(SOUNDBITE OF BELA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES’ “BLU-BOP”)
JILLIAN BURLEY: Welcome to Profiles on WFIU. I'm Jillian Burley. On Profiles, we talk to notable artists, scholars and public figures to get to know the stories behind their work. Our guest today is Kelly King.
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A native Canadian, King has a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing from McMaster University in Ontario. She quickly found a passion for business and marketing and began her career as a product manager at Kraft Foods. Since then, she's fueled her passion by working as a marketing manager and has founded multiple businesses. King uses her knowledge to add a current flair to her digital marketing agency, 80/20 Agency, where she makes a point to hire members of the millennial and Gen Z generations to showcase the talents of her young staff who she believes add value and insight to the company. Her recent publication, "The Gen Z Dictionary," is exactly that. A dictionary designed to help people understand the most recent wave of popular slang. King and her team spent a year compiling the vernacular used by today's youth to connect to their conversations in a more meaningful way, containing words such as boujee, no cap and simp, the dictionary opens a window into the cultural world of the younger generation. King is also currently an adjunct instructor at both the Media School and the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. She recently joined me for a conversation in the WFIU studios.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Kelly King, welcome to Profiles.
KELLY KING: Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.
JILLIAN BURLEY: I wanted to start from the beginning, of course. I was wondering if you could give us a little bit of information on you and your life, where you grew up, where you went to school.
KELLY KING: Sure. A lot of people don't realize that I'm from Canada, so I'm a dual citizen now. And it's fun to say I'm Kelly King from Kingsville and, which is the southernmost town in Canada. So it's in Southern Ontario. So that's where I grew up, in a very small town. And then I went to university in Hamilton, which is McMaster University. And then I got a job right out of business school with Kraft Foods and started my marketing career as an assistant product manager and then moved into product management.
JILLIAN BURLEY: I actually do have a few questions on your professional experience but first, I wanted to talk a little bit more about your Bachelor of Commerce with honors. How is that related to a, for example, bachelor's degree in the United States?
KELLY KING: It's basically a business degree but it has a slant to financials. So I do have a major, I majored in marketing but it was very similar, that school was very similar to the Kelley School, very focused on and known for finance and accounting. So I had accounting firms recruiting me just because I had a Bachelor of Commerce. And I would basically say, no, I'm not your gal, you don't want me. I have way too much creativity going on and the numbers thing is not really my thing. So it's surprising to people that I have a Bachelor of Commerce, but that's what they called it back then and they still do. That's the Canadian thing.
JILLIAN BURLEY: I'm also wondering, was your family, your parents, your siblings, were they into the same kinds of things, into business or anything like that?
KELLY KING: Not at all. Not at all. I went through the gamut of things I wanted to be. So my parents, my dad was a high school principal and my mom was a nurse. And I originally, when I was growing up, wanted to be a teacher. And then I went through wanting to be a news reporter and then I wanted to be a doctor. So I have all science background in my high school schooling. And then I did a unique school abroad at a school called New Schottel Junior College for grade 13, which they have in Canada. My parents knew of this school and sent me to have the opportunity to travel. And after I was done schooling, I went to be an au pair for the Canadian ambassador of Switzerland. And I'm telling you this story because when he said, well, what are you going to do? And I said, well, I didn't get into the arts and science program that I wanted to be in, which was premed. And I was really bound and determined to do that program and I was having a change of thought. And he said, you really should think about going into business. And I thought business? That just sounds boring. And - but I never forgot what he said. And then when I was applying, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do, talking to an advisor. And that person said, have you considered business? And I said, not really. I've thought about it and I remembered what he said. And then she said, you really should consider it because you have the, you know, the grades and everything to get in. It's a tough school, but we can get you in there right now as like a direct admit. So I said, all right, let's go for it. See what happens. And it was very spontaneous and not planned at all. And I don't have - my parents don't have background in business or marketing, so I didn't have any help in any way from my family for my marketing career.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Wow. So was that two different people that recommended you go into business?
KELLY KING: It was. It was the Canadian ambassador and the advisor at the university.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Wow. They just saw something in you and they said this person is going to be a businesswoman.
KELLY KING: I have no idea what they were thinking.
JILLIAN BURLEY: (Laughter).
KELLY KING: But they kind of steered me in the right direction. So my advice out there is just really listen to what people advise you about, even if it doesn't sound right. That's one thing I tell my students is just really listen to people when they're giving some advice.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Yeah, I would definitely agree with you on that and say a lot of young people can benefit from having a mentor in that way.
KELLY KING: Absolutely.
JILLIAN BURLEY: But at the same time, a lot of young people kind of want to do things their own way. So I think it's a little bit more of a struggle at times to go with your gut versus going with what somebody tells you. But that's great and I'm glad that you played that to your advantage. While you were at McMaster, I saw that you worked for the student newspaper.
KELLY KING: I did.
JILLIAN BURLEY: So...
