How Tweaking Messages Can Improve Engagement With Millennials

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For many brands and organizations, millennials comprise a sought-after target audience. This comes as little surprise as millennials now comprise the nation’s largest living generation. So large, it is almost impossible to make sweeping generalizations about its members.

Researchers debate the group’s age range, but generally those born between 1980 and 1998 are classified as millennials. As this 17-year span covers much ground, communicators treating millennials as a monolith are likely to be ineffective. Millennials can range from students to young adults entering the workforce to slightly more-established citizens with burgeoning careers and families. PR pros should utilize several tactics to reach millennial members as its segments consume information differently.

Most researchers agree that millennials fall under two main age groups, 19-25 and 26-35. The Media Insight Project conducted an in-depth analysis of the habits of news consumers in the U.S. It segmented millennials into groups based on news consumption: the Unattached, the Explorers, the Distracted and the Activists.

To better understand how PR pros can best target these subsets, we have constructed an example scenario. Imagine your brand is hosting a documentary film screening. The goal of PR here is to drive millennial attendance at the event, raise awareness of the film’s issues and your brand. Based on the Media Insight Project’s study, here are ways PR pros can be effective in meeting these goals.

The Unattached

Who: Making up 34% of millennials, the Unattached are invested in their social circles, school or the job hunt. While information is important to them, they are not seeking it out and tend to follow news revolving around entertainment and personal interests.

PR Approach: As this segment is heavily immersed in its social life and entertainment, successfully pitching the event would need to relate it to their interests. Focusing messaging on special guests and influencers attending might catch the Unattached’s attention. Promoting the event through a social media event page, influencers and sponsored posts will also help reach the Unattached segment.

Example: Promote the event highlighting that the film’s celebrity lead is attending and is hosting a Q&A with the director after the screening.

The Explorers

Who: The Explorers are 16% of millennials. They are 19-25 year olds who seek and engage in news. More than 50% of this group find news on Facebook and are eager to discuss current events and explore differing opinions on social media.

PR Approach: This group is interested in issues and open to new opinions. Since it is active on social media, and is news- and issue-oriented, alter the message to be issue-driven and promote it through channels like Facebook and Twitter.

Example: Promote the event through the networks of universities and professional associations, emphasizing the opportunities to discuss the documentary and the issues with a Q&A discussion after the event.

The Distracted

Who: This group is the least news oriented, more focused on careers or families. It makes up 27% of millennials and consumes only the news it comes across. It follows “news you can use” relevant to jobs, families and personal lives and topics like music, TV and movies.

PR Approach: Relate the event back to what is relevant to this millennial subset. Tweak the messaging to highlight how the documentary’s issue might touch the Distracted’s jobs or families.

Example: Pitch an article to a local family magazine on how the issue might influence the daily lives of families, promoting the event as a way to learn more and become involved.

The Activists

Who: The Activists make up 23% of the millennial generation. Its members are active news consumers in that to be informed citizens they follow the news. It helps them feel connected to their communities and be better prepared to take action on important issues. Online, its members are less likely to use social media for social reasons or entertainment.

PR Approach: The Activists are invested in news and issues, so frame the event as an opportunity to learn more about a specific cause that they can be involved in and advocate for. Hyper-localize the messaging, highlighting how the issue touches their communities and what they can do to help.

Example: Pitch an op-ed to a local newspaper or interview with the film’s director on a local news channel to promote the issue and event to this group.

Generalized outreach to millennials may seem like an easy option, but the one-size-fits-all strategy fails to account for segments in the group. Going the extra step to modify and create specific messaging for each segment can help communicators better reach millennials.

Elizabeth Harmon wrote this article while she was an intern at the firm Scott Circle. She's now a coordinator there. She recently graduated from American University, where she majored in PR and strategic communications.