Put Millennials Upfront

 Just as sure as April showers bring May flowers, this month brings the annual ritual of television "upfront" ad buying to New York City. This is a chance for the networks to show off their fall line-ups and biggest stars to advertisers. With Charlie Sheen and Donald Trump thankfully out of the picture, at least temporarily, many advertisers will be searching for the best strategy to reach Millennials (born 1982-2003), a generation that is becoming as much of an economic force as it is a political one. Unfortunately, the importance of America's youngest politically and economically active generation, seems to have been missed by many power brokers in another important East Coast city, Washington, D.C.

In a recent research report, media agency OMD calculated that Millennials have 11% more buying power than the Baby Boomers did when they were between 15 and 29 in the 1960s and 1970s.  "There is no mainstream marketer who is not targeting this group right now," says Laura Nathanson, executive VP for ad sales at ABC Family. Media research and consulting firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, whose Generational Strategies initiative first brought the generation to the attention of the broadcast and cable industries, estimates that Millennials make up 27% of the total U.S. population and more than half of TV's key adults-18-to-49 sales demographic.

All of this  didn't stop CNN from announcing the results of a survey (about cultural issues on which most Millennials hold distinctively liberal positions), with a sample in which only 10% of respondents were under 35 instead of the proper proportion of closer to 30%, and then describing the findings as being based on  "all adults." Thousands of Millennials quickly signed a petition from OurTime, a group dedicated to "standing up for all of us under 30", asking CNN to "commission a new poll - one that surveys a diverse sample of all Americans who have a constitutional right to be represented in our democracy!"

Glenn Beck demonstrated slightly more understanding of the country's demographics when he announced that he will initiate a new project to "target the youth" after he's no longer appears regularly on Fox News. Unfortunately, Beck then went onto describe Millennials as "frustrated, used and misguided," three things the generation is definitely not, but which may well describe its reaction to Beck and similar-minded Boomers.  According to a recent survey of more than 3000, 18-29 year olds conducted by Harvard's Institute of Politics, almost four in ten Millennials consider themselves liberals and a clear plurality identify as Democrats; only one in ten are supporters of the Tea Party movement.

 But even as President Obama got cool creds for conducting a town hall with Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, an estimated  ten thousand young people rallied in Washington under the banner of the Energy Action Coalition's "PowerShift 2011"  to demand the administration do more about climate change and the need for a clean energy economy.  Their pointed slogan, "With you or without you," was clear enough to cause the President to alter his schedule and meet with the leaders of the rally in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

While a clear majority of Millennials (55%) still support Obama (more than any other generation), the IOP survey shows that jobs and the economy remain far and away the issue of greatest concern for this generation. Fifty-seven percent listed it as their highest priority. More than half of those who have not graduated from college consider their financial situation to be either fairly or very bad; 23% of those under 25 were unemployed in 2010. Even among college grads, unemployment averaged nearly 10% last year. In this case, the personal clearly has the potential to be political.

Although Millennials remain optimistic about their future economic circumstances, Republican attempts to cut funding for Pell Grants and other educational opportunities, coupled with the continuing failure of the recovery to generate jobs that will enable many Millennials to pay off their historically high student debt, suggests that the generation's personal path to prosperity will continue to be strewn with obstacles thrown up by short-sighted members of older generations.

To get the nation's attention focused on their economic plight, on April 27th,  young people donned their best job interview clothes and visited their local Congressional office, carrying briefcases affixed with bold block letter signs saying simply, "I need a job."  The goal of  these "Briefcase Brigades" was to dramatize the economic plight of young people and prod Congress into investing some of its time on creating jobs for America's youngest generation of adults. Given the fact that one out of four eligible voters in 2012 will be a Millennial, it is hard to understand why they would need to take such dramatic steps to gain attention to their economic plight.

Perhaps Millennials should simply  encourage members of Congress, as they return from their Easter recess, to take a shuttle flight to New York later this month. That might cause more people in the capital to understand the importance of putting the needs of Millennials upfront in their policy deliberations.  If politicians become as enlightened as media moguls are about the emerging generation, America will have a much better chance of winning the sweepstakes for our country's future.  

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are fellows of NDN and the New Policy Institute and co-authors of "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics" and the upcoming "Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America.