THE TOP 150 PR CONSULTANCIES 2000: Reputations - The scene that gets you heard. As mainstream agencies and niche specialists battle it out for a share of the youth market, PR Week asks: who has really got their finger on the pulse of youth culture?

The past few years have seen a host of specialist agencies springing up with the sole intention of targeting the elusive youth market. Likewise, many established agencies, including Hill and Knowlton and Charles Barker, have established dedicated youth marketing divisions of their own.

The past few years have seen a host of specialist agencies

springing up with the sole intention of targeting the elusive youth

market. Likewise, many established agencies, including Hill and Knowlton

and Charles Barker, have established dedicated youth marketing divisions

of their own.

But can the big agencies really get close enough to generation Y to have

an influence? And conversely, can the painfully cool niche agencies do

the business for blue-chip clients who want to make an impact on the


Sue Crowley, who formed her own boutique, Kazoo, with partner Karen

Mander four years ago says: ’The look is all important. You’re not going

to get (youth opinion formers such as) Keith Flint of The Prodigy

talking to a grey suit. You’ve got to be up all night drinking with a

band to gain their trust. I tell my staff, if you come to work early,

then you’re not doing your job properly.’

It is hard to argue with Crowley’s logic when she reels off heavyweight

clients including Sony, Guinness and Allied Domecq, all eager to gain

the necessary street cred to tap into this lucrative market.

Big agencies may be more used to servicing these kinds of clients but

Dan Holliday, Hill and Knowlton board director and head of its youth

marketing division HKYM, admits that they have often come a cropper in

the cool factor. However he insists there is a place for traditional

agencies in the youth marketing mix. It isn’t just about trendy brands

like Red or Dead. It’s about banking and healthcare wanting to reach out

to this market.’ However, he admits there is still some way to go before

the agency can boast the same kudos as the smaller boutiques.

Kevin Redfern, associate director of Slam, the youth marketing arm of

Charles Barker BSMG, agrees that brands wanting to target the youth

market get a wider offering from established agencies, including formal


Youth consultancy Cake celebrated its first anniversary at the end of

March and has already attracted media attention in its own right,

including a company profile in the Observer magazine. The company

includes PR and youth marketing wing FFI, stunt and guerrilla marketing

operation Ground Control, and events and party specialist The

Persuaders. Staff come from all walks of life and include club

promoters, advertising executives, designers, actors, fashion buyers, as

well as PR practitioners from Freud, Red Rooster and Jackie Cooper

Recent campaigns include the Evian Swimming Pool at music festival

Creamfields; the UK launch of Pokemon and the launch of the new Virgin

Megastore in Glasgow.

Cake managing director Mike Mathieson says: ’Small agency culture has a

far better grasp on the youth market. We are not hindered by the

ludicrous red tape some of the bigger agencies throw up, and we are not

compromised by a client base made up of blue chip companies.’

Another youth expert, Third Planet, has a similarly high-profile roster

of clients including Vans, Ben and Jerry’s and the World Cup

Skateboarding Champion-ships. MD Geoff Glendenning says: ’We have

skaters and snowboarders working for us, as well as a graffiti artist.

If a brand wants to build credibility by an association with a key area

of lifestyle culture, then it is essential to use an agency which will

be a good ambassador within the grass roots culture with which the brand

wants to associate. Many big agencies are starting to build youth

divisions, but the brands which will give an agency the highest levels

of credibility wouldn’t touch a big agency with a rolled up Chanel


To find out which agencies have most credibility PR Week conducted a

straw poll of agency peers and journalists. First we asked: who do the

youth marketers look up to among their peers? Among the larger agencies,

Freud was mentioned most often, while Cake and Slice, the hip music

agency run by Damien Mould, were both praised as specialists. Cake’s

Mathieson mentioned Slice, adding that he likes the work of Third Rail

’because they are innovative’, Talk Loud and Kazoo. His favourites,

however, are Radar, headed by Lorna Milliken, whose clients include Nike

and others in the surf, skate and snowboard market, and Milk, the

creative, rather than PR, agency headed by directors Elliott Chaffer,

Dave Smith and Tim Hodgson, whose clients include Budweiser, Nike and


At Henry’s House - which numbers Tango, American Airlines, pop group S

Club 7, Jamie Theakston and Ginger TV’s The Priory among its clients -

managing director Julian Henry is one of those who admires Freud


’They are great for big spend events and have the expertise and the

contacts. I also like Sainted (a music specialist started by Heather

Findlay a year ago) and Hall or Nothing (another music specialist, run

by Terri Hall) whose clients include Oasis, and Cake is very good,

particularly for live music events with sponsorship.’

So much for the industry’s own assessment of its coolest players.

However, the real test of how credible an agency is can only come from

the opinion formers who work with youth agencies on a daily basis.

Steve McKenna is a senior broadcast journalist, working on news and

entertainment shows across BBC Radio One, UK Play, News 24 and ITV2. He

says: ’Cake are fantastic. The agency has an intrinsic understanding of

what makes good TV and radio.’

At Top Of The Pops magazine, editor Corinna Shaffer says she rates

Henry’s House highly. While at the music bible NME, live reviews editor

James Oldham says: ’I like Bad Moon (a specialist music agency) because

they are friendly, fun, competent and don’t hassle you unduly.’

Emma Warren, hype editor at The Face says: ’I really rate Sainted.

They’ve got an excellent roster, so you actually want to speak to them

to see who they are dealing with.’

As the youth marketing sector expands, it looks like the small

specialists are stealing a march on the bigger agencies when it comes to

being at the centre of the action. But as the consolidation of the

industry continues, it remains to be seen how nimble the hip hotshops

are at avoiding the clutches of the PR giants.

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