Tina Wells, Teen Whisperer

She talks to 9,000 “Skins”-watching, ADD-afflicted teenagers every day. She knows more about your kids than you do — and it’s turned her into corporate America’s go-to expert on the Millennials

All six kids went to college. Two of Wells’s sisters live with her at the moment; her brother Marcus and sister Adrianne are on the nine-person Buzz staff. Adrianne is VP of operations, and Marcus oversees viral marketing — tapping social-networking platforms to push brands — from Italy. (He’s dating an Italian girl.) Will helps out with tech work. Everything about the company, which Wells values at $10 million, is young and hot and now, which is why you may be surprised to learn it moved from New York City to Voorhees to 1515 Market Street. “Philly has a self-esteem problem,” Wells says briskly. “It doesn’t think it’s as great as it is. My friends come to visit and say, ‘Who knew?’”

Wells was nominated as a Franklin trustee by a member who met her socially. President Dennis Wint says the board’s been working to diversify in gender, ethnicity and age, which makes Wells a trifecta. But she’s not window-dressing. “In her business,” says Wint, “she’s working daily with an audience that’s part of our target group — particularly young women. Women and the sciences have been a longstanding issue.” Wells sits on the marketing committee, helping to develop strategy. Equally important? “She was at the opening of our Leonardo da Vinci show last night,” says Wint, “with her friends. She brings her network with her.”

HOW MILLENNIALS view the online world is crucial to understanding them, Wells says. While parents fret about privacy issues and naughty Facebook photos, teens see the Internet as a safe place that adults just don’t get. It’s where they live, and marketers are going to have to meet them there or die. To expedite the meeting, Wells wrote a book that comes out this month from Wiley: Chasing Youth Culture and Getting It Right. In it, she says young consumers demand inspiration, value and disruption: “Teens literally need to be interrupted to pay attention to your brand.”

It’s not that she approves of the way Millennials live; she’s coined a term, “instanity,” to describe their need for immediate results and gratification. She thinks they’re narcissistic: “Their public image on Facebook becomes more important than who they truly are as a person.” And she isn’t at all happy when Will and his friends explain it doesn’t count as cheating on a girl if the two of you are in different zip codes. But her business is selling her expertise, so the book is nonjudgmental as it explains why teens don’t go to malls anymore (the cool stores are in shopping centers now), or why those philanthropic marketing campaigns that seem so cheesy — “We’ll donate one percent of every purchase to the No More Veal fund!” — resonate with them (they like to feel a relationship to a brand). And her observations ring true. She says, for instance, that Millennials feel they deserve jobs they love: This entitlement issue is “making its way into offices all over the world — and shocking the heck out of boomer bosses.” Indeed. Who do these kids think they are?

At the same time, she sees in Will and his cohorts a yearning for a slower, simpler life, and for such retro-bilia as home-canned jam and handwritten letters: “They’re excited about what they never had.” Eventually, as they grow up, she predicts, they’ll rediscover that thing called “privacy” and turn off the free-flow spigot of information they’re willing to post on the Web.

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