Belying the myth that today's youngsters don't read for pleasure,
magazines are leading a huge surge in teen and tween media outlets.
Standard bearers such as Boy's Life, Teen, Seventeen, and Tiger Beat
have encouraged many youths to read magazines. Then, the successful
launch of Teen People a few years ago prompted a flood of adult media
brands to re-package their formula for this exploding market. This led
to titles like Cosmo Girl, Elle Girl, and Teen Vogue.
Even more encouraging was the launch of MH-18, a spin-off of Men's
Health, one of the first product-driven lifestyle magazines for teen
boys. Though that magazine closed after only five issues, and several
similar recent ventures - such as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's
magazine - failed, many well-known brands such as MTV are still strongly
considering entry into the teen and tween print arena.
"Teen girls have always read magazines," explains Illene Siemer, who
runs the youth marketing division of Weber Shandwick Worldwide. "But
teen boys are also starting to read more as publishers realize that it
wasn't that they didn't want to read, it was just that they didn't have
the magazines to read."
Growing with its audience
What makes the teen and tween media outlets so popular these days is not
just the billions of dollars this group currently has in disposable
income, but also what they will spend in the future. "Teens establish
brand loyalty at an early age," says Temi Sacks, president of New
York-based T.J. Sacks & Associates, in explaining why so many companies
are so eager to reach this group.
In many ways, teens and tweens (defined as aged 8-14) are still
developing their tastes, and thus are far more likely to look to outside
sources for advice on what to wear, what makeup to use, what music to
buy, what gadgets to own, and even which celebrities to adore. That
means reporters and editors in this space are constantly looking for new
products and trends, making them ideal targets for PR campaigns.
"Teen outlets, and especially the teen girl magazines, are more
receptive to pitches than a lot of general interest reporters, because
they are so product-focused," says Siemer. "The kids want what's new,
and it's the editorial staff's job to find out what that is."
While there are some editors in their 30s and 40s writing for youth
magazines, Kim Flanagan, VP at Lane Marketing Communications, says teen
and tween reporters and editors "tend to be younger than your typical
journalist." Flanagan adds that can make them more open to creative
pitches, such as a recent Lane media outreach to teen girl outlets on
behalf of Nike, which involves an ongoing storyline that includes Nike
But Sarah Bessette, account supervisor with Access Communications in New
York, says it's a misperception to assume that there is some sort of
kiddie corps in charge of these outlets. "We noticed that many tend to
be similar to the journalists at women's fashion magazines," she
"They really understand the market they are reaching."
Serving your readers' needs
One characteristic of that market is its fickleness. Wendy Watson, SVP
and leader of Porter Novelli's youth marketing practice, points out many
of the teen and tween editors at long-lead publications face the added
pressure of having to anticipate what will be hot in a few months, no
easy feat given the short shelf life of some youth fads.
For the most part, outlets aimed at youth tend to focus on upbeat "good
news" features and stories, but these reporters do deserve credit for
evolving with the times. YM magazine, for example, initially stood for
"Young Miss." Later that was changed to "Young & Modern," and now it
stands for "Your Magazine." While they may never resemble Cosmopolitan
for content, the outlets are trying to take on the role of an elder
sibling as they delicately educate their readers in the areas of
sexuality and relationships, as witnessed by a recent YM cover story on
how to hide a hickey.
It's also important to realize that the audience for teen magazines
isn't quite what it seems. Since most teens are aspirational, magazines
aimed at one demographic are often read by a slightly younger one. By
the time a boy or girl reaches 17, they are often turning to young adult
outlets such as Maxim, Rolling Stone or Glamour.
In turn, "a lot of the 17 and 18 magazines are being read by youths
starting at age 13 or 14 who are trying to emulate their older brothers
and sisters," explains Ron Antonette, Golin/Harris' VP of youth
marketing and brand strategies. Ditto for the tween outlets whose
readership extends down to as young as age eight.
Adding substance to the style
A common misperception is that magazines aimed at teen or tween
audiences are exclusively celebrity- or fashion-driven. Many have been
willing to tackle tough issues such as eating disorders and birth
control. "There are magazines that want to offer more substantial
stories," says Jen Dobrzelecki, account supervisor with Nichol &
Company, which represents Valvoline Instant Oil Change service
Dobrzelecki was able to pitch Valvo-line in a piece on young women
working in predominantly male jobs. The story, which editors eventually
turned into cool jobs for teenagers, ended up in Teen People and
Seventeen. In turn, that led local affiliates in Houston and Pittsburgh
to interview two of the girls featured in the national stories.
Among the leading journalists in teen and tween media are Lauren Beckham
Falcone of the Boston Herald, Seventeen editor-in-chief Annmarie
Iverson, Brandon Holley, editor of the recently launched Elle Girl, and
Tommi Lewis Tilden of Teen.
Ironically, PR execs say TV and radio, where many teens and pre-teens
spend their time, are far harder markets to crack. When an outlet such
as MTV covers a new product, it's usually part of an ad campaign or
product-placement effort. The same goes for radio, where even the banter
of local DJs may be scripted and paid for in some way. "With this
audience, you really have to blur the line between publicity and
promotion," says Antonette.
"There are editorial opportunities that can be had by doing promotional
And while this is supposed to be the digital generation that spends more
time online, teen-centric websites seem to come and go on almost a
monthly basis, making it hard to come with a comprehensive online media
outreach program. "There are so many sites that the kids go to, that
there's no one site to focus on," says Golin/Harris' Negin Kamali. "It's
worth the effort to be at an Alloy or a Sports Illustrated for Kids site
because they are trafficked by a cooler, younger crowd." But Kamali adds
that many of the most popular sites for teens are often general-interest
outlets, which can make it inefficient for pitching solely to an
Of course, the other way to reach this group is through their
Access' Bessette represents the tween chain Limited Too and was able to
get the retailers' clothing featured on a number of back-to-school
fashion pieces in outlets ranging from the Chicago Sun Times to morning
But she warns that, obviously, parents and teens don't always agree on
fashion. For example, when Limited Too's celebrity stylist Stephanie
Wolf, who's helped design looks for Britney Spears and Christina
Aguilera, appeared on Good Morning America, she was asked whether such
clothing is appropriate for teens, and if these girls should be looking
to celebrities for fashion guidance. "Luckily," Bessette says, "we had
briefed her that the best response was that it needs to be a mutual
decision between girls and their parents."
WHERE TO GO
Newspapers: Boston Herald; Los Angeles Times; USA Today; college and
Magazines: Seventeen; Teen; YM; Boy's Life; Teen People; Cosmo Girl;
Teen Vogue; Stuff; Tiger Beat; Twist; American Girl; Discovery Girl; Boy
Crazy!; J-14; J-17; Girl's Life; Latin Girl; Sports Illustrated for
Kids; Rolling Stone; Spin
TV & Radio:
MTV; local radio stations
Internet: Alloy; Bolt; Seventeen.com; Teen.com; Twistmagazine.com;
Fashionteen.com; Terrifichick.com; SIforKids.com.