Your Best Marketing Investment: Recent Grads

My longtime colleague Jon Roska used to say, “If the army can trust a 23-year-old to drive a $5 million tank, surely we can trust them to write a marketing plan.”

My longtime colleague Jon Roska used to say, “If the army can trust a 23-year-old to drive a $5 million tank, surely we can trust them to write a marketing plan.”

Throughout my career as a marketer, mentor and teacher, I have learned that recent college grads are capable of creating remarkable work if given the chance. “Millennials on Marketing” in the Jan/Feb issue of Target Marketing features four young people who created a plan for increasing referrals for DirecTV that won the Gold ECHO in the Collegiate ECHO Competition. You can hear them tell the story of their winning campaign in this video. One of the comments from the DirecTV team: Cohesive strategy that fit real-world application from assessment, strategic planning, defining objectives, execution, reading results and optimizations.

Of course, the army doesn’t hand the keys to an M1 Abrams tank to just any 23-year-old, particularly without adequate training. Nor should we let just any 23-year-old write a marketing plan without adequate training. Jon Roska was relentless in his quest to prepare recent graduates for success, and those who worked at our agency are making meaningful contributions at the best agencies in New York and Philadelphia, as well as client-side at companies like Ticketmaster and Google.

There’s a lot of talent out there that’s ripe for the picking, and with the proper nurturing, you can reap big benefits from it. Here are five things I learned about nurturing young marketing talent by working alongside Jon Roska:

  • Choose Carefully. Pick those who are both busy and successful in school. Good grades are important, but not enough. You want people who achieve results while juggling several balls at once – involvement in student organizations, sports, internships and employment ensure that you’re getting someone who is dedicated. Screen for desire – it’s the most important component of success.
  • Empower Them. Make them fully responsible for something right away. Start with something small, like creating a weekly report. Raise the stakes quickly as they deliver. Make them accountable.
  • Support Them. Give them access to the resources they need to figure it out for themselves – books, webinars, face time with senior people, etc. Quiz them on their understanding and redirect them, as-needed. Share best-example models of the assignments you give to show them what good looks like. Take them to important meetings to observe and have them summarize their notes to gauge their understanding of the key issues. Most importantly, invest your time in them. You may think you’re too busy, but ultimately, they will lighten your load.
  • Let Them Fail. I don’t mean you should allow them to blow up a major project or an important client. Rather, foster an environment where it’s OK to be wrong. You’ve empowered them, and you can’t expect them to be right all the time. But we learn more from our failures than we learn from our successes. Frequently ask, “What did you learn from this?”
  • Maintain High Expectations. If you don’t expect much, that’s what you’re going to get. The converse is true, as well.