Pop culture may be in the throes of an underage takeover. Recently the Billboard album chart had the soundtrack for the made-for-TV Disney movie High School Musical at number one.
It was followed in the charts by Kidz Bop 9, the latest in a musical series where top songs of the day are remade by and for kids.
Both albums are aimed directly at 9- to 12-year-old "tweens," proving that not only is this demographic developing tastes separate from their older siblings, but they also have some real spending power.
The mistake many PR pros still make is assuming that they're reaching this audience by pitching teens in general, says Susan Raab, president of Raab Associates, a book publicity firm. "They figure if 14-year-olds are reading it, then 10-year-olds will want to."
Catherine Conover, assistant managing editor and communications coordinator for tween girl magazine New Moon, agrees.
"Tweens and teens are very different, and girls in this age group may not realize all the media messages that are being directed at them," she says. "So it's important to pay attention to the parents' wishes when pitching tweens."
Julie Parks, PR director for American Girl, which offers books, dolls, movies, clothing, and a magazine aimed at 3- to 12-year-olds, says she's noticed some recent pick-up in interest from the mainstream press, especially among family and business writers. But she dismisses the notion that the High School Musical phenomenon is some sort of short-term tween fad, noting, "This is something we've been seeing for 20 years."
While many in this age group may look to their older brothers for some trends, Aaron Derr, formerly with Time for Kids and now associate editor for the Boy Scouts magazine Boys' Life, says the media aimed at tweens can't go that route.
"Our target is the 12-year-old boy, so we can't cover PG-13 movies or video games that are not rated E for Everyone" says Derr, adding, "What we're really interested in is giving this audience good role models."
Direct product pitches at tween outlets probably won't work in most cases, says Catherine Lee, founder and publisher of Discovery Girls magazine.
"Our goal is helping young girls to create their own forum and be role models for each other as they go through a transition that's difficult," she says. "So sincerity is really important, as is making sure you emphasize how to make these girls feel and look better."
Don't assume you can appeal to tweens through traditional teenage media outlets. This group has tastes and interests separate from their older brothers and sisters
You don't have to pitch parents directly to influence tween buying decisions, but you must keep them in mind and make sure all pitches to this demographic are age-appropriate
Tweens are a very Internet-savvy group, so look to pitch the growing number of Web sites aimed squarely at this group, such as Americangirl.com and Boyslife.org