Open Letter to Millennials: On Loyalty

IStock_000006320977XSmallLast week’s post — Open Letter to Millennials — lit up like a rocket.  Thank you all for the re-tweets and the truly thoughtful (if not always nice) comments.

One of the points that seemed to polarize Millennial readers was in this statement:

… stay put for a while.  I am talking 3 – 5 years, at least.  There is no such thing as a perfect fit.  You must create the perfect fit.  This is your apprenticeship period.  It is supposed to suck.  There are supposed to be crummy days when you feel under-appreciated.  Such days will occur no matter who signs your paycheck.

Many commenters felt that this was unreasonable, either because 3 – 5 years sounded too onerous to a new grad, or because they felt it removed the Employer’s responsibility to create a rewarding culture. I believe at least one commenter suggested that, “Loyalty is for suckers.” (Really?  I hope we never find ourselves in a foxhole together, chum.)

So I’d like to clarify, and offer examples.

First, the clarification: it is up to the employer to offer competitive compensation and a satisfying work environment. Period.  However, no employer will be able to offer competitive compensation and a satisfying work environment every single day, for every single employee.

So my point in last week’s post was to suggest that employees who encounter a rut or rough spot try to see it through, rather than throw in the towel.

That doesn’t mean “shackle yourself to the desk,” it means, “make sure you calmly alert the agency to your issues — and be a little patient as they suss out the solutions.” It won’t always work out.  But it may be worth the attempt.  That is Loyalty.

What are the benefits of Loyalty?

I’ll let some of SHIFT’s employees speak for themselves…

A vice-president-in-the-making, Danielle Mancano (a just-under-the-wire Millennial), has been a SHIFTer for 6 years.  For the first year, to be honest, Danielle was underappreciated.  It was not a perfect fit.  It kinda sucked for her at SHIFT.

Most people would have quit. How (and WHY?) did Danielle MAKE a perfect fit for herself at SHIFT?

MancanoIn my experience, most people who enter the PR industry are very Type-A, strive-for-perfection employees. I am no exception to this rule. I excelled in high school and college. I was used to being good at everything. When I started my PR career and didn’t perform well right away — trust me, I thought about quitting.

In fact I thought about quitting: Every. Single. Day.

Why was this job — this career I chose — so flippin’ difficult?

When I screwed up, opportunities were taken away from me and my confidence withered. I stopped putting myself out there and in turn, prevented myself from learning. When things shifted internally and I was placed on a new team, I promised myself I would start on a new path and speak up when I had questions or new ideas.

I finally started sharing, and found that people valued what I had to say. So, I continued talking and asking questions until things finally clicked for me. I stopped being afraid to give recommendations to clients; I stopped being afraid to be myself at work. When I let my personality show, I allowed myself to be part of SHIFT.

I could have succumbed to the niche that was originally designed for me and kept quiet. But that’s not who I am.  I refused to leave before proving myself.  In the process, I became more vocal and became part of SHIFT’s culture: by that point I couldn’t walk away. Had I given up, I would have missed the opportunity to be among such smart and talented people and to enjoy a growing career path.

And here’s Gen-Xer Catherine Allen, a VP at SHIFT.  When Catherine departed on maternity leave a few years ago, there was a whole lot of flux at the Agency.  I told her when she left that her job would absolutely be waiting for her when she got back — but that I could not guarantee she’d come back to the same team.

And indeed, I was more right than usual.  In her absence, Catherine’s ENTIRE TEAM was disassembled and folded into several other existing teams (long story.)  So after having built up her empire, Catherine returned to scorched earth.

Most people would have quit. How (and WHY?) did Catherine MAKE a perfect fit for herself at SHIFT?

AllenI was a little disheartened at first, sure.  I assumed it was my existing team and accounts that defined me as a valuable employee.  That wasn’t the case – it was the skill set of PR planning, account management and team guidance that SHIFT valued.  The Agency simply wanted to use those skills in a different way.

