Beyond Millennial Research: Pace Puts Students to Work

This past spring, Pace, in partnership with Elon University, kicked off an experiment of sorts: Invite a small group of absurdly motivated undergrads, already with impressive résumés of agency internships behind them, to try to impress some of our clients with insights and ideas tailored to the millennial generation.

Project Echo was the result: Mix five amazing students, two clients with millennials on their mind, some Pace mentors and ridiculously tight deadlines and see what happens.


“Millennials are the largest purchasing class in the world. As the next greatest generation, companies must seek to understand them if they want to survive.”SAP Business Innovation

As seasoned (I refuse to say old, thank you) marketers and strategists, we tend to believe we’re pretty good at delivering the big ideas, regardless of the target audience. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we must also firmly believe in challenging our own assumptions wherever we can, and seeking out the best ideas, the best minds and the most genuine perspectives.

That’s particularly true when it comes to connecting with the millennial generation—sometimes known as “echo boomers”—who are as important to the future of marketing as they are unique in what defines them. Millennials are more driven by purpose and a desire to affect the wider social good; they grew up with smart mobile devices and are more connected than any prior generation. They are producers of media as much as they are consumers, and view social media as the natural fabric of their daily lives.

[Millennials] are producers of media as much as they are consumers, and view social media as the natural fabric of their daily lives.

In short, millennials represent incredibly unique challenges—and massive opportunities—for smart brands that can figure out how to genuinely connect with rather than just market to them.

That is the remit of the Project Echo team: Bring unique millennial-centered insights, ideas and strategies to a new Pace client every semester. With the first semester—and two Pace client presentations, including Verizon Wireless and Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts—under their belts, here’s a bit of what they taught us:

  • Regardless of age, résumé or experience, if you treat motivated students (or new grads coming in as hires) as true and equal members of your team—and not interns relegated to handling grunt work—prepare to be amazed at the results.
  • Don’t hold back on the size, scale or scope of the challenges you throw their way. Be prepared to offer guidance and support, but recognize that millennial college graduates are often better prepared, more focused and more energized to contribute than most companies may be expecting.
  • The millennial generation simultaneously conforms to and transcends the stereotypes defined by mass media. For instance, they may have been practically born with smart devices in their hands, but they’re willing to set them aside for the right adventure or experience. And despite likely earning less than their parents, millennials are willing to sacrifice—be it career, time or wallet—in order to encounter them.
  • Those experiences matter, not only for brands attempting to market to or connect with millennials, but also for companies and agencies bringing them into their workforce. Encourage and inspire those experiences, even if it’s to the detriment of your 9-to-5 ideal.

That’s just a taste, and it doesn’t even include the specific campaigns and concepts that their work yielded (client eyes only!). The students from the launch class of Project Echo are off to their next challenges, with a new group preparing to take on a strategy task next semester. New team, new insights and new experiences for student, agency and brand alike.