KELLY KING: The Silhouette.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Oh, The Silhouette. I love that name. Is writing or any kind of journalism still a hobby of yours?
KELLY KING: I wasn't really a journalist or I wasn't at all. I was an advertising representative. So that's what sparked my interest in advertising. And it was the old school type of advertising, newspaper advertising, where they did the layouts on the boards and everything was actually printed out. There was nothing digital. We were just starting to get the funky little, very original Macs. And it was so neat to see that little machine that they were using for really new stuff. But yeah, I was - it makes me feel so old, but I'm so glad I had that experience.
JILLIAN BURLEY: So most of your biography I got from your LinkedIn page and I saw that you moved to Indiana because you married a Hoosier.
KELLY KING: I did. Yes, I did.
JILLIAN BURLEY: So how would you rate Indiana compared to Canada? What are the differences? What are the similarities?
KELLY KING: You know, I get that question a lot. And the way I compare really the United States versus Canada is the U.S. is just everything is jumbo here. They have jumbo homes. We have jumbo meals, jumbo carriers. Everything up in Canada is a little more moderate. You know, we're very much the same, but I think there's more extremes here. There's extreme wealth here and I also see there's more extreme poverty. So that's the best way I can compare it.
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JILLIAN BURLEY: You're listening to Profiles on WFIU. I'm Jillian Burley. Our guest is Kelly King.
You're currently an adjunct instructor in the Media School at Indiana University. So how would you rate this professional experience compared to your other endeavors?
KELLY KING: Oh, I love teaching at the Media School. I'm at the Media School and I recently started teaching a course at Kelley, and it's phenomenal. And I'm a big advocate of real-world experience. So both courses offer real-world experience to the students. And the course at the Media School is called Agency Seven. And we pretend we're an ad agency and the students have their own clients. We have four groups this semester and they each have their own client and they work with that client solving their advertising challenge for their entire semester. And along the way, I give them assignments so they get training experience on branding and the concepts of branding because you have to understand a brand before you can actually advertise the brand. But it's a blast and you just really don't know what you're getting into when you enter the semester. And then over at the Kelley School, we're doing an experimental course. It's called Brand Management Practicum. And it is focused solely on branding, not just advertising because branding is so much bigger than advertising is one component of branding and marketing. So they have the opportunity to work with national brands. And I'm thrilled to share that we had three big clients. We had Tide, Gillette and Clorox as our three brand teams and those students got phenomenal experience. And it's been great for me, it's been great for the students. And I'm thinking it's, from what I'm hearing, the brand management, brand managers and the brand management teams have seen value from the students, from what they're providing them. So it's been a terrific experience for everybody.
JILLIAN BURLEY: That's amazing. Did you come up with that class structure yourself?
KELLY KING: Pretty much. I came - I went to the dean with another concept about real-world experience and the creative world of business and that we really need to work collaboratively on campus. And I'm a big advocate of trying to get the different schools together because when you're creating advertising specifically or branding projects, really, you need businesspeople who are very strategic and financially minded because you're running a business. And then also, you need the creative people, like, for instance, from the media school and who can do video and PR and all that kind of stuff that is offered there. And then you also need some really talented graphic designers and they're over in the School of Architecture and design. So I have students from all schools. And that's part of the unique nature of that course, is to put the teams together with a variety of talents.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Yeah, I can totally see that. I'm someone who has, I will say I have dabbled a little bit in the marketing world, mostly in social media work. And I think a lot of people see it as a one-sided, concrete, you know, data-driven type of thing, but you need so many different people with so many different experiences who can come together and make a brand something great.
KELLY KING: Absolutely. I mean, you just nailed it. And my little formula for great branding is combining a lot of psychology and statistics. So you have, you know, the creativity and the persuasion and what makes people tick in terms of the psychology. And then you have, you know, the hardcore analytics and big data and all that stuff that drives where you put your content and how you analyze how it's being read and consumed. So that's my formula for great branding and advertising. If there's one thing I'd like to be known for is being a brand specialist and now my new expertise is Gen Z. That's my microfocus right now. I'm just fascinated by that market.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Do you have a particular brand that you enjoy? For example, when I think of branding, I think of the clothing brand, Supreme, who has the classic logo. Do you have any favorite brands?
KELLY KING: My favorite brand is Southwest. I like brands that have a strong personality and I think they do a terrific job of combining the branding on all what they call brand touch points. So it's on their airplanes. If you see their airplanes, these are very distinctive looking. They don't look like any other plane with the heart on them. I mean, how much more emotional can you get in terms of having, you know, feelings for your marketing? And then, too, the napkins, the cups, if there's all fun messaging on those. And then most importantly, is their staff, how well they train their staff and they even recruit their staff. They are a textbook example of doing terrific branding that really connects and oozes personality.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Let's do a little deeper of a dive into your professional journey. So you started at Kraft General Foods as a product manager. Could you give me and our listeners a little bit of a background on what that means?
