Marketing and Advertising Youth Media: A Shift in Thinking

The youth media field needs a shift in thinking when it comes to funding, partnerships, and skill development. Rather than scramble for shrinking dollars and failing partnerships, we need to build partnerships that generate more dollars and have a bigger effect on both young people and our field.
Few youth media organizations have tapped into advertising and marketing firms as a way to leverage our collective expertise in the field. We know that the youth market is worth about $175 billion a year. But we forget that we work intimately with this market and can serve as mediators for young people to take the lead in mass marketing, learning business skills along the way.
About True Star
As a growing youth media organization that provides a creative outlet in the form of literary and professional development programs, the True Star Foundation has learned how to create partnerships that open doors to funding opportunities, increase visibility for youth media, and improves opportunities for young people to learn about the business of media.
The True Star Foundation’s core programming model is True Star Magazine, a teen- produced publication that began in the fall of 2004 as a four-page newsletter with one journalism program and 17 students. Currently, the magazine offers eight programs with 150 stipend paid student apprentices and seven adult instructors, who, collectively, create a 44-page quarterly publication.
Sales and marketing is an important component to our program that helps youth journalists develop business and leadership skills. The concept of having to market one’s media encourages students to think broadly of how a non-profit functions and how to get their work distributed, advertised, and widely disseminated.
At True Star (TS) we position ourselves as the experts on the youth market, stressing to marketers that we can reach youth in a way that no other media property can. We are marketers’ consultants as to how to reach youth with programs that are inviting, honoring, respectful, and culturally relevant and that connect with the urban youth market emotionally and intellectually.
Marketing: A Shift in Thinking
We acknowledge that fundraising and selling are two very different skills for youth media non-profits. Many organizations do not have the skill set or competency; however, we believe a huge piece of solidifying the youth media sector will come from the ability to integrate marketers into the field in a socially responsible way. Organizations might think about hiring someone with a media business background or add someone with that competency on their board.
Of course, marketers’ main goal is to increase sales and tap into the $175 billion youth market. However, if they can also be socially responsible and create goodwill, then your organization becomes a “sweetheart” buy for a marketer.
Typically, TS helps marketers reach their goals through focus groups, email blast, advertising pages, youth contests and our students acting as brand ambassadors. We become consultants to our partners, using our expertise to advise them on their marketing strategies. By building other youth media partners into the fold, we make the package of expertise even more attractive. United, youth media can guide marketers to create goodwill for themselves and their associates.
Case Study: Chicago Public Schools
While meeting with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Office for Extended Learning, it was brought to our attention that the enrollment numbers for a federally funded tutoring program were significantly low. The main goal of this office was to increase its enrollment numbers for this tutoring program. After hearing this, we could have stayed the course with the TS agenda, i.e., getting this department to give us funding/resources for our after school programs. However, we shifted gears and asked them to discuss the enrollment issues more.
After a thorough understanding of their issues, we suggested that TS could increase the enrollment for the tutoring program by doing the following:
• teen-to-teen marketing using the TS street team
• creative services, including “teen friendly” marketing materials
• marketing via advertising pages in TS magazine
• executing a focus group with teens to assess how to effectively market the tutoring program
• booking a nationally recognized celebrity to endorse the program.
As a result, TS received a contract to provide the aforementioned services. With our expertise and ability to reach the market, student participation in the tutoring program increased by 85%. Creating value creates a buzz, and many other departments in CPS began to look to us to provide various services based on our success.
Case Study: Walgreens
True Star Foundation has partnered with Walgreens for the last two years on its HIV/AIDS initiative. Again, prior to meeting with Walgreen’s public relations agency, TS had an idea of what a partnership would look like. After hearing that Walgreen’s passion point with the urban community was HIV/AIDS, TS pitched an “Expression Against HIV/AIDS Art & Literacy Contest.” This contest asked youth to put an artistic spin on how they would combat HIV/AIDS in the urban community.
TS would conduct all marketing, implementation and execution for this program with Walgreens—the sole sponsor. This contest has been very successful and Walgreens is looking to grow the partnership into other areas.
When meeting with marketers such as Walgreens it is very important to understand their passion point for the youth market. Passion points can vary. For example, banking partners value financial literacy; consumer goods companies value nutrition; and telecommunications value entrepreneurship. However, marketers often shift platforms they are interested in supporting as rapid as every quarter of each year. In order to package youth media, we must combine our collective skills and expertise.
Methods and Models for Approaching Potential Partnerships
The following are suggestions from TS that might encourage the field to develop relationships with advertising and marketing platforms.
Contribute to your client. In our personal lives we would call this friendship; in the professional world we call it “relationship building,” and the same rules apply.
