Interview: Angela Modzelewski

PETA youth marketing coordinator

PETA youth marketing coordinator

While People for Ethical Treatment of Animals may get headlines for its clashes with corporations and celebrity advocates posing nude, the youth marketing arm of the group has been consistently educating and entertaining its followers by keeping on pace with trends.

Modzelewski talked with PRWeek.com about youth website PETA 2, how she empowers young animal rights enthusiasts to spread the message, and how she gets the ear of influential people.

Q. How would you describe PETA 2?

A. PETA 2 is the youth division of PETA. It encompasses youth marketing and outreach for the 13-24 year-old demographic.

Q. Within the PETA organization, what are the differences and similarities between outreach to youth and adults?

A. We have some different tactics. We're obviously not going to do a "Got Beer" campaign for 13 year-olds or the "naked" ads for 15-year-old boys. We're more oriented towards figuring out where kids are, and going there, so we can answer their questions about animal rights. A lot of kids want to know the truth, and they aren't going to get facts about the fur, meat, and fast-food industries on television or in school. We go to the concerts and skateboarding demos they attend and [pitch] the magazines they read, so we can give them access to the information they want about animal rights.

Q. So is it safe to say that PETA 2 has to be relatively hip?

A. Yes [laughs]. We keep up to date with what bands and TV shows are popular and what kids are wearing. Our department is relatively young, we're mostly people who are 20, 21, or 22 years old. It's fun because we get to work with bands and movie stars.

Q. PETA 2 snags a lot of interviews with bands and actors. In a general sense, how does the outreach work?

A. Lately, more of the bands have been approaching us because they care about animals and want to get involved. We're gaining a lot of traction in the music industry. We have about 80 bands contacting us every week, wanting to know how they can get involved. We're working with record labels like SubPop and Fat Records, and we always meet people when we're out on the road. We meet them and find out what their interests are. With [indie rock band] The Fiery Furnaces, I approached them because I liked the band and knew they had a song, My dog was lost but now he's found. I was curious about how they felt about animal issues. So I called up their publicist, and she said that [band member] Matt [Friedberger] would love to do an interview.

Q. How have you found the interaction with music publicists? Has it been a mutually collaborative environment?

A. Definitely. Bands and publicists want to talk to us because the bands appreciate the opportunity to talk about issues that matter to them beyond their next record or tour. I think they find it very refreshing. It's a mutually beneficial relationship because it's a great way for them to reach new fans. We have 65,000 kids on our street team and our e-news goes out to 150,000 subscribers a month.

Q. Do you need to use a different tone or tenor for reaching the youth demographic than the main organization uses?

A. There's two parts: we work with bands and people like [comedian] David Cross because those are people our kids respect and look up to. They would rather hear them talk about their experiences as vegetarians or why you should take better care of your dog. They don't really want to listen to me talk about it. They don't know who I am [laughs]. The other part is the 65,000 street-team members who want to get involved. We're just giving them the opportunity to campaign for animal rights issues and empower them to make changes in their community. It's up to them to determine what they want to get involved with, such as if they want to get vegan or vegetarian menu options in their cafeterias or write letters to Wet Seal asking them to stop selling fur. They pick what they want to focus on, so it's not a matter of us preaching to them, "This is what you must focus on."

Q. How do you empower them to pursue what they want, while maintaining PETA's core message?

A. The campaigns we set up for kids to get involved with are pretty focused. For example, we recently had a campaign against Forever 21. We asked them to stop selling rabbit fur in their stores. Because it was focused, the kids knew what the steps were and knew what they could do to get involved. So I don't really worry about the message or branding getting lost because the ultimate goal was to get rabbit fur out of Forever 21 stores, and the street team did that.

Q. If PETA is critical of a celebrity like Jennifer Lopez, is there the potential that it might dissuade fans of that celebrity to contribute, who might have otherwise been inclined towards supporting PETA?

A. PETA 2 hasn't really been too involved with the J. Lo campaign, apart from getting materials out to the street team to pass out to people they know like J. Lo. We've actually found that J. Lo's fans are writing on her message boards, saying, "We really love your music and we really admire you, but we don't understand how you can support this industry." Her fans have really been receptive to our message.

Q. Is there a particular tone PETA 2 needs to take, when confronting celebrities that wear fur, so the message is critical, but not caustic?

A. PETA 2 always stays positive and focused on informing people about what they can do to make a difference. We focus on the positive that celebrities are doing; we try not to attack people because everybody is learning. A lot of people aren't aware of these issues, so we focus more on [helping people to] be more aware and do what you can to help animals.

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