KELLY KING: Sure. A lot of people don't know what a brand manager or product manager really does. And even, you know, students studying marketing over at Kelley, that's one of the struggles, is what do they really do? But I would say they, essentially, run a business. When you're a product manager, you are the captain of the ship of that brand and that label. For instance, let's say it was Marshmallow Alphabets, which was one of the brands that I helped launch when we were doing new product development on post cereals. You are basically the business manager for that product and you manage everything from the product, you know, ingredients, what it's all about and the pricing, where you sell it, the promotion, everything about it. The four Ps of marketing are product, place, price, promotion. That's the old school. We've definitely come a long way from marketing in terms of that but it is pretty much the fundamentals. And marketing or brand managers, I should say, or product managers, they're really synonyms. They just manage the brand and all the teams that are involved, including, you know, the operations team. They have to make sure production is getting done and the sales team and then with the advertising agency, as well as the legal team, making sure that the packaging is right and they're not breaking any laws. It's really an interesting, unbelievably interesting job. I think it's one of the best business jobs out there. So I'm a huge advocate and I love that I can get back into it through the students in teaching.
JILLIAN BURLEY: I think a lot of people, their preconception of business life is just the boring 9 to 5 desk job. But it sounds like, from your experience, it's different day to day.
KELLY KING: Oh, it's totally different. And that's why you have to have a unique brain, a right and left brain to handle product management and marketing in general because there's the creative side. You could be meeting with the ad agency or, you know, editing copy or proofing something, colors. And next thing you know, you're diving into either analytics reports for social media or you're looking at sales volume and trying to figure out why sales are down or how that coupon, you know, performed and you know, how it's going to affect the future sales. You really have to have your right and left brains working quite competently. But that's what I love. I love variety. So if somebody loves variety, that's a good spot for them.
JILLIAN BURLEY: From Kraft General Foods, you became director of marketing at Biomedix, then started your own agency, then managed a launch of a retail home goods store, then launched 80/20 agency.
KELLY KING: I was acting like a Gen Z-er before Gen Z-ers even existed (laughter), hopping around...
JILLIAN BURLEY: With all that variety.
KELLY KING: Right.
JILLIAN BURLEY: So how would you describe your journey beginning at Kraft General Foods all the way to owning your own business?
KELLY KING: Well, when I came here to Indiana, there wasn't a bunch of, you know, large-packaged goods firms that I could apply to or start working out. And there's just, you know, it's Bloomington and I love Bloomington, but the big jobs for marketing are just not in this city. So that's when I realized - I worked for Biomedix for a while. It's a medical device company. And that was very interesting to be in the medical world. But in that space, it was more geared to sales versus really creative marketing and branding and advertising stuff that I really like to do. And that's when I decided, I think I need to go back to what I'd love to do is the creative side of business and started venturing into being an entrepreneur and starting up my own business. So that's how I ended up with Kelly King Design. And then people thought I was a graphic designer or interior designer. So then I switched to Kelly King Creative thinking, well, maybe that'll help solve that problem. That made me realize I was just pigeonholing myself as just one person and I wanted something bigger. And then I think it was 2011, 2012, when I had the opportunity from my neighbor who said, hey, I've heard that you might be a good candidate to launch my store and help run it. And I didn't know what he was talking about, but it was to launch ETC for the home, which is down on South Walnut Street. It's the home goods store. And I thought, what the heck? It was a recession. Business was not doing very well. It was a big door opening. So I said, what the heck. I will, I'll try this venture. And it was a blast. I really enjoyed the experience, going to a market. If you ever go to ETC For The Home on South Walnut, it's a beautiful store. They have amazing products that sell more high-quality stuff but really, more unique items and unique gifts. And I'd never done retail before. I'd never even run, way back in the day, a cash register. So it was getting all that stuff up and running really quickly and knowing the world of branding and marketing and advertising and retail right from the ground up, from starting the store and pricing the products to going to high point market and selecting furniture. So it was a great experience. I realized it wasn't really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Retail is tough and so I have a new respect for people working the floor. I always ask them, well, when do you get off or how's business? And has it been busy? How's the traffic? Because you just have more of an appreciation for people who work in retail, especially in this day and age, it's really tough. But even back in the day, retail, it's just a tough business.
JILLIAN BURLEY: I want to talk a little bit about 80/20 Agency. First of all, I would love to know what inspired the name for the company?
KELLY KING: I live and breathe the 80-20 rule. Are you familiar with the 80-20 rule?
JILLIAN BURLEY: I'm not.
KELLY KING: So the 80-20 rule is Pareto's principle. And it comes from the theory that 80% of, for instance, in sales, 80% of sales come from 20% of your business. So it's a way of being focused. And if you think of it, there's a terrific book but it's how to live it. For instance, 80% of the time, you wear 20% of the clothes in your closet. From a personal standpoint, you get 80% of your enjoyment from 20% of the people that you know. So it makes you really think, where do you want to focus your time? Where do you want to focus what you're doing? And focus, obviously, in business, where your sales and where you put your, really in, essentially, where your attention is. So it's great for business. And anybody who knows that rule, the mindset of being focused and efficient and frugal, people who noticed it loved the name of my company and my business.
