Platform: Why youth PR must lose its cliquey image - Portraying youth marketing as complex and unbelievably hip can be damaging to a brand in the long-term, says Dan Holliday

’Notoriously fickle, incredibly cynical and remarkably elusive’, screams the copy, supported by de rigueur psychedelic graphics and a funky little font. I find myself invited to yet another ’yoof’ conference where it’s a sure thing delegates will be told the youth market is a ’mindset and not a demographic’. Frankly I’d prefer to watch paint dry.

’Notoriously fickle, incredibly cynical and remarkably elusive’,

screams the copy, supported by de rigueur psychedelic graphics and a

funky little font. I find myself invited to yet another ’yoof’

conference where it’s a sure thing delegates will be told the youth

market is a ’mindset and not a demographic’. Frankly I’d prefer to watch

paint dry.



Yet the conference organisers are merely taking a bite out of a market

worth pounds 38 billion and feeding a communications industry intent on

cracking it. My beef is with those ’yoof’ agencies who try to run a

closed shop by frightening the life out of new and existing clients,

banging on about the complexities of the youth market and seeking to

create superficially ’hip’ identities in a desperate attempt to

differentiate themselves.



A PR company does not need to make a complete prat of itself trying to

prove how in touch it is. In the advertising world the best youth

campaigns are created by the most established ad agencies and more often

than not the same is so in the PR industry. Yet the popular perception

is that you need to have an ’underground’ name or image even before you

pitch for a youth account.



But isn’t being in tune with your audience a pre-requisite for putting

together a PR campaign? Hardly rocket science, more like Noddy-entry

level.



Mainstream youth brands are increasingly appreciating the fact that

small is not always beautiful. Having worked in-house for a youth brand

I came into contact with several youth agencies and I believe that they

have no more inside knowledge or better contacts than bigger agencies in

this area. It comes down to the quality of the people you employ, their

understanding of the market and of the brand. Niche is a state of mind,

not the size of the office you operate from.



The stark truth about taking a youth brand to the marketplace is that a

PR consultancy must prepare it not just for short-term awareness, but

for potential criticism, tampering, imitation and even withdrawal. Plus,

what happens when your client asks you to tailor the campaign to every

European market? In an increasingly competitive market this is where the

gap between a multi-specialist agency and a youth agency turns into a

gulf.



This is not to rubbish youth agencies but to challenge the view that by

opting for a multi-specialist agency you necessarily compromise on

either creativity or youth marketing know-how. If this is so how can

Hill and Knowlton have won PR Week’s Consumer Campaign of the Year for

1996 and a commendation in 1997 and in both cases for work on youth

brands?



The problem is that all-too-often youth marketing is referred to in its

narrowest sense and relates to niche brands such as Red or Dead. It’s

often uneconomic for multi-specialist agencies to work on behalf of such

brands and youth agencies have a role here. However, as soon as that

brand kicks into a wider market where audiences, issues and media

multiply, a multi-specialist agency, with strong youth credentials, is

arguably the smarter option.



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