Minnesota Vikings hire 18-year-old consultant to connect with Gen Z

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Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren (left) and Vikings owner Zygi Wilf (right) stand with 18-year-old Jonah Stillman who has been hired by the team to be a Generation Z consultant.

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings, looking for new ways to connect with a new generation, recently announced the hiring of an 18-year-old consultant who calls himself a “Gen Z guru.” Jonah Stillman, who finished high school earlier this year, coauthored with his father, David Stillman, “Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace.”

Stillman is expected to consult with the Vikings on marketing, digital media content and strategy, as well as STEM education opportunities and workplace culture at the team’s new headquarters, which is expected to open in March 2018.

The Star Tribune asked Stillman about his work:

Q: Can you describe Gen Z in a few sentences?
A: Gen Z is the generation that follows the millennial generation. We are born between 1995-2012 and were raised by Gen X parents. We have had our own unique events and conditions shape us, including the recent Great Recession. We are very different than millennials.

Q: What sort of research backs that up?
A: My company Gen Z Guru, which I cofounded with my dad, who is a generational expert, did three national studies and one global study all focused on Gen Z’s attitude toward both the workplace and marketplace.

Q: How will you go about your work with the Vikings? Do you research the organization?
A: I am beyond excited to have the opportunity to help both the NFL and the Minnesota Vikings to reach a younger demographic of fans. Working with an organization as exciting as the NFL will be an exciting addition to the list of clients I have worked with. The NFL and Vikings have done an amazing job of exposing me to all facets on the game. This, combined with my ongoing research, will allow us to introduce new enhancements to both the in-game and every day football experience.

Q: What do corporations need to do to connect with Gen Z?
A: In order to connect with Gen Z, you must first recognize that we are our own unique generation. Many leaders and organizations tend to blend us in with the millennials, which is a huge mistake. While Gen Z is the most tech-savvy generation to date, leaders must understand that we are socializing in new ways. First, we are much more private when it comes to using social media, which means we are using social media in new ways. Gen Z’ers are after more exciting and private platforms. So naturally, Gen Z’ers will gravitate to platforms like Snapchat, where we have more control over who sees our posts. Our hunt for more authentic communication also means we are looking for the most authentic way to communicate with our peers, coworkers and bosses. In our first of three national studies, we uncovered that 84 percent of Gen (Z) say the they prefer face-to-face communication because we feel it is the most authentic.

Q: How does that translate to the Vikings?
A: The Minnesota Vikings are a great example of an organization that is taking the time to get to know Generation Z. They have the unique position of both employing Gen Zers as well as trying to reach them as fans. With a mixture of having a great social media presence and authentic workplace communication, the Vikings are on the right track to engaging Gen Z.

Q: The Vikings are a well-known brand so you probably have ideas already about things you’d like to work on or toward with them. Can you provide a couple of examples?
A: Certainly I have some initial ideas, but having only recently joined the organization, I’m really focused on gaining a better understanding of all departments and various team projects first.

Q: Do you watch or did you play football? Are you a Vikings fan? Who is your favorite player either current or former?
A: I grew up playing football through my first year of high school and have always been a huge fan of the NFL. Even better, I have been a diehard Vikings fan for longer then I can remember. Our family has been long-standing season ticket members and I have been able to watch them play at the Metrodome, TCF Bank Stadium and now U.S. Bank Stadium. I have always been a fan of players who seem to have an innate ability to connect with kids authentically. For the Vikings, I think Stefon Diggs is a great example. His flashy playing style and his exciting social media presence is something that Gen Z football fans around the world can connect with.

Q: Are you going to college? If so, where?
A: I am currently in the midst of a gap year or two. Since the publication of my book, I have been able to work with companies around the globe on understanding this next great generation. I feel that I am learning too much to stop right now. I know that college will always be there for me when I need it.