JILLIAN BURLEY: I noticed on your LinkedIn as well that you describe 80/20 Agency as being run by millennials and led by pros. Would you say that the name of the company also applies to that?
KELLY KING: It really does because there's only two of us who are really old school. And I hate to say that Francoise Gagnier, who is my creative director, is old school, but I call it old school smarts and new media minds. The two of us, really running the show with all these millennials and Gen Z-ers who are freelancers and interns and some of them have been on staff right now, they're all interns and freelancers and it works great. The model works great. I also like to say that we're all about launching brands and launching careers. When you're an intern, I can't afford to pay you a lot because in general, I can't have a giant staff and we're a small business here. But what I can give them is experience and training and invest in them and build the resume and build them up to be as marketable as possible compared to other, you know, students out there with real-world experience, working on real projects and really diving deep into everything from social media, doing TV ads, doing radio ads, doing scripts, doing Google ads. They're rolling up their sleeves and doing real work for real clients. That's our model and it seems to work. And yes, the 80-20 rule does apply to the way we run our business.
JILLIAN BURLEY: What was the main inspiration or drive for starting your own marketing company?
KELLY KING: I really like the notion of having control of all of my time. There was a book that I was reading. They had done science or research on what's the personality of an entrepreneur? Why do people want to be entrepreneurs? And one of the common elements is they really don't do this much for the money. And you know, they don't want to take the credit, really. What they really want is control of their time and freedom to do what they want and control their time. And what that usually means is you're working a lot more than, you know, the 9 to 5 but at the end of the day, you know you had control of what you did that day. And if you need to escape and go do something, you have the freedom to do that. And that definitely resonated with me when I went off on my own. I really like that, having control of my workday and my life in general. So that's what inspired me to go out on my own.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE LOOM’S “A SONG OF FAINT PRAISE”)
JILLIAN BURLEY: You're listening to Profiles on WFIU. I'm Jillian Burley. I'm speaking with Kelly King, president and founder of 80/20 Agency and author of the "Gen Z Dictionary."
Do you think that notion of being able to oversee everything yourself and have control over your own business has gotten more popular with the Internet, or would you say it's always been something that's been on people's minds?
KELLY KING: Oh, I would think it's really gotten a lot more popular, especially with the Internet and social media. One of the number one things kids want to be today is either an influencer or a YouTuber. Those are their answers. And those words didn't even exist, whatever, 15 years ago, 10 or 15 years ago. So we've come a long way. And the guys like Gary V are all the popular people that the students are watching, are really encouraging entrepreneurship and have your own side gig. And I think it's a great experience. I've encouraged my children to, you know, do something, run your own business. Don't even worry about making money. Just go through the motion of what it's like to run a business. And the learning is phenomenal. And if you want to go work for somebody, that's great. But I also have a great respect for, you know, when I was working for ETC For The Home, I had a huge respect for just getting a paycheck because like, oh, my gosh, somebody is actually paying me out of their - you know, I'm working for somebody. And you have a new respect when somebody gives you a paycheck that it's coming from somewhere and you're very grateful. But it's a great learning experience. So I do encourage entrepreneurship. And the funny thing is, I think the big companies now are trying to be more entrepreneurial. So that's interesting. So everybody's all about the entrepreneurship, even the big Fortune 500 companies. They have to, to be more nimble.
JILLIAN BURLEY: You mentioned Gary V.
KELLY KING: Yes, I mean, the one I always use is Gary V. And he is out there, but he knows his stuff. Are you familiar with Gary V?
JILLIAN BURLEY: I am.
KELLY KING: Yes. You know, he gets a lot of criticism. And I have my students, he's in one of the assignments. They have to watch one of his, any of his videos out there. He resonates with his audience, which is the younger generation, but he walks and talks social media marketing and branding. And he always has a really strong message, whether it's about entrepreneurship, work ethic or social media, you know, tools, tactics, what's the latest platform? So there's nuggets he's throwing out there and sharing that are just phenomenal and they're for free. And they're very, very current. You just have to filter out his vocabulary, which is not good because it's very - there's a lot of profanity. And I always say make sure you have your ear pods on when you're listening to your video. But I think - he's on the streets and he's doing phenomenal. And he's going to be one of the, I don't know the title, but he is media or marketing person for TikTok. So that just shows you how in tune he is in the marketing and media world.
JILLIAN BURLEY: So many people in the business and marketing world today really push for everyone to have their own personal brand. How would you describe your own personal brand?
KELLY KING: How would I describe my own personal brand? That is a tough one. I would like like to think that I am real and authentic and I have a very honest curiosity in others, my biggest joy is helping other people thrive in whatever they're doing, you know? I like to be behind the scenes and helping someone else succeed with their branding. That's what fuels me. I just get a kick out of that. And I have a genuine interest in people, personally, and their businesses to see them succeed.
