Addressing Talent Flight in Michigan
By: Andrea Trapani
Crain’s Detroit Business’ “Why Detroit” contest gives Identity an opportunity to tackle one of Metro Detroit’s biggest challenges.
The Identity team recently participated in Crain’s Detroit Business’ creative contest that challenged agencies and other creative minds to develop a campaign that would attract and retain 20-something creative talent to/in our region. As a firm that owes its success, in large part, to finding, nurturing and growing that talent, it was a cause that was near and dear to our hearts.
We are proud of what resulted from hard work, creative brainstorming and commitment to resolution, and equally proud that we were among the contest’s finalists.
But I’ve been thinking more and more about this contest, our mission, and what is a real issue in our region…one that should have a lifespan beyond this contest and be adopted as a cause that the entire region can work together to address.
In that light, I wanted to share our approach and the thinking behind it, as a way of continuing the dialogue and hopefully gaining feedback and buy-in.
I quote from our contest submission, which outlines our approach, findings and resultant campaign:
Challenged with developing a campaign designed to convince 20-something creatives that they could “make it” in Detroit, Identity sought first to identify and analyze the motivators that were compelling this demographic to look outside of the region to pursue career, lifestyle and fulfillment. Talent flight has been a problem plaguing the metro Detroit region for years, as our recently graduated talent pool has collectively participated in a much-publicized and much-bemoaned exodus to ostensibly more rewarding large urban areas, such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles or Denver.
It was our belief that if we could first determine what was driving this trend, we could develop a campaign to combat the perception that Detroit failed to live up to the expectations and aspirations of the 20-something creatives who, should they remain in our city, would contribute to the growth and diversity—cultural, educational, professional—of a dynamic and appealing urban environment, thereby establishing the entire region as the “cool city” to which our political leaders have been referring and aspiring for a decade or more.
We began by conducting a focus group comprised of the exact demographic the campaign would eventually target: creative professionals in their 20s. We polled this group, many of whom had considered leaving the region to pursue careers and lives in metropolitan areas competing for our best creative talent. We asked participants two primary questions, discussing responses in an open-dialogue format:
1.) What would motivate you to consider leaving Detroit?
2.) What compelled you to stay here?
The responses were illuminating, revealing and nearly unanimous. The factors driving this trend of flight were not, as one might surmise, relative to career opportunities and professional pursuit. Rather, the primary impetus for 20-something creatives to consider another urban environment was centered on the perception that “There’s nothing to do here.” Young people want nightlife. Culture. Recreation. Entertainment. Many simply feel that Detroit is lacking in those areas. Twenty-something creatives are leaving for lifestyle, not for career.
However, as discussion continued, there was equal consensus that this perception was fatally flawed. We sat around a table with each member of the focus group sharing the plentiful resources that southeast Michigan has to offer, be they cultural, recreational, professional, diversionary, or related to dining, nightlife or the city’s many attractions. What was revealed was that Detroit is, in fact, replete with exactly the types of attractions that were luring young creative professionals to other cities, but that these other cities simply had a better reputation for offering this demographic what they desired and needed to be personally fulfilled.
Equally revealing was the realization that many of this group’s favorite diversions and destinations were what could be regarded as “hidden gems”, or the city’s “best kept secrets.” As one 20-something would share his or her favorite “Detroit secret,” half of the focus group would concur, while the other half would admit to having no awareness of the event, establishment or attraction. When representatives of the latter group would share their favorite things about the city, the first group would say that they weren’t familiar with this particular Detroit attraction. And so it went.
We concluded by agreeing that Detroit has just as much to offer the 20-something creative as many other cities around the country to which the demographic was departing, but that far too many of them are concealed in “pockets” of individuals and not commonly known or shared.
If we could develop a creative campaign that would unearth these hidden treasures, and engage the 20-something creative community to be Detroit’s most vocal advocates, it was our belief that we could establish Detroit as a dynamic urban environment that would be regarded as the envy of our city’s peers, thereby retaining—and attracting—top-flight talent from the region’s young creative community, as well as that of cities from around the United States.
Our focus was specifically on the young creative community. I do not suggest that this same approach would be transportable to 20-somethings in other industries, as the motivators might be different for other demographics and other mindsets. But the operative word is might.
We need to ask the questions—the right questions. Just as we were surprised at what we heard from our focus group, we might be equally surprised at what is motivating the young attorney or recently graduated engineer to either leave or remain in Detroit. If we don’t ask the right questions, we will never find the right answers.
What do you think? Have we, as a region, asked the right questions? And what do you propose as the answer?