Karen Zuckerman is sooooooo not going to hire me.
I don’t speak millennial.
I am not organically digital. I have never used Snapchat or Instagram. (I e-mail!)
I don’t do hackathons, could not care less whether I “collaborate” with co-workers (grump, grump) and don’t meditate. I never patronize food trucks, don’t frequent happy hours and lost my taste for beer. I live in a leafy suburb.
Simply put, I would have to lop 30 years off of my age to qualify as a millennial, which is the disposition of choice for Zuckerman and her edgy advertising company, Rockville-based HZDG.
Zuckerman founded and co-owns HZDG, which is looking to add to the 90 millennial-minded workers already on its 160-plus staff.
She recently bought the right to sublet a 6,000-square-foot “co-worker” space in Dupont Circle (millennial Ground Zero) to keep her up-and-comers happy — and lure more to the company.
“We specifically took on this space to be able to hire millennials,” said Zuckerman, 51. “We love our roots in Rockville, but we need to appeal to people who live in the city, and give them access to a downtown space in order to continue to grow. This is a way to attract new and retain current employees.”
Dupont Circle is just her latest play to appeal to young adults ages 20 to 35, although Zuckerman said she is open to anyone comfortable in collaborative environments, whether they involve work or socializing.
“These are people who are thinkers and doers. They conceptualize a Web site for a client, and then prototype it quickly,” said Zuckerman, who speaks fluent millennial. “They are smart and nimble, and extremely confident. They are fast and know all the shortcuts and how to quickly consume information.”
They are the ones replacing me.
HZDG’s hiring initiative comes at a time when city leaders across the United States are moving away from traditional economic growth strategies that promote suburban and “far-flung industrial parks,” according to a recent study by the Brookings Institution.
Instead, the new economic development model focuses on renovating and working with existing buildings and public spaces — placemaking — to draw talent. In other words, redoing downtowns.
I know from previous columns and interviews that many start-ups tend to locate in urban areas that allow staff to slide out of the office and into restaurants where they can “meet up.”
It doesn’t end there. HZDG also has offices in Manhattan and downtown Baltimore, and is opening near Silicon Valley next month, where new thinking is in demand.
She launched the company 27 years ago shortly after graduating from Penn State, where she studied graphic design. HZDG is short for Hirshorn Zuckerman Design Group. Karen is the Hirshorn and her husband, Jerry, who runs the financial side, is the Zuckerman.
They go by HZ for short and have graduated beyond just design to include things like creating company logos or slogans, to fashioning advertising in magazines and billboards, to designing and developing client Web sites and apps — and, of course, social media.
HZ’s client list has ranged from home-builder NVR to hotelier Hilton Worldwide, from the Washington Redskins to Washington Gas, and includes museums such as the Newseum, caterers such as Ridgewells and big-time developers such as JBG.
The firm discovered the appeal of downtown space almost by accident. HZ had rented a few desks in a little glass room in Chinatown last year, and the employees fell in love with it, preferring to stay downtown rather than hop on Metro to the company’s airy, 17,000-square-foot Rockville headquarters, which was bought eight years ago.
Then there are companies like CustomInk, Marc Katz’s millennial-heavy T-shirt company with more than 1,000 employees. CustomInk — which is partly owned by Revolution Growth, the investment firm led by Donn Davis, Ted Leonsis and Steve Case — last year moved from Tysons Corner to Fairfax County’s Mosaic District, which re-creates a downtown with offices, restaurants, theaters and residences.
Zuckerman won’t discuss company finances in detail, but she said it grosses $24 million and is profitable. About 30 percent of that revenue comes from traditional media such as advertising in Metro stations and in publications such as Bethesda Magazine. The rest is digital, which is where the millennials and their DNA come in.
“Millennials are digital natives who were born into the world of social media, so it’s more natural to them,” Zuckerman said, adding that she has become obsessed with what motivates them.
They tend to be naturals with advertising campaigns that can bridge social media with traditional print advertising. One campaign, which can range from $20,000 to $2 million and up, might include spots on Instagram, Facebook and in the Washington Metro system.
There’s another reason she likes millennials: They are a better value than Baby Boomers, who need bigger salaries and demand more office space. Millennials at HZ earn anywhere from $30,000 to more than $80,000, depending on when they were hired and their expertise.
“We employ over 160 highly-educated and technical people in four offices throughout the U.S.,” Jerry wrote in an e-mail. “This creates a plethora of great creative within an extremely competitive environment, not to mention a very large payroll of over $500,000 bi-weekly.”
Even with the new offices, HZ is staying put in its Rockville headquarters. To keep the troops there happy and motivated, HZ has a funky, irreverent culture.
There are hackathons, exercise boot camps, bike racks, visits by food trucks and frequent happy hours. And then more happy hours. Judging from the company’s Web site, the vibe at the Rockville headquarters is informality laced with creativity; in other words, approach the job like an entrepreneur.
“If you think about companies that millennials are drawn toward, they are like start-ups in these small, austere, collaborative environments,” Zuckerman said.
That description is heavy with irony, since Zuckerman and her husband have spent the past quarter-century building her company into a money-making success symbolized by the edifice it inhabits as a headquarters.
To keep her millennials happy and her business profitable, she must now depopulate her monument and scatter some of the workforce.
“We are almost going backward to operating like a little company in a small space,” she said wistfully, referring to her company, when it was a 1980s start-up.
Ah yes, the good old days.