Instead of focusing on what was taken away, I chose to focus on what was given to me: an attractive blank slate and full senior management support to design my future.

Why look elsewhere?  I had a growth opportunity right here with amazing mentors who believed in me.  And unlike a new job, there was no stigma of needing to prove myself.

I fully enjoy my new team and our rewarding account work.  But there’s an added flipside I wouldn’t have imagined three years prior.  I get to watch, with a twinkle in my eye, former teammates flourish in new SHIFT roles.

Loyalty (on both of our sides) paid off.  Staying the course allowed me to create the job I wanted to have, and to more quickly accelerate my career growth.  It was hard, yes, but gave me the opportunity to do things my way.

(For the record, Catherine now runs one of the largest and most profitable teams in the Agency. Again.)

There’s something to be said for sticktoitiveness.

All that said, gang, I’d leave you with this: follow your heart.  If the job just plain old SUCKS, get another one.  If several jobs IN A ROW suck, get a new career.

Try to love what you do.

UPDATE: Jason Calacanis this week also talked about Gen Y.  Sense any similarities?

Posted on: April 27, 2010 at 9:18 am By Todd Defren
31 Responses to “Open Letter to Millennials: On Loyalty”


  • jessiex says:

    Hi Todd, Great post. And, wow, you have quite a following and have struck quite a chord with folks. An early-wave Xer myself (born in ’63), I’ve been fascinated by generational dynamics for a good decade or more, particularly after finding the book “Millennials Rising” by Strauss and Howe back in the late 90s.

    I have the incredible fortune to be working with the same author now (Bill Strauss passed away in 2007), and he’s written a new book called, “Millennials in the Workplace: Human Resource Strategies for a New Generation.” And, lo and behold, turns out the Millennials (as a generation, with a core personality and traits (WANT to give a good 5-10 years to their first job. They’re looking for a company that will treat them like VIPs and they will be loyal.

    Like I said, I’m working with the author now and can hook you up with a copy of the book to review. That’s the form to fill out, and I can make sure you get a copy. And if you doing a book review is more than you desire, you can take a quick look at this site. Look on the left-hand column and click on the 10 Tips about Millennials. Lots of easy-to-digest bits for understanding this new generation and how they’re impacting work — and the concepts of loyalty — at work.

    Rock on.

  • Maguire says:

    Wonderful post. Much of what you said really hit home. It is difficult to break through the hard times in a job for our generation, and I would dare to say, particularly for the older ones. We were brought up with such a “the world is at your fingertips” way of thinking, and with the rise of the internet and at home computer as we were entering our High School years, things were changing and adapting as quickly as we were, all around us and with us. We went off to college and worked hard to find the subject matter and career path that would fit and still be rewarding. However, the business model in the “real world” hadn’t changed much while we were in school, we only thought it had. Entering the job market upon graduation was somewhat disappointing for Millennials because much of the business world isn’t as open to new employee ideas as they seemed to be while doing that internship. The black and white procedural order of who’s boss and how things are done still existed, so it was a let down.
    This is not the case for everyone, but for a good half of us, it still is. The other half feels cheated out of a better future.

    There is an interview series of social media experts that I would like to recommend to you. With the rise of blogs and social media sites, business is changing and opportunities are as well.

  • There is a critical factor here that I believe deserves some attention. This is public relations – we are hired to help organizations develop, engage, and support relationships with their a myriad of stakeholders – to help achieve business objectives through communication disciplines. Regardless of where you fall along the corporate ladder, how on earth can you be trusted with a client’s reputation, brand or business when your own personal public relations skills have employers shaking their heads? As a member of Gen Y, I have little difficulty understanding where other young professionals are coming from, but I still can’t help but remind the group that we’ve all chosen a career where understanding an audience and being empathetic to their culture, expectations and requirements sometimes trumps our own agendas. Everyday we counsel organizations to listen and adjust accordingly to the feedback they receive from customers, employees, investors, regulators, etc. Well, fellow Millennials, are we not receiving this same kind of feedback from our supervisors, mentors and friends right now?

