As the first wave of baby boomers heads toward retirement, outlets intensify their focus on Social Security, as well as on savings tips for young workers.
Media coverage of retirement issues is on the rise, and not just because of the heated Social Security debate playing out in the public policy arena.
PR pros are pitching stories on a range of topics related to retirement, from financial planning decisions to the reality of an aging workforce.
"It's a story that impacts millions of Americans, so our calls have gone up in recent years, and we expect we'll hear a lot more about it," says Lisa Davis, AARP communications director. "It cuts across a number of issues, including both the healthcare and the financial aspects of retirement."
The controversy over whether Social Security in its current form will be around for future generations is no doubt a great news hook. But Ned Barnett, president of Las Vegas-based Barnett Marketing Communications, suggests that a far greater catalyst for retirement coverage will be the fact that the first wave of baby boomers is now approaching 60.
"One of the defining features of the boomers is they think what affects them affects all of society," Barnett says. "And a lot of reporters and editors themselves are suddenly waking up to the fact that they're nearing retirement, so you'll see a flurry of stories aimed at boomers essentially saying, 'You're in your 50s, and you haven't saved a penny; now what are you going to do?'"
Targeting young people
Where the Social Security debate could impact retirement is in the coverage of stories aimed at young workers, says Heather Almand, PR director for the Financial Planning Association, a professional organization for financial advisers.
"Younger people have sensitivity and an interest in retirement planning because they know they may have to save a little bit more," she says. "So we've been fielding calls from reporters doing stories on people who haven't saved enough, as well as from reporters doing pieces on whether young people should plan their retirement, assuming there will be a Social Security [system] in the future."
Unlike the AARP, which has come out early and strong against any major overhaul of Social Security, Almand's organization has not taken a stance on any reform proposals, instead preferring to focus on more general messages, such as the importance of planning and saving.
She notes that a surprisingly broad range of media outlets are reporting on the concern that many people have over their financial future.
"Most calls come from personal finance reporters, but we're seeing more interest from lifestyle publications, such as Men's Fitness and Glamour," she says.
Many retirement articles are simple news-you-can-use items, such as tables for calculating how much money you'll need to save to retire comfortably at a certain age or tips on how to set aside more of your paycheck. But Almand adds that reporters are looking beyond the financial coverage.
"There are really two types of stories: One is how do you retire rich, and the second is, now that you're retired, what do you do," she says.
Davis says the AARP provides research and experts for both kinds of stories.
"We have been driving a lot of interest with a very proactive media outreach strategy," she says. "We're pitching that retirement is not just an issue that hits suddenly when you're 65 and noting there are now a lot of multigenerational households, so retirement issues can affect people of all ages."
Most retirement coverage appears in print and on TV. But "talk radio is also a great place to position these stories because you're dealing with an older demographic," Barnett says.
And although heated debates over Social Security might dominate many programs, PR pros should cast a wide net, he adds.
"There are a lot of business finance/money shows that don't have the visibility of a Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, but they have some impact," he says. "And there are huge opportunities in places like Christian talk radio, where the focus is far more on the personal than the political."
Roberta Carlton, a VP at Lexington, MA-based SparkSource, says that the retirement of the baby boomer generation can also be pitched to workplace and general business reporters as a macroeconomic trend.
"The population is aging significantly, and a lot of companies are worried about having enough skilled labor in the future," says Carlton, whose client, Authoria, makes HR software for companies like McDonald's, PepsiCo America, and Caterpillar.
"So you have begun to see more coverage of that in annual year-end stories in the business press, and you'll see more in the future." --------
Pitching... retirement issues