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Young Guns

The power of youth in the workplace  

By Wendy Bautista

For the first time in American history, we are seeing four different generations working together in the workplace—with some demographers saying there are really five, depending on how the generations are defined.

With some traditionalists (those generally born between 1927 and 1945) remaining in the workforce and the Millennials (those generally born between 1981 and 2000) making their presence known, the workplace has never been more diverse.

“You need diversity and you need lots of it,” says Diana Peaks, executive director at Jacksonville University Center for Professional Studies and an adjunct business professor at Jacksonville University.

“You need cultural diversity, organizational diversity and you also need age diversity because every business works with people of all ages, and that diversity should provide you with a competitive advantage.”

Using that advantage

One company that uses age to its competitive advantage is 5ivecanons ( Adam Schaffer, Justin Dennis, and Michael Woeppel—all under the age of 30—together own and operate the Jacksonville Beach-based, full service advertising agency that focuses on consumer engagement.

“We like to say we fuse brands with culture,” says Schaffer, the creative director at 5ivecanons. “What that means is we develop immersive consumer experiences for our clients and their brands.”

While the diversity in this year-old company is not multi-generational, each member brings years of experience to the team from different areas and aspects of the industry.

“We knew each other before we started this company,” says Schaffer. “We’ve all been and worked in the industry for years, just in our separate roles—and we just brought all of those skills together to form 5ivecanons.”

Prior to each member’s work experience came years of schooling as well, with Schaffer attending undergraduate and graduate school to be a creative; Dennis, the digital strategist,  studying management information systems (computer science); and Woeppel, the executive producer, studying digital media art.

Breaking barriers

Even with years of experience behind each team member, they sometimes face apprehension from people in the workforce because of their age and youthful appearance. According to Peaks, this is not all that uncommon.

“There are some very intelligent young people out there and we need that, we need that to move forward, but it can be a barrier,” she says. “Where the younger workforce really should be judged on merit, some people, such as a traditionalist, may misjudge them based on their looks and question their experience and knowledge.”

5ivecanons has faced such apprehension head-on.

“One of the best questions we get asked is, ‘Who owns your company?’” says Dennis, with a laugh. “But I just take that with a grain of salt as there are some things we are still learning and I think we are getting smarter about.

“I do think it throws people off sometimes,” continues Dennis. “When we walk in, we will be immediately discounted because we’re not ‘senior’ or don’t have three offices in New York, Atlanta, and L.A. [yet].

“But what we offer is unique and we’re good at what we do,” continues Dennis. “I think people that see past our age and understand that we are experts in the things that we bring to them are the ones that work the best with us.”

“I’ve seen it happen a couple of times where we’ve gone to talk to a client and they are very standoffish when we first enter the room,” adds Woeppel, “But as Adam or Justin go into detail about Facebook or another channel the client doesn’t know very much about, you can see a change come over them. You can see their eyes light up because it clicks—they realize the potential and they realize that we know all the facets and ins and outs of all these mediums.”

The company’s approach

But none of this apprehension has slowed the three of them down. In their first year of business, they have gone from one to 15 clients, with clients such as Chick-fil-a, Community First Credit Union, Coggin Collision Center and Ethan Allen—and the list continues to grow as word spreads on their abilities. With most of their clients coming from referrals, they believe it is based on their five canons approach.

The idea behind 5ivecanons’s name and the basis of their business comes from ancient philosopher Cicero’s five canons of rhetoric. “Cicero used five canons when he spoke to a forum, and us being a digital agency, we also speak to a forum for our clients—we just use five different canons,” says Schaffer.

For every project they do, they use all of these five canons:

Listening phase—they learn everything about their client’s audience;

Strategy phase—they plan goals, timelines and milestones for their clients;

Creative phase—they develop and produce all of the messaging and content;

Distribution phase—they look at all the channels their client’s audiences are in; and

Optimization phase—they try to improve everything they’ve done for every step along the way.

While the timing of each phase is different for each project, client and client’s needs, the phases are based on the scope of work in general. “The listening phase is generally our research phase and it can take some time—and that’s where we tend to see the gaps or areas where they could be benefitting from better systems,” says Dennis.

“We listen to the Internet in real time and then show our clients where their potential consumers are and networks they may want to be actively involved in or a contextual style they may want to use.”

“Many of our clients are somewhat technologically savvy and understand the channels and their audience,” adds Schaffer. “They are just looking for someone to improve where they are—and that’s where we come in. Part of our services is offering ways to brand your business to your audience through editorial plans and immersive Facebook applications.

“We develop something a little bit further than, ‘Here’s a post about what’s going on’ and in fact instruct them on when and what to post—such as separate messages, images, and videos, instead of saying, ‘Come on down for this great deal,’” says Schaffer.

“One thing you always want to do is create and present content that is going to engage people and really get them involved,” says Woeppel.

“We can then build data based on what people are clicking on and define not only a demographic but also a psychographic based on whether they watch more of your videos or click on your photos or answer polls,” says Dennis. “We can then make suggestions on technology that we think might be best.”

Woeppel adds, “And we also think of and consider these things as a whole and how they will all work together for the best result.”

