(Bloomberg)—Over the years, McKinsey & Co. has advised corporate titans, world leaders and storied institutions. Now, it’s pitching its expertise to an arguably tougher crowd: Generation Z.
The management-consulting giant has created four editions of McKinsey for Kids, online advertorials that try to explain a consultant’s work and why it matters. Kid-friendly topics include workforce automation (cool, robots!) and reducing food waste (ew, cabbage!). There’s one about understanding the value of nature that features tigers, mangrove trees and some well-paid engagement managers.
“You’re a kid,” the first installment begins. “You’ve heard of McKinsey. Maybe your parent even works here, yet you don’t quite get what we do all day. You’re not alone—many adults don’t either. Basically, we help solve problems... Companies usually ask us for help when they are dealing with a tough problem and aren’t sure what to do about it.”
McKinsey insists that the project’s purpose is purely to de-mystify management consulting, but it does veer into a branding and recruitment vehicle at times. A spokesperson said the firm’s publishing division, which produces McKinsey for Kids as well as its quarterly management magazine and even a weekly crossword puzzle, is an “independent entity” distinct from its public-relations and marketing groups.
While children learn what a business case is by solving the problems of a fictional fish farm, they also discover that McKinsey employs 35,000 engineers, data scientists, and scruffy website designers. A quiz at the end of one episode asks if the kids are more into “making cool things” or making money. (Perhaps a trick question, as a true member of “The Firm” never puts revenue ahead of the interests of the client.)
This sunny outreach comes at a time when McKinsey’s reputation could use some burnishing, having come under fire for helping Purdue Pharma LP sell more opioids in the U.S. and for getting linked to corruption allegations involving South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma and its state power company.
Is the kiddie stuff working? It’s hard to tell. The series has close to 125,000 views thus far—from kids, parents and also teachers—and that’s without any dedicated push to grab readers. “The buzz has been good,” says Raju Narisetti, head of the global publishing unit. “They have become quite popular inside and outside McKinsey,” he says, adding that a fifth installment is in the works.
The youth overtures started in the early weeks of the pandemic, when McKinsey’s globe-trotting consultants were abruptly grounded by covid-19 lockdowns. With families stuck at home together, the firm did a few Zoom briefings for staffers to explain to kids what their jobs entailed, giving youngsters some context for overheard talk of boiling oceans and “scope creep.”
Narisetti spoke at one such briefing, got inspired and decided to expand the McKinsey primers, using language and graphics that hopefully won’t send teenagers to sleep—or back to Snapchat. At times, though, McKinsey can’t help but revert to corporate jargon, like when it refers to TikTok as a “platform” or mentions improving a client’s “broader business portfolio.”
Taking Work to Kids
Corey Seemiller, a professor at Wright State University who’s written four books on Generation Z, gave McKinsey for Kids a mixed review. She said she liked the focus on how different jobs can make an impact in the world, but didn’t think that most kids would bother scrolling through all the chapters.
“If they put it in short blocks, it would have made a world of difference for a generation with a ridiculously short attention span,” she said. “It’s not talking to kids, it’s talking to adults. My college students would struggle with some of this.” Torea Frey, McKinsey’s managing editor for digital publishing, said her team has gotten better at using simpler language with each new edition.
McKinsey’s decision to take its work to kids is a different spin on something companies have been doing for years: taking their kids to work. Since 1992, when Gloria Steinem’s Ms. Foundation set about creating an event to provide young girls with role models in various professions, “Take Our Daughters to Work Day” has introduced millions of students to more than 3.5 million workplaces in 187 countries, with boys added to the program in 2003.
Longtime sponsors include Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Chevron Corp., but McKinsey has never been heavily involved, according to Carolyn McKecuen, executive director of the foundation that runs the annual event, usually held on the fourth Thursday in April. Last year’s program was canceled due to covid-19, and this year McKecuen staged a virtual event viewed by nearly 600,000 people. The 2022 program will be a hybrid event with online and in-office activities, she said.
After viewing McKinsey for Kids, McKecuen said it had potential, but could use some videos of actual staffers talking about how they got where they are today. “I think they could do a lot more with it,” she said. “I should give them a call.”