PR Campaigns for Baby Boomers Demand Vertical Thinking


Half the band has gone to that Great Gig in the Sky, but The Who continue to pack stadiums. Why? Because the Baby Boomer generation is still about 70-million strong, and has more money than ever to spend - making it a prime target for savvy PR programs. Creating those savvy programs is no easy task, however. The Baby Boomers are moving in many directions, pursuing personal interests and chasing individual dreams. Some still are putting kids through school, while others are shifting into retirement mode. Some still want enlightenment, while others just want more light in the kitchen. How to tap into whatever remains of the collective Boomer identity? It depends on whom you ask and on what you're pitching. Lori Rosen, for instance, has it easier than most. As the PR mover behind AARP's Boomer mag My Generation, the president of The Rosen Group gets to cast a wide net, gleaning coverage from the network morning shows, CNN and daily papers nationwide. That's because the magazine "touches all aspects of their lives, from health issues to financial issues to caring for your aging parents to nurturing your own psyche, your own self," she explains. "Those core issues are the same whether you are talking to a large group or a small group, so I think that approaching it through [the general media] can be very effective." Others say the AARP pub is the exception rather than the rule. When it comes to pitching Boomers, vertical approaches appear to be the order of the day. Take for instance Raul Garza, director of the diversity practice at Hill and Knowlton in Los Angeles. He points out that nearly one in four Boomers is either African-, Asian- or Hispanic-American. To reach those groups, he suggests, PR leaders have to tap into an energy that goes beyond the mainstream stereotypes of Buffalo Bob and burning bras. Black and Hispanic Boomers share many generational references with their white peers, but they layer on top of that a range of ethnic-specific experiences and attitudes. "Motown, tea cakes, church and the Watts Riots may have been a bigger cultural part of black lives as a whole than the Beatles, TV dinners, surfing and JFK," he says. "The majority of Hispanic Boomers were brought up on bullfights, Pedro Infante, Mexican movies and the Cuban Revolution [rather than] on Clark Gable, Cowboy movies and the sexual revolution." To reach this vast subset of Boomers, "the faces and voices utilized in PR need to vary," he says. "Imagery and language in PR need to respect and reflect the ever-diversifying audience." Still Booming After All These Years Boomer verticality goes far beyond ethnicity, however, as Laura Tomasetti learned during her stint as a VP of PR with Hasbro Interactive. In her attempts to rebuild interest in "Monopoly" and other classic Boomer diversions, she found that it is almost impossible these days to approach Boomers as a whole. "The greatest value is really in targeting," says the president of Tomasetti Strategic Public Relations. "The media has gotten much more vertical - there is a publication for every interest - and Boomers themselves have so many interests. So while you may have a campaign that works horizontally, you also have to identify columns of media, vertical media, that address these specific audiences." While it is important to work a vertical campaign when targeting Boomers, it's also fair to say that a few general rules do apply in reaching out to this generation, wherever one may find them. First off, Boomers want and expect a little something extra. "If it's an entertainment product it must also educate. If it's a food or beverage it must be healthful in addition to tasting good," Tomasetti explains. Thus, in her efforts to boost Monopoly, she built a family-bonding theme into the PR campaign. "Here is something you did as a kid. Now you can do it with your kid too." It also is helpful to remember that Boomers share a vast and fairly specific cultural frame of reference. Thus, "it is best to have someone on the PR team who is a Baby Boomer. Faking it does not work. It is that simple," says Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates PR. It is worth noting, too, that after decades of conspicuous consumption, Boomers today may be just as concerned about their souls as they are about their stuff. "They are really getting in touch with their own mortality, which means in part that experiences have become much more important than just knowledge and acquisition," says Beth Kaufman, director of PR at The Brownstein Group. Recent SUV branding taps into that energy: It doesn't pitch the heated leather seats, but rather the open road ahead. For all the challenges inherent in targeting a PR effort at Baby Boomers, there is a silver lining, insofar as the Boomers may be especially ready to hear a friendly voice these days. After years of being the center of the marketing universe, and of American culture in general, the Boomers are being shunted to the sidelines, according to Anthony Mora, President and CEO of Anthony Mora Communications and author of the forthcoming Spin to Win, due out this fall. "The amazing emphasis on the 18-to-34 demographic, based on little or no scientific empirical basis, has left many Boomers feeling marginalized. I don't think companies realize the psychological impact this has, or how they are, through their ads and PR, alienating what is still the country's number-one buying force," he says. Those who take the opposite approach could reap major benefits. "You have a huge group that due to its sheer numbers has always been and has seen itself (which is important to keep in mind) as the most powerful, and the coolest, the setter of trends and the group that not only helps define the culture but decides on the direction that the country is going," says Mora. "Now you have the media telling them that they really don't matter all that much, that they are a marginalized group ... while the rest of the culture enjoys itself and defines what is important. "Tap into that, and you've tapped into a very wealthy, powerful - and angry - group." (Contacts: Raul Garza, 323/966-5747; Beth Kaufman, 215/735-3470; Anthony Mora, 310/207-6615; Mike Paul, 212/595-8500) Reaching Boomers Keep it real: They left jingles behind in the '50s. Think of the children: Boomers think of theirs, all the time. While you're at it, think of the parents. Boomers are also caring for aging parents. Go vertical: This is a heterogeneous group with diverse passions. Empower: Boomers want to know how to do; they don't like being told what to do. Pitching My Generation One way to reach Baby Boomers is through My Generation, the magazine AARP targets specifically at them. Readers total more than 6.6 million and are overwhelmingly female. Most are married, own a home and have been to college. For more information, check out http://www.mygeneration.org.

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