Gen X vs Gen Y: why they must work together to shape the future of marketing

Selina Sykes: Unilever director of ecommerce
Selina Sykes: Unilever director of ecommerce

Generation X and Generation Y must look to one another to learn leadership skills and to drive innovation, as they shape the future of the marketing industry, according to a group of leading marketers.

At a panel debate at the TFM&A event in London yesterday (26 February) to discuss the roles of Gen X and Gen Y in marketing, Selina Sykes, director of ecommerce at Unilever, said it is "vitally important" that Gen X gets involved with driving change in a business just as much as Gen Y or Gen Z is expected to.

Phillipa Snare, chief marketing officer at Microsoft, agreed with Sykes' sentiment, adding that the technology giant runs a "shadowing and coaching programme" that "works two ways", to ensure graduates and experienced leaders are learning from each other as a key part of personal development.

The attitudes of Gen X to recruitment, however, are changing. Kristof Fahy, chief executive of William Hill, said that in terms of qualifications he is looking for, often he "doesn't care".

Fahi said he looks for "passion and curiosity" when it comes to hiring new people into the business, whereas his HR department looks for "tickboxes" of qualifications such as MBAs.

He said: "This is why I look at CVs before the HR department does," to ensure the company does not miss candidates who may lack marketing experience, but who show a passion for values that match those of the company.

Sykes added that in her experience of recruiting graduates, if Gen Y is going to "have what it takes" to get ahead in marketing, then they need to be "very clear on what it is they stand for, and what motivates them".

Sykes said that, increasingly, Gen Y candidates applying to work at Unilever are passionate about the company's sustainability platform, which compliments their own social ambitions of "wanting to make a difference to the world" through their own work. 

Overall, Gen X and Gen Y will have relevance alongside each other in the development of marketing's future, said Johnny Miles-Prouten, digital activation manager at Coca-Cola UK and Ireland.

"Gen X brings leadership and experience to marketing, while Gen Y inspires and understands what an audience is doing," he said, adding that the balance comes with the combination of these factors.

As an example, Miles-Prouten said Coca-Cola's head of GB often asks him "When is Coke going to be on Snapchat?" because it is the social network most popular with his 15 year-old son.

"It's great that he's asking this," Miles-Prouten added, but explained that part of his role is understanding different platforms such as Snapchat and their use, evaluating them and then feeding back to people in the business whether or not they are the right fit for the Coke brand, and why.

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