But there are still offline touch points where PR can play a role in delivering messages to the 13- to 19-year old demographic.
The first thing you must understand, says Access Communications SVP Tuesday Uhland, is that you need different strategies for targeting teens depending on gender, and that teen girls are still accessible through traditional channels, such as print and TV.
"If you look at the top 20 magazines
aimed at teens, most of them are for girls," Uhland says. "For teen males, the strategy we take is to go after... older books and hope that there's an aspirational pull."
Michael Olguin, president of Formula PR, says you can also reach the teen demographic through TV, especially on music/ entertainment programming found on MTV, but adds it can be challenging for PR, given that many of the products featured on these shows tend to be tied to marketing or promotional deals. "You can still get onto something like The Hills, but you have to be working well in advance with a full-court press effort," he says.
Alisa Feinstein, VP and account supervisor at Ketchum West, says one way of getting traction in both teen-centric TV and print is by using a celebrity hook. "Celebrities do help in getting coverage in magazines like J-14 or M," she adds.
But Feinstein warns that relying on celebrities can be a double-edged sword, noting that many of the top young stars that teens might identify with have been linked to scandals recently. "You really have to be careful... not to put all your eggs in one basket and pick that celebrity endorser, and then something goes wrong the next day, which can tarnish your brand," she adds.
Olguin argues that targeting teens offline means shifting away from traditional media outreach and focusing more on grassroots and experiential strategies. "You're going to need an event or alternative PR," he advises. "For teen boys, that includes surfing, skiing, snowboarding, and skating - or other types of extreme sports."
It also means leveraging the sources teens tend to trust the most - other teens. Ed James, president of the PR division at New York-based Cornerstone, says, "We have college-age students who the take the latest CD, game, movie, or nonalcoholic beverage to places where teens hang out, such as a sneaker or record store. They can be much more effective because it's their friends and their peer group."
James notes that these market-by-market campaigns can often take longer to build. He adds that Cornerstone's team of early adopters also have to like the products they are touting. "It has to be... authentic, or else this audience will feel like they're being barreled over with a message," he adds.
Feinstein adds that it's important to reach teens in a place where they traditionally hang out and feel comfortable.
"You've got to figure out a way to enhance an experience the kids are already engaged in, not disrupt it," Feinstein says. "Engaging teens in groups - their ultimate comfort zone - builds powerful word-of-mouth and meaningful, emotional connections between them and the brand."
Alan Rambam, Fleishman-Hillard senior partner for agency's NGT/Youth Marketing division, adds that where the message is being delivered is just as important as who is delivering it.
"Keep in mind that offline still spurs a lot of their online activity," he adds. "So you can do tip guides on things like back to school or the prom, and then do outreach with teens at retailers like Barnes & Noble, at the mall, or on a campus."
- Develop separate strategies for teens depending on gender. Females can be reached through magazines or TV, but males need a grassroots approach
- Focus on where teens are - malls, retailers, and campuses
- Pitch to an older crowd. Teens are aspirational, so you can reach them in magazines that are aimed at 20-somethings
- Rely too heavily on a celebrity hook. It can get the attention of teen-focused editors, but a celeb's mishap may impact your brand
- Just tell teens about a brand. Pick strategies and venues where they can experience it
- Lump all teens in one pitch. There's a big difference between a 13-year-old living at home and a freshman at college