• Learn about the organization’s politics, culture, and passion points
• Listen to the partner’s needs and goals with interest and concern
• Volunteer for some of their initiatives
• Use your media outlet to cover things that are important to the partner
• Does your organization have a newsletter to send? Are you hosting an event? Use every opportunity with potential partners to communicate what you do and who you serve
Example: Once we realized that Walgreen’s passion was HIV/AIDS, TS became a member of the HIV/AIDS coalition that Walgreens supported, and we volunteered at events unrelated to TS. By being an active member of the coalition, TS created additional relationships with the Department of Health, Chicago Public Schools, and the local radio station, all while building a stronger relationship with the Walgreens corporation.
Be strategic. Look for opportunities to add value. Go in with a clear message about what return the partner is going to get. How can you assist the organization to reach its goals, and vice versa?
• If you’re working with a school, build your program model into the curriculum
• Look for areas where the organization has poor performance and position your organization to provide a needed service
• Use your expertise to customize a media property for the partner
• Understand your competitive advantage and point of difference
Example: TS has recognized that the Chicago Public School (CPS) system has out-of-date marketing and educational materials that do not resonate with the youth of today. TS has positioned itself as an expert in custom designing materials for CPS. In turn, TS received a contract to custom design a student workbook for the CPS department Graduation Pathways.
Empower youth. No one can sell the value of your organization and media product better than the youth you serve.
• Partners, especially marketers and advertisers, need to be educated on what youth media is and what it can do. Young people have an uncanny ability to persuade and influence a potential partner.
• Train young people to pitch advertising and partnerships.
• Pitching and articulating the value of your organization can be a great opportunity for young people to learn about the business of media.
Example: TS youth have pitched advertising to Walgreens, Black Entertainment Television (BET), Nike, Boost Mobile, Burrell, Starcom, General Mills, McDonald’s, and others. Our youth have also presented to funders Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois and the Polk Bros. Foundation, to name a few. Having youth pitch advertising has been one of the most successful strategies TS has implemented. By empowering young people to articulate the value of the organization, the media you produce and its impact on society, you will touch a chord with most potential partners. You don’t just tell them the value—you let them witness the value first hand.
Adopt a collaborative spirit. Youth media organizations often find themselves in a competitive mindset, grappling with other organizations for students or resources. But by using the model of a joint venture, youth media organizations can work together to partner with a greater variety of organizations and create a bigger effect.
• Youth media organizations working with youth media organizations
• YMO working with CBO
• Using another’s specialty to meet the needs of each organization
Example: TS recently partnered with Free Spirit Media to produce a Hoops High page in the publication. Hoops High is a program of Free Spirit media in which students announce, direct, and operate cameras to make their own sports show. TS was having a challenge developing sports related content for the magazine. By partnering with Hoops High we receive sports content and they have another vehicle to market their TV show and programs. TS in return will receive advertising via their on air programming.
Example: TS recently partnered with the Economic Awareness Council (EAC) to produce financial and business content for TS Magazine. EAC is a non profit organization whose mission is to prepare students and families for the economic and financial decisions they will make both today and tomorrow. EAC was able to bring their sponsor HSBC – North America into the partnership to sponsor TS’s Teen Biz section, ultimately helping to underwrite our cost of printing. EAC students produce financial and business related content for TS magazine.
Next Steps
Partnerships with the advertising and marketing sectors are essential to grow the viability of the youth media field. To be sure, most small organizations have large shoes to fill, making it very likely that you do not have every skill or competencies needed at a moment’s notice. But by creating on-going partnerships you can have a good network of experts available to you.
Furthermore, if more youth media organizations worked to build expertise with marketers, it is possible that the field could create a youth media advertising agency in the near future. This agency could aggregate the audiences of multiple youth organizations to create more value for a potential marketer and for the field as a whole. It is in our best interest to invest in new partnerships and advertising revenue to sustain the field and bring forth our collective skills and knowledge to our important work.
DeAnna McLeary is the co-executive director & co-founder of True Star Foundation and True Star Magazine. She has an extensive background in marketing and advertising sales as a former account executive for Essence Communication Partners. McLeary cultivates relationships with ad agencies and consults clients on their marketing needs to creatively design solution packages. McLeary graduated magna cum laude from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), earning a bachelor’s of science and a master’s in business administration with a concentration in both marketing and finance.
Na-Tae’ Thompson is the co-executive director & co-founder of True Star Foundation and True Star Magazine. She has previously worked for Vibe Magazine, House of Blues Chicago, GMR Marketing, Chancellor Marketing Group and Universal MazJac Enterprises. Her diverse client list ranges from Miller Lite to Roc-a-Fella Records,from from Chicago’s Power 92 radio station to Luster Hair Products—a result from developing sponsorship proposals, conducting research and analysis, and organizing events. Thompson holds a master’s degree in arts and youth community development and a bachelor’s in marketing from Columbia College Chicago.