JILLIAN BURLEY: I definitely think that plays into 80/20 Agency because you hire so many people who are Millennials and Gen Z-ers. I feel like this is a bit obvious of me to ask. But why? Why choose the younger generation?
KELLY KING: Well, I like the younger generation. And the next thing you know, I'll be talking about the Gen Alpha, which is the next ones after Gen Z. But I think this stage between basically 18 and 24 is one of the most exciting times of your life. That's when you're about to launch. And it's a critical time. And it's just like a brand. I mean, it's like 80 to 90% of new products and new brands fail. So, I mean, if you think of it as personal branding, let's get it right. So you have to define yourself, where you want to position yourself. What do you want to be known for? What's your expertise? And if I can help somebody do that, I think it's really a blast. And it's just fun to see people go out there and learn and help them along the way. It's just an exciting time. I know it's super stressful, and there's lots of anxiety in trying to find a job and all that stuff. But I try to encourage, you know, all the students to embrace the excitement of it. It's nerve-wracking to go to interviews, but it's also a blast. And you'll only really go for those big first-time interviews once. So enjoy the experience.
JILLIAN BURLEY: It is terrifying. But as we talked about earlier, you are in a way mentoring some people, which is really important for those who are coming to college and starting their lives, starting their adult lives. I'm just really happy to hear that that is something that you have a passion for.
KELLY KING: I do. And I just - I'd like to add that I like to encourage people to, you know, swing for the fences. I mean, some people - I don't want them to settle. Like, what you've got to lose, right?
JILLIAN BURLEY: Go for it.
KELLY KING: Go for Google. Go for the big interviews. Go for Facebook. Go for Snapchat. I mean, and they look at me with shock. Like, me? I'm like, yeah, why not you? And there's so much opportunity. I mean, the East and West Coast - they love the Midwest work ethic. So go for those big companies on the East and West Coast and branch out and get out of your box. That's - another thing I encourage people to do is get out of Bloomington, get out of Indiana and experience another part of the world. Swing for the fences and just go for it.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Have you seen an interest in digital marketing rise since the pandemic has started?
KELLY KING: I think, yes, it has accelerated everything digital. The pandemic has really accelerated the change in the world we were all heading towards, probably work from home. And it was starting to be a trend. Companies are realizing, hey, we could save money if we let, you know, some of our staff work from home. Well, bam, next thing you know, it was 80% of us were working from home and maybe not even 20%. I don't know. There was the - essential workers were still working. So, yes, definitely. And digital for sure. I mean, I'm now recommending, you know, digital streaming TV ads, and digital is the way to go. And you can see in the stock market, the cloud computing, those are the stocks that are, you know, taking off. Digital, the cloud, all that kind of stuff was accelerated, exponentially, with the pandemic.
JILLIAN BURLEY: One thing that I definitely noticed researching your experience and your businesses is that you kind of make it a point to say it is woman-founded and woman-owned.
KELLY KING: I think it's just part of being recognized. It's also a - you know, that woman-owned business certification is, you know, federal and statewide initiative to promote that we're considered a minority. And as a matter of fact, it was harder to get that. I mean, just the hoops you have to go through to get that certification I think took me longer than getting my citizenship. So when you see that logo on any woman-owned business website or whatnot, definitely, I realize what that woman has gone through to get those credentials. It's just a way, I think, of being recognized. And from - a reason that they have it is companies are incented to do business with minority businesses. So that's why, sometimes, it helps for them to say, yes, we're using 80/20 Agency, which also happens to be minority-owned business. So they get some type of tax. I don't know if the credit or, you know, whatever it is checking the box that they have a requirement of a corporation. I know IU I believe has that requirement. So having that certification helps and helps - it's supposed to help drum up a whole bunch of, like, federal contracts and whatnot. It really hasn't done that for me. But I do feel very proud of having that certification.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Being so successful in this world, I just wanted to ask. What's next for you in the world of marketing? Do you know yet?
KELLY KING: Who knows? I really am enjoying what I'm doing right now. I'm loving teaching, so I hope I can continue with that, teaching at the two schools. And I would love to do more speaking and sharing my knowledge of I guess marketing, branding. But, really, I love the topic of Gen Z and sharing what this next generation and audience is all about 'cause I'm encouraged by that. And just building 80/20, I would love to see more offices somewhere else in the country or other offices or possibly in Toronto or somewhere else. I think that would be a blast. Who knows? We'll get there. But those are big, big dreams.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE LOOM’S “FOR THE HOOVES THAT GALLOP, AND THE HEELS THAT MARCH”)
JILLIAN BURLEY: You're listening to Profiles on WFIU. I'm Jillian Burley. Our guest is Kelly King.