  • Daniel D. says:

    Great post!

    While I’m not a millenial, I’m still relatively fresh to the PR industry, with less than three years professional experience.

    I’ve recently shifted from having worked in the arts and culture sector to a job in the financial sector. More necessity than choice.

    I had a tough time adjusting and stil have moments each day when I want to leave, and pursue something more aligned with my passions and interests.

    However, as difficult as the transition was given I had no background knowledge of the financial sector, I’ve found that the more I interact with my team and the more I learn and pick up on the job, the easier (and more productive) my job becomes.

    Sticking to it isn’t always the ideal career move, but it could turn out being one that allows you to expand your knowledge base and personal network, while finding a few strengths you never knew you had.

    My last point is that once you’ve grown a little more comfortable in a position, you can begin making it your own. I’m a creative guy, and there’s not much room for creativity in the finance sector (compared to the arts). However, I’m finding the more I learn about their business, the more I can implement my ideas in a creative fashion.

    Keep up the good work and sorry for the long comment!

  • Alicia says:

    I’m someone who graduated in 2008 and needed a job to start paying of my loans. I took a job in a project management and work closely with the P&G brands. While this is giving me great experience on a big brand, I feel my experience is removing me from the PR world and not making a marketable employee for PR and Ad agencies – the companies I really want to work for.

    I’ve been with my company for 2 years because I agree – you do need to establish yourself when you’re young before you hop onto what you *believe* is the next best thing. Nonetheless, PR companies all look for someone with 2-3 years in a PR setting. What then is someone like me to do to avoid being type-casted in project management if I’m not supposed to leave my company before my time is up?

    I didn’t spend 4 years at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications to work in project management just because I had to take the first job that came my way.

    • Todd Defren says:

      Alicia, project management is a transferable skill to PR (believe me!) and having P&G on your resume will only help you. That said, you’ve put in a solid 2 years and KNOW that this is not the right gig for you? Start shopping that resume. Send me a copy, too.

      • Jamie Gorman says:

        Learn what you can in every position. My career – Mechanical engineering degree…nuclear submarine officer…project managment…management consultant…MBA…government contracting…marketing management…telecomm sales…business start-up teaching business management to small business. I love it, but would be nowhere without the experience chain that I use every day! (as frustrating as it was)

        Love your last line Todd:
        If the job just plain old SUCKS, get another one. If several jobs IN A ROW suck, get a new career.

        I changed telecomm companies and realized on the second day it wasn’t the company – it was the career. 3 years later my launch plan was complete.


  • Leo Bottary says:

    Todd, I enjoyed your thoughtful post today (which I discovered via Ragan PR Daily Newsfeed). If I can be “pie in the sky” for a moment, I think one of the keys to encouraging loyalty among people (especially millennials) is to reinforce that they are not just serving the organization, but that through the organization, they are serving a larger purpose. From what I know about your firm, you serve that larger purpose. Edward Boches offers a quote that reads: “Good work tells you what a product does and why you should buy it. Great work tells you what a brand stands for and invites you to share in its beliefs.” I think the same holds true for great agencies and why employees remain loyal to them.

  • There’s definitely something to be said about perseverance and sticking to your guns. Man, Steve Jobs is always a great public speaker; very confident whether it’s addressing a graduating college crowd or at the premier of a new product..

  • Jen Holmes says:

    How absolutely apropo to run into this post on Gawker today:

    I cannot even FATHOM approaching a potential employer in such a manner. Granted, it’s an exception, not a rule, but my money is on the fact that this kid is a millenial through and through.


  • While i find this interesting I am not sure I entirely agree with it as “blanket advice”.

    One thing is for sure: PR is a game where people move a LOT. Sticking it out can lead to rewards.

