’Most agencies think it’s okay to trawl through Soho and offer
anyone with a goatee beard a job as head of marketing,’ says Robert
Phillips, managing director of Jackie Cooper PR.
He is cynical about the new wave of specialist youth PR agencies that
have appeared in recent years. ’Four to five years ago everyone decided
that they needed youth marketing - it became a buzz word. Partly out of
avarice, partly out of a desire for credibility, larger agencies in
particular felt they ought to have a dedicated youth marketing
’We argue that the youth market is just another strata of consumers.
If you are expert in consumer brand marketing, that expertise has to be
targeted towards the youth market in much the same way as it would
towards the grey market, or the male or female markets.’
But cynicism about exploiting the youth market did not prevent two major
PR players from launching their own specialist youth divisions this
In January, Scope Ketchum decided to market the expertise that it had
gained from handling youth-oriented accounts such as Carlsberg by
establishing a specialist youth drinks and lifestyle practice group
within the agency.
And this week Harrison Cowley, the UK’s largest independent PR network,
announced it was launching Youth Works - a youth PR initiative headed by
23-year-old Nina Wheeler - which is starting off in the Manchester
branch and is to be rolled out across the UK.
Both agencies believe that having a specialist youth division has been
vital in attracting new business. Harrison Cowley’s Youth Works has
already signed its first client, the Manchester Giants basketball team.
Managing director Denise Mullen says: ’Being able to offer a dedicated
youth team was key to winning the account.’
Within three months Scope Ketchum’s youth division has won a major chunk
of the Warner Home Video new releases account as well as project work
supporting the Carlsberg Concert ’97. Chris Wood, who heads up the new
division, admits: ’A year ago we wouldn’t have got the business.’
But these successes reveal the widely differing approaches to agency
management in a sector which many perceive as make or break.
Mike Mathieson, director of youth specialist FFI, explains: ’The youth
market is desperately important - this is the place where brands build
credibility and if they can achieve this, they’re on to a winner.’
If the stakes are high, so are the rewards. Julian Henry, Lynne Franks’
deputy managing director, believes PR agencies are better placed than
advertisers to exploit the new trends in the youth market. ’PR
practitioners have good consumer contacts, we talk to journalists the
whole time, we’re in tune with the tabloids. Advertising agencies are
arguably more remote.’
The origins of companies in this sector is the key to understanding how
they structure and position themselves. There is a clear divide between
agencies such as FFI, Red Rooster and Slam which see themselves as youth
specialists, and companies such as Jackie Cooper PR which see youth
marketing as just one aspect of the work they do.
In a sector where synergy with music is key, it is no surprise that two
of the youth specialists - Red Rooster and FFI - have their roots in
FFI started as a company specialising in record promotions until
Mathieson spotted an opportunity to extend the techniques for plugging
records to promoting youth brands. Red Rooster’s youth marketing
expertise springs from director Tanya Lake’s activities as a DJ.
Mathieson believes that this involvement with music has helped the
agency’s credibility. ’Our music heritage means that we really know the
We know the clubs, the bands, the lifestyle and the outlook.’
By comparison, youth agency Slam - which does work for the UK Club Guide
and for 1970s club brand Starsky and Hutch - arguably has its roots in
more conventional PR activity.
Director Tim Lewis explains: ’It started as the young son of Charles
Barker - I wangled my way in to see the board and convinced them of the
long-term business benefits.’ He denies that he was handed an ’instant’
youth PR agency.
’A lot of agencies have done a copycat thing, set up an agency, thrown
staff at it and everyone has to wear Levi’s - it’s a bit Mickey
In the case of Slam there was just me and two other people I’d roped in
to help start up.’
Agencies which have chosen not to set up separate youth PR companies
consider youth marketing as an intrinsic part of the work they do. Lynne
Franks PR has accounts such as Gap and Clearasil and also handles
project work for the Spice Girls. ’Our interest in youth is right across
the board and affects everything we do,’ says Henry.
Despite the different ways agencies in this sector structure and
position themselves, there is consensus on the balance of skills
required with account handling teams. According to Jackie Cooper’s
Phillips: ’People who are particularly skilled at running youth
campaigns are those who combine PR expertise with recent experience of
living youth culture.’
