‘Millennials Don’t Do Conferences — They Attend Experiences’

Conservative leaders, listen up: 'Events should feel less like job fairs and be more like technology festivals,' says this duo

Baby boomers in this country are no longer the majority of the electorate — yet they control the message and the microphone in quite a few venues.

Millennials will sway elections for the next 30 years. Yet the 45th annual CPAC, held recently outside Washington, D.C., did not inspire millennials. And the number-one pain point for young people — student loans — did not even come up once during the convention.

Sure, the event was packed with the usual conservative titans, influencers and celebrities revered by the movement. The star-studded event did not disappoint, to be sure. But apart from the Ben Shapiro types, CPAC did not feature the voices, stories or challenges that resonate with America’s largest generation.

It’s no longer a strategy to pray that they don’t show up to vote. Simply and directly put: If Republicans don’t engage with millennial voters, it will cost them their 2018 and 2020 victories.

Walking around this year’s CPAC, one wouldn’t know that millennials are the biggest opportunity for conservatives. Were there CPAC attendees under the age of 35? Of course. Yet the CPAC brand of millennial wearing baggy, untailored suits and penny loafers does not reflect our generation. Conservatives will always win the old-soul millennials who think and dress like their parents — but what about the others?

We’re talking about fiscal conservatives who are emerging libertarians and “unknowing” Republicans. 

They are the side hustlers, the self-improvement junkies, the work-through-the-night 20- and 30-somethings. These are the millennials who will determine the next Congress and the next president.

We have long been CPAC super fans. As students, we would self-fund our trips to sit in awe of our political heroes. They taught the principles of small government, roasted Democrats for being hypocrites, and made us remember why we were conservative.

Related: Millennials’ Hidden Opportunity for Career Success

If we’re honest, it’s why the two of us go back each year. And although CPAC has become a type of conservative summer camp for our fellow conference-goers, it has not become a place that millennials feel welcome.

But it’s not too late. Like the rest of the conservative movement, CPAC wants to reach young people. Leaders, including CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp, have meant well.

They want what’s best for America and for future generations. Along with everyday Americans, they have set back the clock on progressivism for at least the next five years — and we hope even longer. Our generation owes them a tremendous debt.

Related: No-Joke Threats Against Conservatives on Campus

That said, here’s how elements of the conservative movement can capture millennials’ hearts — and their votes.

1.) Make it about them, not you. The movement has long asked American voters to “join us!” That worked for previous generations that longed for association and a sense of belonging. However, that same “join us” rallying cry won’t work for millennials. They are the first generation in American history to consider themselves political independents — not Republicans or Democrats.

Rather than trying to make them conservative converts, the movement must make these millennials ambassadors. It must empower and inspire this generation to share the message in their own words — not with bumper stickers, yard signs or campaign slogans.

2.) Make it an experience. CPAC makes the same mistake as every other old-school event. It calls itself a “conference.” As millennial strategists ourselves, we have worked with organizations of every size to understand what motivates the millennial generation. Here’s what we can tell you: Millennials will attend your events, vote for your candidates, and buy your message — when you stop making it a “conference.”

Millennials don’t do conferences; they attend experiences. Conservative events should feel less like a job fair and be more like technology, innovation and entrepreneurship festivals. Think South By Southwest meets TED.

Conservative events must be more than a rallying cry to get and keep millennials. They must simultaneously inspire and equip a new generation to apply conservative principles to their campuses, coffee shops, and gastro pubs.

Make the event entertaining and community-oriented. Millennials want to be challenged intellectually and learn new skills. Rather than making CPAC all about politics — make it about “making America great again.” Have artists paint caricatures of eventgoers; hold concerts every night; include food trucks to give participants places to create community. Do the things that reflect the kind of America for which we’re all fighting.

3.) Make it immersive. At many conferences, people sit, they listen, they leave. Millennials engage with events that involve them from top to bottom. Conservative events must be more than a rallying cry to get and keep millennials. They must simultaneously inspire and equip a new generation to apply conservative principles to their campuses, coffee shops, conference rooms, and gastro pubs.

While at CPAC, President Donald Trump addressed a roaring crowd, warning conservatives that if they become complacent they will lose the Republican majority in Congress. It’s going to take more than action to guarantee victory. It’s going to take strategy.

As millennials, we see the potential partnership between our generation and conservatives. The wisdom of former generations is invaluable, as is the legacy of the conservative movement. But it’s time to hand over the keys — before millennials take them and put them in a different door.

Brian Bosché and Gabrielle Bosché, a husband-and-wife team, run Millennial Solution, a millennial strategy firm for Fortune 500s, nonprofits, and political organizations. They are based in Washington, D.C.