"The Gen Z Dictionary" is your new publication, and it is exactly what it sounds like. It is a dictionary for all the slang and phrases that come from Gen Z. And I would love to begin our conversation on that by reading the praise for "The Gen Z Dictionary" in the beginning. So there are three quotes here. The first is, “This puts Urban Dictionary to bed. My mother knows too much now. Nothing gets past her anymore. From Megan Ready, concerned daughter.” Love that. Second, “Not only is this book a ton of fun, it illustrates the importance slang plays in our culture. I hope someone has the foresight to place a copy of this book into a time capsule. Future generations will need to decode the digital messages they find in their archeological digs. At some point in time, tea will again just be tea. From John Campbell, father of three Gen Z-ers.” And the last one here – “As a baby boomer who works solely with college student Gen Z-ers, this is an amazing resource for me and my entire staff. Thanks to the 80/20 team for putting this together. It has allowed us to connect in creative and clever ways with our students. From Maureen Biggers, Ph.D.” The thing that, of course, struck me initially about this praise is that you have three different quotes from three different generations.
KELLY KING: Exactly.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Would - you would consider John Campbell - OK. So he's not quite...
KELLY KING: He's probably - he's a very - either a young boomer or an old Xer like me.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Gotcha.
KELLY KING: He's actually the dad of one of my interns. Anna Campbell worked for me on this and helped with the launch. But he was one of our first reviewers, and he got a kick out of it. And so I said, will your dad do a review (laughter)?
JILLIAN BURLEY: That's awesome. I absolutely love that you have three different people from three generations. Why did you choose to do that structure instead of just from three boomers who are just like, yeah, no, I understand what my kids are saying, for example? So why did you choose to do three different?
KELLY KING: I really wanted to show that it's really a fun book for everyone. And the perspective is just totally different from, you know, the baby boomer who is saying, oh, my gosh, you know, it's classic. I'm clueless. This helps me, you know, get a clue of what these young kids are talking about. And then the Gen Zer who is saying, oh, my gosh, I've been exposed. And they almost cringe that, uh-oh, we've been exposed to the world of what we're really talking about. And they want to make sure we get it right. So we put a lot of work into making sure the definitions were accurate, the sentences were spot on because we would have looked totally stupid if we'd got those definitions wrong. So it took us a while. It took us a whole year to get it done.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Yeah, I noticed that. I noticed in the beginning it says that you spent a year collecting phrases and slang to include in this dictionary. And in the intro, you mentioned that it dawned on you that you should write such a dictionary. In your mind, is there a specific moment, you remember, that finally made you say, OK, I have to do this now?
KELLY KING: There was definitely a moment when I decided we need to make a dictionary. I was prepping for a talk down in French Lick. I was talking at an energy conference. And they wanted me to speak about engaging with the younger generation, with Gen Z. So I was researching about Gen Z and whatnot. And I'd already on the side said I had an interest in their lingo just 'cause I work with these Gen Zers all the time, what they were saying. And we had a little spreadsheet going 'cause I wanted to learn their language. And then I was thinking, what can I do to add value? And really - 'cause I was thinking, well, I can give some 80/20 swag, you know, pans or whatever. What would be Gen Z-ish? And then I saw, you know, the spreadsheet. And I thought, oh, my gosh, I could share this language. It's so current and so relevant. And I said, guys, I want to crank out a dictionary to hand out. And they're like, what? And they knew how - this was in three days I was speaking. And I said, we're going to do a dictionary. So, thankfully, I had a very talented designer and - who's Francois Gagnier. Give her props. And James Tanford, who really took the lead on doing the bulk of the definitions and the sentences, which are a riot because he often pulls terminology and references, things from the baby boomer generation. So we did it. We cranked it out thanks to White Rabbit Copy who printed them for me really quickly and threw them in my car. And we went down to French Lick that night. And they were a hit. So I did my talk. But I think what people enjoyed the most was when I handed out these little black dictionaries after I spoke. So then I thought, what can I really do this with thing? Let's see if we can actually get it published. And so that's where it all started.
JILLIAN BURLEY: That's wonderful. You play to the fact that people love free stuff (laughter), you know, at conferences.
KELLY KING: Oh, yeah. People love free stuff.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Let alone one. That is a literal book.
KELLY KING: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. And there was lots of giggles and conversation after. So when you see the audience respond and engaging with your - essentially, your product and your book. You - I knew there was something there. So that really got me excited to make it happen.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Going back to 80/20, do you see most of your employees from Bloomington or from Indiana? Or are there people who you hire from out of state?
KELLY KING: Right now, everybody is from Indiana. I'm trying to think of any - oh, I've had some interns. One was at Kolby. And she did some research and writing and a ton of research on Gen Z for me. She helped me with my - actually, my talk. But most of my interns and staff are right here, local. A few are, you know, photographers down in Bedford, but most people are around here.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Very cool. We got the Hoosier work ethic going on.
KELLY KING: That's right.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Both of us grew up with different slang compared to Gen Z. What were some of the words you remember hearing or saying as a teen that confused your parents or other adults in your life growing up?
