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Peak Campus Exec Says Nix Millennials at Your Risk

Jessica NixObviously, student housing developers and operators have to appeal to Millennials, a demographic often misunderstood and even mischaracterized. Adjectives generally assigned to today's college generation include "spoiled," "lazy," "entitled," and "disaffected." Jessica Nix, Vice President of Marketing for Peak Campus Management, LLC, moderated an executive panel discussion at the recent National Apartment Association Student Housing Conference that gave a lot more respect to this demo. The key is to find ways not just to appeal to them, but also, and just as important, how to treat them. Nix looks back on that session in this chat:

NATIONAL APARTMENT ASSOCIATION: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

JESSICA NIX: I have been with Peak Campus Management since 1999, when I started as a community advisor. Since then, I have grown with the company to hold many positions including leasing manager, assistant manager, director positions, and where I am now. As VP of Marketing, I oversee and give direction to much of the marketing responsibilities to the company. We make sure that those in the field have the tools and the resources they need to be successful with marketing and leasing.

NAA: You indeed moderated a panel at the 2014 NAA Student Housing Conference & Exposition. For those who missed it, what were some of the topics that were discussed?

JN: It was an executive panel, and we had a diverse blend of executives from student housing companies that represented everything from a large public entity all the way down to medium- and small-sized operators. The goal was to make sure we heard perspectives from different sides and types of student housing businesses. In addition to that, we had several students who recorded their questions and thoughts on student housing. We aired those video clips and had the panel react and respond.

NAA: One of the topics that came up was the increasingly creative amenities that student housing communities are adding and touting to attract and retain Generation Y residents. What are some of the most creative ones that you've seen?

JN: We've seen everything from party hot tubs to jumbo movie-trons on buildings outside in the amenities space. But you can continue to add and add amenities. You can look to resort communities and see what might be the next great thing to add. What I think I've seen more than anything else is service. It's great to have all of these bullets on your brochure to entice the student to come in. Do they actually use the amenities? It all depends. But calls for great service seem to be getting louder and louder. The Millennial is a sophisticated customer who comes along with his/her parents, and we need to make sure that we treat them and service the customer the way they should be treated and served rather than just "here's another kid."

NAA: It's great to have a fancy pool or even a bowling alley among your amenities. But since these are "student customers," are there more amenities being offered that tie in with their educations like designated study areas or special Internet packages?

JN: There are other things that do assist with their educations. For example, it's becoming increasingly important that not only do we have Internet service that is reliable and fast, but also that we need to make sure there is Wi-Fi ability all throughout our buildings including the amenity spaces. Our student residents want to be connected and have the ability to work on school projects whether it's with friends, alone, or social media. They want constant Internet access wherever they are.

NAA: Do you feel Millennials are getting a bad rep? The general consensus is "They're lazy.  There's entitled."

JN: I have studied and presented on Millennials several times. One was a pretty extensive project that I pulled together and presented to my company. One of the things that I found is that every generation has a strong opinion of its succeeding generation. I do recognize that people generally toss around criticisms like "Oh, the Millennials are high maintenance" or "The Millennials are entitled." But they are bringing a lot to the table. What they've done with social media and leveraging the Internet for Web-based businesses and applications is phenomenal. They are getting a bad rep, but there is still a lot to understand who the Millennials actually are as they enter the workspace.

NAA: Does your company hire or have on staff quite a number of student employees?

JN: Absolutely! In the field, we have several student employees who help market and lease the communities. Also at Peak Campus, we are very proud that we promote from within. The first place we look whenever any opportunity comes open is "Do we have someone in the family already who should be eligible?" In my department, aside from myself, everybody is a Millennial. Also, most in my department were promoted from within. It comes with the territory of being a student housing business and having access to the best and brightest that our coming out of the universities.

NAA: You mentioned technology earlier. How do you and your staff keep up with the ever-evolving channels of communication?

JN: From my vantage point handling all aspects of marketing, we have to stay on top of all trending communications opportunities that there are. Right now, there's e-mail, there is texting, there is social media. The opportunities are endless. Especially with social media, you have to go to the students and interact in the environment in which they are most comfortable in. You have to be alert and go where the students are, and that is ever-evolving. ... We listen to our customer and react quickly when a new platform or application pops up. We learn how to market through that and get training out quickly before it becomes old news.

NAA: Finally, going back to the panel you moderated, was there an issue or a topic that was raised in the discussion that you feel should be explored even more?

JN: The most intriguing part of the conversation was to see the passion that came out about "intentional customer service" and not taking for granted your customer and their needs. If you talk to anyone who's outside of the industry, even today, the first thing they think of when they think student housing is "Animal House." We have grown so far away from that! It was interesting to see some of the passion come out about our industry needs to get more sophisticated and provide even more world-class service to Millennials and not just treating them like college kids.

By Teddy Durgin

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All sessions from the 2014 NAA Student Housing Conference & Exposition are available for purchase. Learn more.