PHD Grady Creative Collective researches millennials in the retail world

For six months, six advertising seniors were immersed in a research initiative exploring athletic footwear, cosmetics, and fashion retail habits of millennials for global media and communications agency PHD Worldwide.

Working in pairs, PHD Grady Creative Collective team members Mason Burril, Sarah Karges, Ivana Lucic, Blair Seigler, Nikki Stuekel and Taylor Tokarz developed thorough insights for clients Footlocker, Elizabeth Arden and Old Navy.

The project, in its fourth year, took a different approach than in previous years because its scope was targeted to specific clients’ requests, said Karen King, Jim Kennedy Professor of New Media and advertising, who advises the students. 

“This year the research was mostly qualitative,” King explained.  “After completing secondary research, the team did a lot of observations.  They did participant observations by going to the stores to immerse themselves in the shopping experience including getting waited on. To gather more insights, the team recruited other millennials to go to the store with them to watch how other millennials shop and watched other young adults shop online.” The students also conducted a lot of in-depth interviews and led some focus groups, she noted.

“The most challenging part of the project was deciphering what were our strongest insights for each brand,” said participant Mason Burril. “It was actually very difficult to realize what millennial insights were since we are all millennials and our purchase patterns just seem normal to us.”  

On April 10, the students gave a one-hour multimedia presentation at the PHD offices in NYC for an audience of more than 60 executives and clients. An equally long question and answer period followed.

“Usually that’s the liveliest part—when they’re asked all the questions—and the team really does a great job with that,” said King. “You should see how they talk and think on their feet.  It’s amazing.  They always make (Grady) look good.”

PHD executives and clients listen attentively to the PHD Grady Creative Collective’s insights.

Student Taylor Tokarz described the NYC trip as “a true bonding experience.”

“We were all a little nervous during the presentation, but the audience engagement during the Q&A was extremely encouraging; both the PHD and brand representatives were welcoming and truly interested in what we had to say,” Tokarz said. “It felt good to know just how much our research and opinions were valued.” 

Being a member of the PHD Creative Collective is a big time commitment, requiring a lot of hard work and dedication.  But King said it is always a rewarding experience for the students and for her. 

“One of the things that’s so gratifying is how they weren’t sure they could do it at one point, but then they realize, ‘Wow, we did this. And look what we did.’”

Members of the 2014-15 PHD Creative Collective reunite with alumni of the program, many of whom started their careers with the global media agency network.

The PHD Grady Creative Collective every year has served as a pipeline to careers at PHD, with numerous alumni of the program landing jobs at offices in Chicago and New York City.  Burril and Sarah Karges are planning to join the NYC office starting in July. But students who choose different paths still attribute their successes to the skill sets they developed through the project.

“This summer I'll be at VML Atlanta as a business development intern,” said Tokarz. “Being a part of the Creative Collective taught me how to plan (months in advance), be adaptable, and work quickly under pressure. Simply stated, this project was as intense as it was rewarding: an invaluable experience. “

The 2014-15 PHD Grady Creative Collective team visits with past members and Craig Atkinson, chief operating and digital officer at PHD.
Date: May 29, 2015
Author:  Stephanie Moreno,
Contact:  Karen King,