KELLY KING: Oh, wow. That's a tough question. I think Gen Z kicked off the word awesome, totally awesome, you know? That was - I don't even know where it really started. But I remember we all started saying, awesome.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Yeah. When you think about it, the word awesome is like this huge word. And I think it has a lot of weight to it. Someone is just in awe. They can't believe it. And now everybody uses it just like, yeah, that shirt is awesome, bro.
KELLY KING: Exactly. Gosh, I can't think of other terms. You're making me curious to want to go back and think of Gen X vocab. We're - Gen X is the smallest generation. So we're kind of just, like, the middle child who just gets neglected I think (laughter). So I can't think of many more terms, you know? It certainly wasn't groovy and all that. That's the baby boomers. So the baby boomers get a lot more attention, and they have more flashy words and recognition than us.
JILLIAN BURLEY: I think it's pretty impossible to talk about Gen Z without talking about social media. So how would you say the evolution of social media has influenced the younger generations to coin this kind of slang and just carry themselves in the Gen Z way?
KELLY KING: Yes, social media has definitely influenced the vocabulary and how people learn these terms. The latest influence has been TikTok. For instance, when I was doing the work to get my book on Amazon, I had to pick categories and keywords. And one of the key words that, actually, the - my consultant said was probably should add TikTok terms. And I hadn't even thought of that. But she was a young millennial, and I would've never thought of it. But it was so right. I mean, a lot of these terms start by hearing them on TikTok or, you know, Instagram stories and whatnot. So I think social media definitely has a huge influence. And they're using, well, with all the little acronyms, like LOL and just - that's a very simple one. But all the acronyms that the kids are using on Twitter and just in texting is a huge influence on their vocabulary.
JILLIAN BURLEY: I have noticed that people who are just slightly younger than me - so I guess they would qualify as Gen Z=ers. Sometimes, instead of laughing, they say LOL out loud. Have you experienced anything like this?
KELLY KING: Oh, yeah.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Or just, like, IDK instead of saying I don't know.
KELLY KING: Exactly, I know. It's funny, yeah.
JILLIAN BURLEY: It is.
KELLY KING: And I'll - my little hashtag is NADM. Usually, it's talking about my daughter 'cause she's a hoot. #NADM never a dull moment because there's something always going on. That's why I aspire to have a shirt, NADM. You're right. People just say the acronyms or the hashtag.
JILLIAN BURLEY: I am guilty of texting. Almost every single text I send, I say LOL just as a way to end the sentence without a period, just say I dyed my hair today, lol.
KELLY KING: Yeah. And, well, and then there's the emoji world. But yeah.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Oh, yeah. That's a whole other animal.
KELLY KING: Some people have - have you ever had a whole conversation with just emojis?
JILLIAN BURLEY: Absolutely, yes.
KELLY KING: Yeah, that's crazy.
JILLIAN BURLEY: I love it.
KELLY KING: That's cray-cray.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Totes cray-cray.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE LOOM’S “FOR ALL MY FRIENDS IN SPRING, FOR ALL MY FRIENDS IN FALL”)
JILLIAN BURLEY: You're listening to Profiles on WFIU. I'm Jillian Burley. I'm speaking with Kelly King, president and founder of 80/20 Agency and author of "The Gen Z Dictionary."
Just the other day, I was talking to a friend of mine who is 21, and she told me I looked snatched. I would love to know if you have heard any of these words that just made you do a double take in the same way.
KELLY KING: Well, first of all, welcome to my world. Like, what are they talking about?
JILLIAN BURLEY: (Laughter).
KELLY KING: Are you're starting to feel old because you don't know what that word is. I mean, the first one was dope. I mean, but that was way back when it was like, wait a minute. Oh, what did you say? That's dope? I'm like, what are we talking about? And of course, that's dope is that's really cool. Just funny ones like, yeah, I've got to go beat my face and, like, you got to what? And, like - and beat my face is put on makeup. So when you put - use that little foam thing to put makeup on, you're beating your face.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Oh.
KELLY KING: So yeah, there's all kinds every day. Well, that's what started it. I mean, just listening to - people talk, you have to pay attention. Like, what is that word you're using?
JILLIAN BURLEY: That party was lit, no cap.
KELLY KING: Yeah, periodt.
JILLIAN BURLEY: It's like, excuse me? Periodt (laughter).
KELLY KING: Yeah, with a T.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Yes, exactly.
KELLY KING: Yeah. You don't hear it, but that's how you write it.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Exactly.
KELLY KING: But you'll notice now people saying, periodt. Like, I heard it a whole bunch yesterday. I thought, wow, everybody's saying periodt today.
JILLIAN BURLEY: No, just, like, periodt. Periodt what? Oh, my gosh. Why is everything so absolute right now (laughter)? I guess the most general question about the dictionary is what kind of influence do you want to have on those who read "The Gen Z Dictionary"?