Heart of it all

Knowing all of this helps 5ivecanons develop a strategy and the creative to match who they are addressing and from that they build a plan based on each concept. “We don’t put technology before concept so we don’t force anything into a technology,” says Schaffer. “We can then say, ‘This is the idea, here are the technologies that are best matched to that idea and what would you like to do?’ or sometimes it is, “This is what you should do and here are three ideas, which one do you like?”

Diversity for 5ivecanons also comes from how it utilizes crowdsourcing. The small core team is here, but they utilize an expansive network of 60 to 100 people that they work with—not just here in Jacksonville, but all over the world in places such as Dallas, New York, Mexico, Russia, and the Ukraine.

“What we like to do is reach out to people that we know are really, really good at what they do,” says Schaffer. “After the core team has gone through the listening and strategy phase of a project and are on to the creative phase, we will go to the network for something we need or need better—like a killer logo or someone that is an amazing developer for Facebook or Flash—and we get those people involved.

“It makes us a lot bigger, but keeps us still small,” says Schaffer. “And we get to pick the best to work with us—I don’t think we could ask for a better business model at this point!”

Keeping with the curve

With advances in technology happening every day, Schaffer, Dennis and Woeppel find themselves constantly searching for what is coming around the corner—but that doesn’t mean it will be right for their clients.

“We’ve seen ‘trying to be in front of the curve’ not necessarily work all the time,” says Dennis. “But staying right with the curve and knowing exactly where the audience is in relation to that technology curve is what’s important. We don’t bring technology to somebody unless we know there is going to be a use for it on the other end—it has to be  the right fit for their target audience.”

“We are always looking for new things,” says Woeppel. “But as Justin said, if we get too far ahead of the curve, it will go right over our client’s head and so it’s finding that fine balance.”

“I think it’s always a balance between what our client’s needs are and what their audience is,” says Schaffer. “We’re not a technology shop; we’re not inventing anything new; we’re just leveraging those tools for the right channel and for the right audience.”

Learning and challenging

“Technology changes every month and so we’re constantly being challenged,” says Schaffer. “But every day we challenge ourselves and each other, and we learn new things about business and about ways to communicate—and that’s why we love what we do.

“We are all very passionate and have goals and a vision,” continues Schaffer. “And because of that we’re going to challenge each other and we’re going to argue, but we turn that into a dialogue to make sure we have the best product for our clients.”

“I think with all of us being so passionate about the industry, we always end up producing an amazing product,” says Woeppel.

“I think we are hungry for it,” adds Schaffer. “We’re really passionate and each one of us bring something incredible to the table and these are some of the smartest guys I’ve ever met in my entire life—so it makes it easy for us to do this because we are so hungry for it.”

“And we are super competitive,” adds Dennis. “If a company looks down at us for our young age, we’ll challenge them to place us against another shop.”

“We like those challenges,” adds Schaffer. “If they are going to put us against another, maybe ‘older’ shop in town; we are going to bring our A-game. That’s what it boils down to—we’re in business here and we want to do great work, and being young we like challenges! Bring it on!”

Wendy Bautista is the editor of Advantage Small Business Magazine. She can be reached at or 904-536-2234.


Utilizing the youth

5ivecanons’s clientele has climbed from one account to 15 in a year—with the list continuing to grow as word spreads of their abilities. To see what this “young gun” team can do and see some of the companies that are utilizing them, visit:

Community First:
Ethan Allen:

Business vitals

Owners: Adam Schaffer, Justin Dennis and Michael Woeppel

In business since: 2010

Projected growth: “I think our work speaks for itself,” says Schaffer. “We sent out an email to our network and it was just our reel of recent work and with that people saw the work and want to work with us. It wasn’t like we were trying necessarily to bring in business; they just saw the scope of what we are capable of and want to work with us.”

Dennis adds, “In the first year, we went from one to 15 clients and we are expecting to double our revenue this year—and then we’ll go from there and hopefully the trend will continue.”

“But I do see the most growth happening by way of mobile and social media—that is where we are just really booming,” says Schaffer.

Woeppel adds, “Yes, this year is the first year that mobiles outsold desktops.”

“In the United States, 53% of Americans are using a smart phone,” says Dennis. “Even though it’s still a very personal device and still has a personal sense, if we can get our clients on that very personal device, it’s almost an intimate connection, which is why I thinks it’s going to be a huge market.”

How you can do it

“Be as passionate and as hard working as you possibly can,” says Schaffer. “It’s a really tough economy right now and an even tougher industry, and I think just having skills or an education will not cut it—you have to be hungry, passionate, smart and dedicated to what you do. You have to be committed to the end result.”

Woeppel adds, “It’s being agile and reading and keeping up on trends and just keeping up with it all. You should always be searching, always looking for new things.”

Dennis adds, “I think our model is unique in crowdsourcing. The book ‘The World is Flat’ by Thomas Friedman explained that people who manage their channels the best and how they get their work done from a global perspective are going to be extremely successful.

“It’s no longer this 50-person shop in one place because you can reach different people around the world if  you embrace the idea that the world is flat and get savvy about how to use technology in your business, and even cut corners and save money.”

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