Marketing “Direct Marketing” Careers To Millennials

D13_193_Oct_OS_Faculty nfs  Michael_Clayton, KSB, faculty

by Michael Clayton

A couple of decades ago, we were challenged to persuade college students to look beyond the shining lights of Madison Avenue toward the “less glamorous” world of direct marketing. I know. I was one of those students.

Today, it seems Millennials’ media consumption habits may have dampened the allure of working for a full-service agency. And yet, the second boom is promising opportunities well beyond Silicon Valley. Digital start-ups continue to proliferate, including many in the greater-D.C. region. These companies are the shiny new objects of Millennial desire. Wide-eyed grads are beguiled at the notion of getting in on the ground floor of the next Uber or Snapchat. The salaries may be unimpressive, but such start-ups promise flexible work schedules and sexy offices. These and other perks resonate with a generation who loathes being tied to a desk, working 40 hours a week.

So, what is a direct marketing company looking for talented and ambitious interns or entry-level employees to do? Will adding the gratuitous ping pong table or napping room really attract the right talent? Probably not!

As marketers, it’s up to us to do better at marketing our own industry. That’s where DMAW and the DMAW/EF share a mission. We all want to see the best and brightest young marketers enter the direct marketing industry … or at least consider DM a viable career option. But how?

I can tell you that students don’t yearn for more A/B testing homework assignments. On the other hand, the measurability and statistical proof of concrete performance lifts are magnetic draws for current students. Add corresponding accountability and interest grows … which brings me to this thought:

Ultimately, I’ve found over the years that most direct marketing professional are attracted to DM for its rare blend of art and science. Even a left-brain thinker like me – who doesn’t have a creative bone in his body, believe me – appreciates and admires the creative side of our industry.

Ideas definitely flow from the pens and lenses of copywriters and art directors. But, make no mistake, innovation and out-of-the-box thinking also circulate throughout the science of direct marketing. When the art and science collide, we get measurable success. That’s powerful. It’s also a lot of fun.

Fortunately for direct marketers, proximity to the creative process coupled with left and right brain collaboration inspires many Millennials. It’s up to us to demonstrate the many ways creativity drives successful direct marketing. We can show how a new approach caused a 20% lift in donations, which then led to extra revenue for critical medical research. We can talk about our work on behalf of vulnerable populations across the planet. Big ideas like these resonate with this generation.

In short, as the saying (almost) goes, direct marketers sell the sizzle and the steak. Make no mistake, Millenials are hungry for what we’re serving.


Michael Clayton, Ph.D. is a Professorial Lecturer and M.S. in Marketing Program Director at American University. He is also a board member of the DMAW Educational Foundation.