Scope Ketchum’s Wood agrees: ’It’s no good knowing Noel Gallagher’s
inside leg measurement if you can’t deliver the target number of press
A key problem is finding staff who combine business experience with
understanding of the sector. Red Rooster’s Lake believes that this comes
as a result of the way the PR industry promotes itself.
’It’s hard to find hip, young people in PR as the industry has a poor
image within this market - it can come across as stuffy and
A common solution is to use work placements or graduates to fill junior
positions. Slam favours work placement as a means of keeping in touch
with trends in the younger half of the market. ’If you’re targeting
17-year-olds you need the advice of someone in that marketplace,’ says
With students regarded as a key influence within the youth market, it is
no surprise that graduates, especially those with experience of running
promotions and booking bands, are also in demand.
There are differing views on whether junior staff should interface with
clients. Lewis thinks they should. ’I say to clients ’here’s the sort of
person you are targeting and this is what they think of the
If clients ignore the opinions of their core market, it can be
Mathieson does things differently: ’We have a couple of more experienced
people dedicated to client services who are happy to wear a suit and
liaise with the client.’
At more senior levels, agencies agree that business experience, although
not necessarily within PR, is essential. ’It’s people who can show
they’ve got the skills that you need,’ says Lewis, ’not necessarily PR
professionals, but people with a business head.’
Three of FFI’s staff were recruited directly from the music
’They’ve either had PR jobs or worked in promotions departments of music
companies,’ says Mathieson. ’They have great media contacts and can
easily move across.’
In shaping an agency or building a team, the client’s view is key.
Planet 24 marketing director Anita Hamilton has just awarded The Big
Breakfast account to Brilliant! PR. In her view, brand managers want
teams which are ’leading edge, but which also know about strategy.’ She
sees the trend toward youth specialism continuing.
’Clients want to know that youth PR teams are ’now’ and who understand
their audience and can talk their language.’
Sugar and spice: Tapping into the potency of Girl Power
What have the Spice Girls, Zoe Ball and Denise van Outen all got in
common? The answer is Girl Power, a new brand of super cool confidence
currently sweeping the teenage market.
A recent Drapers Record report on the teenage clothing market shows that
by 2006 there will be an additional 400,000 girls aged between ten and
19 in the UK. The same report reveals that teenage girls spend almost as
much on clothes as adult women. These hard economic facts underline what
is being hailed as a major cultural phenomenon.
Ray Cooper is joint managing director of Virgin Records, the label which
produces the Spice Girls - widely credited with giving voice to this
’Girl Power is a statement of belief and passion by the Spice Girls.
Over the last 12 months it has proved to be a highly potent form of
music and lifestyle both for a younger demographic and for the
population at large,’ he says.
’With a few exceptions, PR agencies and marketing people have been slow
to catch on to Girl Power,’ says J17 editor Sam Baker. ’It’s
comparatively easy to reach this market - the teen press is
all-encompassing and many of us are extremely close to our readers.’
But before eager PR executives rush to the fax, Baker warns: ’There is
no simple definition of Girl Power. It’s essentially teenage girls’
version of feminism which means a wide variety of teenage girls feeling
braver about what they want.’ ’This group is incredibly critical about
anything which they feel misses the boat or which isn’t original,’ she
Anita Hamilton is marketing director of Planet 24 , the company which
produces the Big Breakfast. In her view agencies wanting to get the most
out of Girl Power have to develop the right approach.
’This is the most media literate generation ever. In order to have any
impact companies have to adopt a niche approach and research who to talk
to and how to talk to them.’
For agencies which get it right the rewards are potentially high. ’This
audience doesn’t mind being marketed to,’ says Lynne Franks deputy
managing director Julian Henry. He believes Girl Power will prompt a
step-change in the way agencies approach their work.
’Traditionally PR has been about below-the-line activity and
communicating indirect messages. What Girl Power says is ’we know what
Be up front’. It’s important that PR agencies take this on board.’
Sponsorship: How to figure big on the festival scene
Glastonbury aside, marketers who think music festivals are all about mud
may be missing out. This summer over a million people whose average age
is 16 to 24 will visit music festivals. Those attending events such as
Phoenix or Reading will be a captive audience for up to four days.