    For a counterpoint to this post see:

  • Matt Haupt says:

    First, I do like your post for individuals who may be a little impatient when it comes to finding the right job. I do not know if I agree that millennials are the only one that this advice is useful for though. It seems more of a personality/work ethic trait to me, rather than what “generation” you are lumped in to.

    As a millennial I know people from both sides of the coin, and it sometimes frustrates me that co-workers or employers are lumping me into a category unfairly; without judging me for who I am as an individual.

    I have had three jobs in three years, one move as a relocation to another city and another because the company was short-handing me on salary, training and the ability to be promoted (both younger and older individuals were finding better opportunities). I would hate for a future employer to automatically assume it was because I am a crazy millennial who expects the world and can’t sit still for more than a year.

    Again, great advice, but it should be directed to the impatient employee, regardless of age or generation.

  • Loyalty is tricky water in the business world – and while I tend to view things differently than most millenials, I do fall into that bracket. Loyalty is a two way street. You can’t expect it if you don’t give it. How can an employer give loyalty? Great work environment and only giving out praise when it’s deserved. I don’t deserve a ‘great work’ for creating spreadsheets. I want ‘great work’ for building brands/strategy. Employees can improve on loyalty through meeting regularly, voicing opinion when appropriate and asking questions.

    If you think someone is an awesome fit for your agency and the brands you work with – and you’ve seen their work through online outlets? You’re going to try like hell to recruit them and get them to work for you. That work can balance out how many years you’ve stayed at a job. The brand is always first – and the talent is what you’re looking for.

    I come from a family where the mentality is “work hard, kick butt and at least wait it out a year before jumping ship.” Frankly, things can change on the dime. You have to be open and recognize great opportunity.


  • First, great post and I am enjoying this series.

    I suppose I come at this from a slightly different angle, primarily because of my career path. I did not start out in PR, I started out in politics–you work very hard, really long hours, for really bad pay. On top of that, you are trained to think in 2-year increments, because you are only as good as the results in the last election. So my first three positions were in 2-year increments–but the same held true within my peer group. It was expected. Those jobs were followed by a 4-year stint at a trade association, which subsequently led to my position in the public affairs practice at Fleishman-Hillard. I’d hate to think anyone would write me off due to what was, quite frankly, a natural flow and progression in that field.

    There is a distinction, I think, between those who job-hop because they are convinced that there’s just “somewhere better” than where they currently are and those who progress rapidly due to talent and skill. Typically, the job-hoppers look for other opportunities. For those with talent and skill, the opportunities seem to find them. They are sought out due to rightfully earned respect, and have a positive reputation.

  • RANDI mASON says:

    A simple question: Does this mean that you look at potential employees astray if they have not kept their previous position for 3 or more years?

    There are very good reasons for employees to leave a position, ranging from receiving consistently mediocre reviews while others take credit for their successes and being worried about their long-range career opportunities to being out-and-out bullied and scapegoated by team members (or worse, senior staff).

    And that’s not counting those swept up in the last hired, first fired wave of the last year; AdAge’s recent report of 3500 job losses in the PR field in 2009 is not to be taken lightly.

    Meanwhile, employees may have stayed in a position not due to loyalty but rather due to the fact they are not confident enough to take risks or because by staying in that previous position, they found they could coast along rather than growing.

    Of course you would be able to suss out most of these negative traits of long-stay employees in an interview. The shame would be to ignore the skills of those potential additions to an organization simply because a movement away to protect themselves was perceived as a “jump.”

    For the record, I am not talking about experiences that have occurred with my current or previous employers – I’ve been incredibly lucky in my experiences – but I have witnessed the effects of coworker game playing (and it’s dismissal as “office politics” when it goes far deeper than that) on colleagues in my field too often to not mention it as a possibility.

    • Todd Defren says:

      A simple question: Does this mean that you look at potential employees astray if they have not kept their previous position for 3 or more years?

