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September 2014

Gen Yers are transforming the California agenda

by Jeff Heilman

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In June 1967, the groundbreaking Monterey International Pop Music Festival literally destroyed traditional notions of major event programming when The Who, after playing My Generation, demolished their equipment, followed by Jimi Hendrix, who torched his guitar before smashing it to pieces.

In the decades since, California has disrupted another arena—innovation. From San Diego’s flourishing start-up scene to Silicon Valley, home to game-changers like Apple, Facebook and Google and seat of global venture capitalism, the state continues to deconstruct and reinvent the corporate landscape. Employed throughout this entrepreneurial ecosystem are Gen Yers—the 20- to 35-year-olds who are also altering the agenda for meetings and events.

‘Surprise and Delight’
Joseph Adams, 26, is the archetypal Gen Y go-getter. Originally from Ohio, the self-described Bay Area “marketing hacker” (his adaptation of “growth hacker,” a person skilled at using technology and analytics to test the market-worthiness of new ideas and products) reveals how the Gen Y ecosystem works.

“We are a meritocracy of highly social, mobile, networked multitaskers, passionately engaged in creating and evolving our environment,” says Adams, presently “hacking” alternative asset strategies for an investment firm while also consulting on multiple fronts. “Our mode is challenging the status quo to achieve different or enhanced outcomes. That’s how we live, work and play—and want to experience meetings and events.”

In the Gen Y world, hotel ballrooms, sit-down dinners and other traditional solutions—including paying for Wi-Fi—are out.

“Box us in and we disengage, typically then alerting others about the experience on social media,” Adams says. “Our more natural state is mobility, with multiple environments and experiences.”

He cites South by Southwest (SXSW) and’s events as prime examples.

“Bottom line: The event must surprise and delight,” Adams says.

Along with some insider tips (see Gen Y checklist, page 12), Adams identifies The Village, a new 17,000-square-foot space in San Francisco’s tech-heavy Mid-Market Corridor (Twitter is here, among others) with a brewpub, dance floor and its own “experience design center,” and Dinner Lab, a national concept new to the city where top chefs cook gourmet meals for groups in unconventional spaces, as on-target choices.

In the 1976 sci-fi classic Logan’s Run, citizens reaching the age of 30 were ceremonially vaporized. Is that fate at hand for traditional meetings? In California especially, Gen Yers are disrupting the scene, but for Gen Xers and boomers, it’s more about just adapting to changing times.

Meet the New Boss
Gordon Thompson is president of Cappa & Graham Inc., a boutique San Francisco DMC specializing in meeting, conference and event services throughout the Bay Area since 1979. While continuing to expertly deliver the “well-conceived, well-structured” experiences preferred by traditional groups, Thompson (also see “Locals’ Take” in the digital edition of Meetings Focus California) is keenly attuned to the Gen Y pulse.

“For a generation that likes to run with ideas, collaboration, creativity and fun are the operative words,” Thompson says. “Music, technology, specialty venues and unique environments are key elements, along with a casual, free-flowing atmosphere and interactive stations like food trucks and photo booths. This is a sophisticated audience with discerning tastes—so ‘special’ and ‘elevated’ are also key criteria.”

Reflecting on recent successes including a private event on Alcatraz, a Gold Rush party at the Fairmont Hotel and a corporate appreciation event in Justin Herman Plaza across from the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, Thompson offers his thoughts on planning for the younger generation.

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