MEDIA ROUNDUP: Coverage of baby boomers matures

As the baby boom generation gets older, media outlets attempt to cover the issues concerning those 40 and up without making them feel old. David Bunnell is something of a media visionary, founding PC World and MacWorld in the 1980s and then serving as CEO of Upside during the internet boom of the 1990s. Now Bunnell believes he has found the next big thing - baby boomers and their health.

As the baby boom generation gets older, media outlets attempt to cover the issues concerning those 40 and up without making them feel old. David Bunnell is something of a media visionary, founding PC World and MacWorld in the 1980s and then serving as CEO of Upside during the internet boom of the 1990s. Now Bunnell believes he has found the next big thing - baby boomers and their health.

Bunnell is preparing to launch LongLifeClub, a new organization and website focusing on diet, exercise, supplements, and other information related to longevity. While he will start off with an editorial and e-commerce website, Bunnell wants his club to eventually have meetings, events, and even physical locations. "My whole premise started with baby boomers who are getting older and are much more interested in health and exercise and lifestyle than the generation before us," he says.

It might not actually be the case that "60 is the new 30," as model Lauren Hutton declared last year, but the baby boom generation, now ages 39 to 59, is poised to present traditional media with a real dilemma - how to cover a demographic that resists being labeled as old or aging.

Targeting baby boomers

Bob Brody, SVP and media specialist with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, notes that there are few media outlets that readily admit to being baby boomer-oriented, but, he adds, that does not mean the coverage isn't there. "There are an ample number of media outlets that focus on baby boomers, for example, the newsweeklies," he says. "The average reader of the newsweeklies is somewhere between 45 and 50."

But Paul Kleyman, editor of Aging Today, says the media has picked up on the fact that boomers don't want to be treated like their parents. "They are targeting this demographic with lots of pizzazz, and some people have pointed out that they avoid using certain words such as 'boomer,'" he says. "Most of the coverage of baby boomers is absorbed into the mainstream media, but I still see lots of resistance and debate within the media over whether or not to stay focused on the 18 to 49 demographic."

Dennis Collins, SVP and GM of three Jefferson Pilot Communications Company radio stations in Florida, is an advocate for the over-50 consumer, which he calls the "master consumers." He says much of the debate over how much coverage to devote to baby boomers as they age is being driven by the advertising community, which has traditionally been more youth focused.

Collins points out that a simple economic reality might be forcing both the ad community and the media they support to change. "The one thing that is clear is that the people with money today are age 45, 50, and older," he says.

Taking a new approach

Stacey Bender, president of the New Jersey-based Bender-Hammerling Group, says that one of the dilemmas facing the media is that boomers don't want to be treated as if they're old. That's a reasons why a publication like More, which is aimed at women 40 and up, isn't a big priority for many of her clients, she says.

"Boomers want to read what the 30-year-olds read," Bender adds. "They want publications that make them feel good and look good, so while I don't think they're reading Teen People, they're definitely still reading People. They figure there's plenty of time to be a senior."

Kleyman points out that even the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is tweaking its approach as baby boomers begin reaching age 50 and up en masse. Not only did it change the title of its publication, Modern Maturity, to AARP - The Magazine, but it's also begun publishing three versions of the bi-monthly magazine - one each for people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. And the March/April issue of the magazine aimed at 50-somethings had the cover tag line, "Help! My Husband Loves Porn," which a generation ago would've been unheard of in media for an older demographic.

Brody predicts that boomers will stay a major topic of the general interests because many of the journalists are boomers themselves. "The Me Generation continues to cover itself," he says. "And these reporters and editors, to the extent that they can, want to write about the things that they find interesting. So I suspect that coverage of boomers will not only increase but increase exponentially."

Pitching... baby boomers

  • Baby boomers don't want to be treated as if they're old, so avoid code words like "elderly," "senior," and even "boomer" when pitching stories aimed at them.

  • Reach out to personal finance, personal technology, health, and fashion reporters with story ideas aimed at this group.

  • TV, with its obsession with 18-to-49-year-olds, might be the toughest target, but there are plenty of lifestyle and women's lifestyle programs that are willing to deal with stories about people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.

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