Media Analysis: Teen girls prove tough audience

In a world of constant communication through the internet and mobile phones, teen girls' magazines have to work hard to keep up. Clare O'Connor reports.

The past few years have not been kind to the teen magazines that for decades were the arbiter of youth culture in the UK. Pioneering titles Smash Hits!, The Face and J17 are no more, while Natmags scrapped Cosmogirl! in 2007, the last in a long line of household names to close its doors. Much-hyped US import Ellegirl barely caused a ripple in the teen sector before being scrapped in 2006.

While many readers in the all-important PR target market of 12- to 18-year-olds have migrated online, or to 'grown-up' women's titles such as Glamour and Cosmopolitan, there are a few teen magazines still clinging on - and, in some cases, thriving. ABC data for July to December 2007 puts Mizz up more than 18 per cent year on year, despite a general downward trend in print magazine circulation.

The success of teen mega-brands Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers and the cast of Disney franchise High School Musical can take some credit for driving a new generation of girls to the newsstands. However, according to the acting editor of Sugar, it is dangerous to rely on the heartthrob of the moment to draw in teen consumers - which makes the job of the PRO that much more difficult. 'What was "in" or cool last month can be completely naff next month,' explains Susan Riley, who moved to Sugar from fellow young women's title More earlier this year.

The best bet for PROs, say those who have pitched to teen mags, is to understand that teenage girls are just as concerned with their own insecurities as they are with celebrity gossip, fashion and beauty. 'Clothes and trends play a big part in how they express themselves,' says Riley. 'They also want answers to a multitude of worries: boys, spots, exams, arguments with friends.'

Ruth Sparkes, in-house PR officer at Cornwall College, took advantage of this need for advice to secure a regular slot in Bliss. Realising the further education college itself was not a 'particularly sexy' story, she put lecturer and social worker Glynis Kelly forward to answer questions on topics such as dating and parents' divorce. 'She has been at the college for 20 years, so there is little she hasn't seen,' says Sparkes.

It is possible, however, to capitalise on teenage girls' love of celebrities - as long as care is taken when choosing the face of a campaign. One-time teen queens Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, for example, have fallen out of favour as role models, thanks to stints in rehab and high-profile breakdowns. When Fishburn Hedges decided to use a celebrity link to gain coverage for government drugs information campaign FRANK, it chose the squeaky clean stars of Hollyoaks. The teenage cast launched a series of FRANK vodcasts on the risks of drug use, which made it onto Sugar's website in the 'cool stuff' section. The agency has also worked with Bliss and More. 'Celebrity links can really enhance teen media campaigns, but they have to be managed well,' says Fishburn Hedges consultant Nicky Gaskell.

Of course, as teens migrate online and link with friends on MySpace and Bebo, magazines have had to adapt. 'The teen girl market has always been a tough one to reach,' agrees Andrew Bloch, who has pitched to Sugar, Bliss and their competitors on behalf of consumer clients at Frank PR. 'There are fewer offline titles than ever to target, so the web provides the greatest PR opportunities. Many of the magazines have online versions, but it is important to approach them as separate entities to their offline counterparts.'

Bloch says Revlon has done well grabbing the attention of teen girls online, creating a dedicated MySpace area to promote its Charlie fragrance. 'You have to communicate in an environment that allows them to identify with their peers,' he says. Chris McCafferty, ex-PR chief at MySpace and now a director at Shine Communications, agrees: 'The advantage of social networks is interactivity. You can place content or brands into the heart of teen conversations.'

QUICK FACTS - SUGAR

Frequency: Monthly

Audience: 157,260 (ABC audit, 2007)

Deadlines: Sugar starts planning each issue three months before its sale date

CONTACTS

Competitions: Kate Wills, features assistant, kate.wills@sugarscape.com

Online: Alexandra Zagalsky, web editor, alex@sugarscape.com

Features: Laura MacBeth, features editor, laura.macbeth@sugarscape.com.

TWO MINUTES WITH THE EDITOR - SUSAN RILEY, acting editor, Sugar

- Who is the Sugar reader? Has she changed?

Our readers are 12- to 17-year-old girls who want relevant information, entertainment and reassurance. Their world revolves around their friends, family and school life. What's new is that they now live on a diet of constant communication through the internet and mobiles. We've adapted to that, first with sugarmagazine.co.uk and now with our new networking and bookmarking site, sugarscape.com.

- What should PROs know before pitching to you? Essentially, is a teenage girl going to be interested in, or able to afford, whatever is being pitched? Will it offer her an amazing experience or make her the envy of her friends? Competitions with prizes for her and her mates are popular: unique experiences, shopping sprees and holidays.

- Are there any particularly PR-able sections of Sugar or sugarscape.com? Sponsorship opportunities are rife. Competition prizes are a great and simple way to get coverage. Our website also does sample testing for beauty products.

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