Every couple of months Tanya Lake swaps her Filofax for a pair of
headphones and does a spell as a DJ at the Ministry of Sound.
At 31, the director of youth agency Red Rooster PR is living testimony
to her belief that youth is no longer about age but ’state of mind’.
According to Lake and her counterparts the youth market is growing
The traditional age category of 18 to 25 is as outdated as last season’s
Companies hoping to win that most elusive of prizes - youth approval -
now face a target audience with an age range that starts at nine and
stretches to 35 and beyond.
The concept of a single, definable youth culture is also no longer
applicable as Red Rooster explains in Egg, its guide to the UK’s clubs
’Nineties culture is all about style surfing. It’s about wearing a
sixties shirt with a seventies skirt and a nineties pair of trainers,’
says the guide. ’There is no rule book as there are no guide lines. You
make it up as you go along.’
This description of 1990s youth as ’style surfers’ may add to the
worries of PR directors anxious to access the market but there are
thousands of potential PR opportunities provided the market is
approached in the right way.
So what is the right way? The marketing literate youth of today are now
as suspicious of some PR tactics as they are towards obviously targeted
’There is massive cynicism towards corporate sell jobs,’ says Mike
Mathieson, head of FFI, the youth agency which recently merged with
student promotions outfit Beatwax.
The company’s clients include Rizla, G Spot magazine and the Mean
Fiddler Organisation, which runs the annual Tribal Gathering and Big
Love raves and the Phoenix Festival.
’In the early 1990s, big companies could sponsor anything,’ explains
Mathieson. ’Now you have to relate to young people on their terms.’
One method used by Mathieson to make promotions more credible to the
market is to separate the ’mainstream consumer’ and ’underground or
He even goes as far as to say that companies wanting to score points in
the market should hire a separate consumer agency, leaving the youth
specialist do the ’grass roots’ work.
Examples of this more underground approach have included FFI driving a
camper van to Newquay to hand out Mickeys Beer to local surfers and
distributing Vodazap pagers to journalists attending the Big Love
festival for client Vodaphone.
Red Rooster also opted for ’street level’ tactics instead of a broad
brush consumer drive when working on a drugs education campaign for the
Health Education Authority. The agency placed campaign stickers in the
capital’s trendiest bars, record shops, barbers and clubs and produced a
branded tape in conjunction with DJ title Mixmag.
PR programmes like these will not generate massive media coverage. They
will, however, generate what Mathieson describes as’the biggest selling
tool of all’ - word of mouth endorsement.
Getting close enough to the youth market in order to penetrate this
audience, however is the difficult part.
The ideal solution is to be part of it. Lake’s DJing sessions at some of
London’s coolest venues allow her to mingle with her target audience
rather than just visualise them from the office.
’You look at what they are drinking, talking about and what hairstyle
they have,’ says Lake. ’You have to keep you’re eyes open to absolutely
Red Rooster also employs ’scouts’ across the UK to report back on what
people are drinking, wearing, smoking and listening to in their
These scouts - usually DJs or club promoters - are paid and given
’goodies’ for their trouble. Their findings are then logged in Egg,
which is free to clients and will set non-clients back pounds 200. The
agency is even considering inviting its scouts to a youth seminar and
finding new scouts abroad.
Lynne Franks PR also produces a guide cosmicHype, not of regional
venues, but an A to Z of youth culture from ’drum and bass’ to ’white
Richard Brett, the 24 year-old PR consultant who edits cosmicHype, says
it reassures both cautious clients that the agency knows what it is
talking about and forges good relations with journalists who are
expected to keep up with the latest trends.
Brett thinks the rapid growth in the media catering for youth audiences
is good news for the PR industry, allowing it to move away from the
fashion press into new publishing areas such as the trendy food or
decoration titles Eat Soup and Wallpaper.
However, like Lake and Mathieson, he is quick to point out that agencies
will have to offer more than just editorial coverage to capitalise on
the market. More creative solutions are required.
’PR will have a stronger role,’ predicts Brett. ’But it has got to work
together with marketing and design to produce a stronger message.’
ROAR: TAKING THE LION’S SHARE IN YOUTH RESEARCH
Kiss FM is one of seven media companies including Channel 4, Emap
Consumer Magazines and advertising agency BMP responsible for what it
claims is ’the largest and most comprehensive research into the youth
market today.’ Around 1,469 people aged 15 to 24 were recruited for the
first leg of the study, called Roar (Right of Admission Reserved) in
1995. They completed questionnaires and took part in face-to-face
interviews which probed every area from preferred leisure activities to
In a bid to monitor the market, the interviews have been repeated with
the same pool of people every four months.
To retain the interest of this notoriously fickle age group the
organisers set up a panel which operates as a ’club’. The system is not
perfect as members change address but most are kept involved with
newsletters and phone in competitions.
Each quarter the consortium will use the club to conduct a ’wave’ on a
range of subjects such as fragrances or cosmetics. The next wave, to be
conducted in March, will be on respondents’ attitudes to new media.
Roar’s creators use the survey for their own purposes but also to
provide advertisers with a better idea of who they are reaching. ’We are
closer to street level than most but have struggled to get figures and
facts,’ explains Kiss FM research and marketing executive Oliver Rowe.
’In the past, youth research has been a snapshot of the market, just
This allows us to look more closely at youth trends and keeps us at the
The research cannot pinpoint every single youth group but has identified
seven main groupings , each with their own set of values, motivations
and relationships with the media and brands. They range from the
Blairites who are ambitious, materialistic and wear quality brands as
the badges of success like their ambassador Dani Behr to the more
independent creative New Modernists, represented by Brookside character
Additional groupings include the Conservative Careerists, the Moral
Fibres, the Corporate Clubbers and Adolescent Angst.