansen-Horn had always instructed us to do. And, as Professor Hansen-Horn predicted, she instead bought mine. I followed up the day after the meeting with a hand-written thank-you note. Now, she is personally helping me tailor my resume to apply for an internship with her public relations firm, which is one of the largest in the world. I would have never had this incredible opportunity if I was not brave enough to make the first move and capitalize on this valuable opportunity to meet a professional in my chosen field.
I hope that any college student who reads this learns from my mistakes. Networking is an incredibly valuable skill for any student and young professional, not just those who plan to work in public relations. You never know who might offer you your next internship, job or phenomenal career. Never let your laziness, or fear, or whatever it may be, stop you from reaching out to a professional in your field. Remember, the worst they can do is say “no.” What’s the best thing they can do? Well, you will never know until you reach out!
By: Emma Honn
We have all heard it before: to be a public relations professional, you have to be a creative storyteller, think outside of the box and be quick on your feet. There’s still not much talk about being analytical. As technology develops and our means of communication becomes more sophisticated, PR professionals must begin to think about how data can provide value to their work.
People have a hard time believing what companies say about themselves. Facts can substantiate a claim, but using data alone does not build a personality for your brand. Creative storytelling can be amplified by incorporating facts along the way, and bringing credibility to a message will help audiences believe and trust in your brand. Research and data can also help in measuring attitudes before and after a PR effort. It’s a win-win situation on both sides. Remember, being a creative storyteller is one thing, but incorporating analytical thinking into storytelling is another.
Connecting with your audience
Often times, we believe that being creative and having great ideas will lead to success. While that may be true, there has to be a way to measure how well the great idea actually performed. By using big data, we can understand how audiences have reacted to a certain idea or campaign, or if they behaved in a certain way because of PR strategies. The element of measurement that big data offers allows PR professionals to be strategic in decision making. Instead of guessing what target audiences want or how they think, big data offers improved insights about what our audiences did, what they want and what they expect.
A seat at the table
We can also use big data to conduct attitudinal and behavioral research. This is essential to the success of a campaign or initiatives that PR professionals develop. By conducting attitudinal and behavioral research before and after a campaign, we can see how well our campaign actually performed.
It seems like, nowadays, PR professionals are standing in the corner instead of sitting at the table. Professionals are having a hard time proving what PR is worth to an organization, but having cold hard data to show the C-suite will prove the worth of any PR team, and show that we are a vital and valuable part of every company.
When students get into PR, they think, “No more math! I get to be creative all the time!” This may have been true 30 years ago, but with the developments in technology and communication, a background in data is more important than ever. If PR is going to have a seat at the table, build stronger relationships with their audiences and amplify communications, data must be in the conversation.