MEDIA ROUNDUP: Growing teen sector finding room for more than fluff

As competition in the teen space heats up with established magazines trying teen versions, more PR opportunities arise - even for serious subjects like politics and education.

As competition in the teen space heats up with established magazines trying teen versions, more PR opportunities arise - even for serious subjects like politics and education.

After years of spectacular growth, teen-girl media outlets have been slowed somewhat by the industry-wide ad slump over the past 12 months. They still remain a hot category, in part because many companies, especially those in fashion and beauty, feel that reaching girls at an early age is the best way to establish lifetime brand loyalty. "We have a lot of clients wanting to reach out to teen-girl media," explains Alison Holt Brummelkamp, VP of media relations at Golin/Harris International. "Teen girls have a lot of discretionary income, and have such tremendous buying power in areas such as food, clothing, and games." The category has undergone many changes in recent years. As recently as the mid-1990s, teen-girl media was dominated by magazines such as Teen, Seventeen, and YM. But the growth of the internet as well as the arrival of spin-offs of grown-up fashion magazines such as Teen People, Cosmo Girl, Teen Vogue, and Elle Girl have created a broader landscape for PR pitches. Seventeen remains the category leader in terms of circulation, but has fallen from its peak of a few years ago. The magazine was bought by Hearst Corporation for more than $180 million, down considerably from the $500 million that Conde Nast offered Primedia in 1998. Pierce Mattie, president of Pierce Mattie Public Relations, observes, "There's still a huge market for YM and Seventeen, it's just that the competition is now much greater. I think parents are still buying subscriptions to Seventeen and YM for their daughters, but magazines such as Teen Vogue are doing better on newsstands because girls tend to purchase them on their own." In the past, teen-girl outlets thrived on an upbeat editorial mix of advice, fashion, and beauty, with a healthy dose of celebrity features tossed in. Those themes remain prominent, but many outlets have grown more sophisticated in their coverage, reflecting the entire trend of what Wendy Watson, SVP and national youth marketing leader with Porter Novelli Los Angeles, refers to as "kids getting older younger," or age compression. "When I first started working with the teen magazines, it was the three F's: fashion, fluff, and food," says Holt Brummelkamp. "There was not a lot of substance. Now even with celebrity interviews, they seem more willing to delve into hearing about their political views or talking about charity tie-ins." Getting more serious Carrie Tinsley of Weber Shandwick's web-relations department tends to agree, adding that the willingness to take on more hard-hitting issues is even more prevalent on internet sites such as GoGirl.com and KiwiBox.com. WS successfully pitched GoGirl on a story focusing on Sexual Assault Awareness Month. "Most of these sites are now trying to do more than offer just beauty advice," Tinsley says. "They also want girls to take a look at education and other issues." And most of these outlets are also responding to the changing face of the American teen girl. "Another trend is alternative versions of beauty. With two out of three teen girls being multi-ethnic, magazines are reflective of the changing times," Watson says. Most teen-girl magazines work on very long lead times (four to six months), which means that not only are the editors thinking about back-to-school season now, they have to predict what's going to be popular several months from now. Many PR people say this makes teen-girl outlets very pitchable since they are constantly on the lookout for new products and trends. Allyne Mills, GM of New Jersey-based Rosica Mulhern Strategic Public Relations, says, for instance, that Teen Vogue is far easier to get into than Vogue. The newer titles can give beauty clients an initial inroad into the fashion press they can then build on. Even Teen People is fairly open to story ideas, although Chen PR's Mary Leddy, who represents Her Interactive, notes, "You have to have the right celebrity angle." Show that you're cool But Watson stresses that just because they're young, that doesn't make teens naive. "Don't assume that just because these magazines are targeting minors, they will accept your product at face value," Wilson says. "Your product just can't proclaim coolness; it has to be cool. You also have to demonstrate how the product delivers and how using it will enhance teen girls' lives." Most of the reporters and editors at teen-girl outlets tend to be slightly older, 20- and 30-something versions of their audience, but they are always striving to stay relevant to a very fickle demographic. Magazines such as YM consider their readership more of a community than anything else, and are constantly doing surveys to find out which products and trends are on the rise and which are on the way out. Teen-girl media is strongest in magazines and websites, though not for lack of trying in other mediums. Newspapers have been trying to boost readership through dedicated sections on fashion as well as advice columns such as Carolyn Hax's "Tell Me About It." But most PR people say newspapers remain a low priority. "You're not really going to find teen-girl beat reporters at newspapers," says Leddy. Television also remains a somewhat elusive target, at least from a public relations standpoint. Teen girls tend to watch entertainment shows as opposed to lifestyle programming, and thus are far more likely to tune in to American Idol, MTV, or VH1 rather than Lifetime, Oxygen, or The View. But Mattie says that one good TV-related strategy is to look for product-placement opportunities on TV, and then leverage them into other types of coverage. One of his clients, Bath Bloomers, was featured for free on an episode of Gilmore Girls that involved some of the cast going to a day spa. Mattie says, "We were able to take that and run it in all the teen magazines." Mills adds that newspapers and lifestyle TV shows still have a loyal audience among mothers, and thus can be an indirect way to reach their teen daughters. "With newspapers, we really try to think about the parents with pitches on great books for girls or back-to-school stories," she says. Mattie stresses that teen-girl outlets do need a different PR approach than traditional outlets. "You need to pitch ideas that are not only extremely youth-oriented, but you also should have nothing that's going to pressure girls into thinking they have to lose 15 pounds or stop biting their fingernails. So you don't want to use a lot of statistics that say that 47% of people that don't use sunscreen prematurely age or get skin cancer. The releases need to be positive and very helpful in explaining to these girls how to get through adolescence." ----- Where to go Newspapers USA Today; lifestyle and teen pages in most major dailies Magazines Seventeen; Cosmo Girl; Teen Vogue; Teen; YM; Your Prom; Seventeen Prom; Honey; Cosmo Girl; Twist; J-14; Boy Crazy; Teen People; Elle Girl TV & Radio MTV; VH1; E!; Loveline, other syndicated advice radio shows Internet Alloy.com; Bolt.com; GoGirl.com; Kiwibox.com; Agirlsworld.com; Herteen.com; ReelTeen.com

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