      No! Not at all. It’s when I see 3 jobs in-a-row with less-than 2 years’ tenure that I raise an eyebrow. We certainly realize “shit happens!” We rarely reject any qualified out of hand, due to this issue. But it will come up in the interview…

      • Dan Greenberg says:

        However, I do judge people if their grammar goes *astray* and then look *askance* at their resumes. :-)

  • Having just lived through the hiring (and 9 months later, the subsequent quitting) of a millennial at my 6-yr old firm, I thoroughly enjoyed last week’s post and agreed wholeheartedly with the majority of it, especially the 3-5 yrs part. That said, my personal experience fits with the end of your post – my first job in PR, I thought “I hate this place, or I hate this career” so I jumped ship to a different agency after a year and found that yep, it was the agency as I have definitely found my calling in PR.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post – I hope my former employee gave it a read.

  • Dan Greenberg says:

    Loyalty is speaking up and giving the company a chance to respond. It is your effort to make the company better for yourself and others (and, gasp, the clients), not simply to enrich yourself. Learning how and when to speak up is a crucial career-building skill. (Hint: Speaking up at the wrong time — in front of a client, for instance — is career limiting.)

    Loyalty should be coupled with humility — the idea that perhaps you don’t know everything and that your way might not be the best and that perhaps you don’t have all the information/context to be so certain that you’re right.

    Thus, loyalty is the opposite of avarice and arrogance. Taken too far, loyalty is foolish… but not enough makes for a reputation no one will trust.

    Strongly agree:
    The company can’t make every employee happy and challenged every day.
    In consulting, where I come from, how people “on the beach” use their time is frequently a bigger swing factor in their career than performance on the assigned, challenging, for-client work. Why? Because everyone in the firm is smart; everyone can perform on the for-client work. Those that can’t are not in the firm very long! So what do you do on the beach? Do you surf the web, chat with friends, look for another job, whine about your low utilization? Or do you look for a place to help (which impresses project managers, who will then look to staff you), try to shadow someone to learn a new tool, ask to help on a pitch to learn how to sell, or assist on a piece of thought leadership (which can benefit both you and the firm)?

    Jason C is not someone I’d hold up as an example… given his recent spat with a now former employee of Mahalo.

    • Todd Defren says:

      Great comments, thanks Dan! Only thing re: Jason Calacanis is that he admits to flying off the handle at that former staffer, in that post I point to… it is worth a read.

  • Arik Hanson says:

    Love this post for several reasons, Todd. First, one clear lesson here is the value of patience. That’s one lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way. Catherine’s example summed it up for me. Don’t focus on what is taken away from you–focus on what is given to you. Love that.

    Also, I think there’s a Jimmy V lesson here: Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. Huge life lesson and one I try to impart to my two young children every single day. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that every single person who’s achieved success in this world ran into roadblocks and challenges along the way. Did they quit? No way. They perservered. They battled. They challenged themselves. Yeah, they probably failed a few times along the way. And yeah, those times probably weren’t the best. But, life isn’t all duckies and bunnies, right? The hard, stressful and tumultuous times are what defines our character. They make us who we are. Our instinct is to run from that–but we really should try to embrace it. It’s so much more important to our makeup than the good times.

    Best post of the young week, Todd.


  • Jessica says:


    “All that said, gang, I’d leave you with this: follow your heart. If the job just plain old SUCKS, get another one. If several jobs IN A ROW suck, get a new career.”

    Funny, several jobs in a row have sucked for me and while in the last year and a half I’ve freelanced, I hated all the jobs I had before this. Get a new career? Really? I think you have me thinking. Thanks for the enlightenment.

    • Todd Defren says:

      An ironic comment given your “Glass Half Full” Twitter handle, Jessica! ;)

      Anyway, thanks, “getting you thinking” = success. I hope you stay with PR, of course, but more so hope you find a happy niche.

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