KELLY KING: Primarily, I want them to be entertained. I just - and I think it's entertaining and engaging. I think the more you can engage with your younger people, whether it's your son or daughter or your co-worker or your students. And I always get a reaction when I'll drop one of the words. And all of a sudden, they think, oh, my gosh, she knows me. She knows us. It makes you relatable and just informs the connection. You don't want to try to be - I do it very much to be funny instead of trying to be really cool. I'm not trying to be cool 'cause I know there's no way. But they appreciate my effort to try to know their world. And bottom line, it's to engage the generations.
JILLIAN BURLEY: As a mom of two Gen Z-ers and someone who works with Gen Z-ers and millennials, what makes that generation unique?
KELLY KING: Gen Z is amazing. I am in awe of how different they are from both the millennials and I think the Gen Xers. And they're most like the baby boomers. Fortune magazine coined him - coined them as the next greatest generation. And I completely see why. They are very socially aware. They are basically socially liberal but very fiscally conservative. They are very much in tune with getting a steady job. They're less entrepreneurial than the millennials. They are OK. They just want a steady job, not to say they won't have a side gig. But they are very hardworking and strong morals, ethics. They hold brands and themselves but brands - I know that from the world of marketing - to a very high standard. And I use the example of when I was growing up, brands persuaded you to buy them to be cool. For instance, Nike. I've had, you know, those first pair of Nike white shoes with the blue swish just so I could be cool in ninth grade. But now the students buy Nike because of how socially conscious they are and the statements that they're making. And they - it's not just Nike. But they're pushing all brands to be more like people. And that's - what I teach in terms of branding is to have morals and character and take a stance on something. So I think you're going to start seeing a lot more of that. It's already out there, but I think we're going to see it more and more. But back to Gen Z, they bottom-line crave authenticity. They're not about trying to be something they're not. They're not fake. They really like things that are real. Authenticity is the big word. They don't like things overproduced. When it comes to influencers, they like real-world - real influencers versus, you know, the movie stars that we all used to follow. The brands are doing more brand deals now with the, you know, micro- or nanoinfluencers because they have more connection to their audience, and they are more essentially authentic. Bottom line, they're just more hardworking, old-school-type people, old souls in these little bodies with this cool terminology and slang that they have going on. But they have very short attention spans. They can multitask. Their skill set is off the charts. I mean, they stuff - they're coming out of college so skilled. It's phenomenal. So I am very encouraged by Gen Z. And I think our world is in good hands if we turn some things over to them. And I feel confident that they're going to take us in the right direction. So I'm thrilled to work with them. And I'm feeling very comfortable with the future of our world with Gen Z.
JILLIAN BURLEY: I am so happy to hear that you have kind things to say about them because I feel like many people just view them as phones glued to their face who have no critical thinking skills. It's great to hear that someone can shine a different kind of light on them.
KELLY KING: Well, when you see them with their phones in their faces, a lot of times, they're just reading. And they love to read, and they want to gather information. They like to research. So, I mean, they're watching silly whatever - memes and YouTube and stuff. I'm sure they're being entertained. And we're all - we all have our outlets, but it's good to know that when they want to know something, they dive deep. And they do like to read. So that's good to know.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Back to your point about authenticity and influencers, I think the concept of "selling out," quote, unquote, is almost not a thing anymore because people now just see it as, oh, yeah, you're doing this because you need money like the rest of us. And it's not a worry that you use your Instagram just to, for example, promote a skin care product. Would you agree with that?
KELLY KING: I would absolutely agree with that. And the influencers and the influencer business know they will get busted by their audience if they're not authentic. So they're very aware of what would be authentic or to stay authentic because they need to - and they are turning down brand deals that would not be authentic. No, I'm not going to support that product. No, I would never use that. And the good ones know how to select. And those are the brands that resonate or those are the influencers that the brands resonate to. So they totally get that. And good for them, you know, on being accountable and being real.
JILLIAN BURLEY: Absolutely. I think every Gen Z-er with social media - which is probably all of them.
KELLY KING: For sure.
JILLIAN BURLEY: They work on their own personal brand. And in some ways, it could be a lot easier just through social media.
KELLY KING: People would rather have somebody who's authentic and with a strong connection with an audience and a certain topic than somebody who's just buying followers or just happens to have a whole bunch of followers but doesn't really take a stance or have a focus and is really authentically trying to communicate and share information in an authentic way and just trying to get the deals.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE LOOM’S “GIVE UP THE GHOST”)
JILLIAN BURLEY: Well, Kelly King, thank you so much.
KELLY KING: Thanks so much. This has been a blast. The time flew by, and it was so fun to talk to you.
JILLIAN BURLEY: I've been speaking today with Kelly King, president and founder of 80/20 Agency and author of "The Gen Z Dictionary." I'm Jillian Burley. Thanks for listening.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: For more information about Profiles, including archives of past shows, go to wfiu.org/Profiles. Profiles is a production of WFIU and comes from the studios of Indiana University. The producer is Jillian Burley. The studio engineer is Michael Paskash. The executive producer is John Bailey. Please join us again next week for another edition of Profiles.