’When it comes to brand penetration the youth market is highly elusive,’
says FFI director Mike Mathieson. ’Music festivals offer an opportunity
to influence this sector within its own environment.’
FFI organises PR and sponsorship acquisition for the Mean Fiddler, the
group responsible for 75 per cent of the UK’s outdoor music
While keen to attract new sponsors FFI operates a strict vetting
’We act as credibility police,’ says Mathieson. ’We try to educate
people that event sponsorship is not a question of hanging a banner and
thinking ’yeah - we’re at a music festival’. To be noticed sponsors need
to integrate with the event.’
Pager brand Vodazap, for example, launched onto the youth market at the
Big Love festival last year, integrating with the audience through a
message tower which sent messages round the site.
But often the most credible activities are those which build on
synergies between products and music.
At the Phoenix festival computer giant Sega wanted to sponsor an area
where people could play computer games. Mathieson explains: ’A key
feature of Phoenix is its two dance tents. Research has shown that the
sort of people who enjoy dancing also enjoy computer games. We placed
the Sega Saturn tent between the two dance tents, linking it to each by
People came across it as if by chance and were impressed.’ Another
example of credible sponsorship activity is when brands use festivals to
extend advertising campaigns. A recent Bud Ice promotion at the Tribal
Gathering built on its Antarctica ad campaign which features ants
carrying a bottle to an anthill. The company built a Bud Ice Chill Out
Station, a giant tent with snowboard simulators, white foam seating, a
bar, computer stations and models of ants climbing mountains.
One barrier to festival sponsorship activities is cost. Participation
fees can range from pounds 15,000 for low level sponsorship to pounds
300,000 for title sponsorship. In the case of FFI, the package would
include consultancy on possible sponsorship events but it does not allow
for production costs.
But Mathieson maintains that sponsors still get value for their
’In addition to exposure to their target markets, there is usually
massive media coverage both pre and post-event. At Phoenix there were
over 500 journalists,’ he said.
Perfect PR people: New Modernists to Cool Britannias
Latest data from the youth market tracking study ROAR (Right of
Admission Reserved) has identified the three personality groups most
likely to seek jobs in PR. A sample of 1,018 15- 24-year-olds reveals
that New Modernists, Cool Britannias and Corporate Clubbers are the
groups best suited to a PR career. The largest of these groups comprises
New Modernists of which 23 per cent want a career in this area. Next
come Cool Britannias at 14per cent, followed by Corporate Clubbers at 12
Fashionable, creative and bright, New Modernists are jaded clubbers who
have moved on to different cultural pursuits. Good director potential
for larger agencies - 58 per cent view themselves as potential leaders -
New Modernists would instil confidence in clients and bring a touch of
individualism to their work. Likely to resent ’corporate inteference’,
New Modernists may ultimately work better in a smaller agency or by
directing an autonomous in-house team.
Agencies with fashion and music accounts may well be seeking a Corporate
Clubber. Predominantly female, Corporate Clubbers are night animals
whose main interests are clubbing, music and fashion. While highly
ambitious - 100 per cent agreed with the statement ’I want to do well in
my career’ - this group dislikes early starts and are best suited to
agencies and clients with a relaxed culture.
Sharp, sussed and often the first to discover new trends, Cool
Britannias would make good executives and account managers. Members of
this group are less likely to switch jobs and, unlike New Modernists,
will not be troubled by a rigid corporate culture. They are less likely
to be motivated by money than the previous two groups and Cool
Britannias pride themselves on being on top of the job.
Graham Smith, managing director of the Twelve Consultancy which provides
PR support for ROAR, believes that these results provide employers with
a fascinating insight. ’It’s clear that different personality profiles
are better suited to certain types of PR careers than others.’
Guardian Newspapers is one of the six media owners which commissioned
ROAR. Alison Hall, head of research and planning, says: ’The ROAR
clusters provide an accurate picture of today’s youth market. Young
people seeking a job in this sector are bound to believe they are
bright, ambitious and creative. These results provide a deeper analysis
of their motivations and can help recruiters to focus their minds when
considering the type of person they want.’