When Lil Nas X performed a live concert in Roblox, Gen Z users did not initially learn about the performance in The New York Times or on CNN. They discovered the announcement in the platform’s live chat function.
And the delivery worked.
So, it’s no surprise that communicators are paying attention to the evolving relationship between PR and Gen Z. Traditional methods of pitching aren’t going to fly when trying to reach this age group. Gen Z is not watching network or cable news broadcasts or receiving their news from newspapers or even media outlet websites. Earned media doesn’t land the same as it used to for this audience.
How to Find Gen Z
PR practitioners may have to veer a bit outside of their pitching routine to reach Gen Z. Delivering a message to them will require more than reaching out to your favorite journalists.
While a media relations component does remain, Megan Hueter, senior vice president, digital, at MikeWorldWide, says communicators will have to put in a little more time to research where their targeted audience dwells.
“PR and comms professionals need to first study and understand younger, more digitally native consumers,” Hueter says. “Constantly studying third-party research on what's truly moving the cultural needle, and how they're consuming news, is critical for the modern-day communications professional."
Hueter says the company went right to the source when the BeReal app became popular, and shared their findings for the industry to learn from.
“When BeReal was jumping off the charts this past year as the hottest app for Gen-Zers, we dove in and asked Gen Z directly their thoughts, and highlighted this work in this op-ed via our Media Quake newsletter,” she says. “Constant curiosity and studying the landscape is the best practice.”
Knowing reaching Gen Z is no longer just about traditional media, Sarah Evans, founder and CEO of Sevans PR, initiated an internal 16-point brand and competitor communications analysis for each client. Her team analyzes different media options, but also breaks those options into age groups to identify where they are getting information.
“We might find that…brands [are having] success doing newsletter takeovers, or doing podcasts or live audio shows,” she says. “When we do a major announcement, we're actually rounding out coverage not based on the stereotypical importance of just a tier-one outlet, but where these Gen Z folks might be getting their information.”
Evans says this research reveals that coverage may come from a particular influencer, a YouTube channel, the Discord platform, or an actual journalist with a popular niche newsletter, for example.
Other notable platforms include TikTok, where recent research shows Gen Z is increasingly consuming as a news source and for search, as well as podcasts. Contrary to what the latest news shows about platforms de-investing in podcasts, research shows nearly 80% of Gen Zers have listened to one in the past year.
Best Practices for Communicating to Gen Z
Reaching Gen Z is more about hitting a target than a giant number. And this will probably require extra time for planning than traditional media campaigns or just shooting for tier-one media options.
“I think if you are any sort of senior media strategist, really hone in on all of the different opportunities to reach stakeholders by vertical, because it takes a lot more time out to build those strategic media plans,” Evans says.
Some of those plans may require extra time for building new media or platform relationships. When Evans’ group landed a client in the recreational vehicle industry—who wanted to reach Gen Z, not a retirement audience—they found going the niche route most successful, and had to find and build those relationships.
“Last year, we introduced a new player in the RV booking experience,” she says. “And we actually did a pretty bang up job of utilizing travel influencers on YouTube, plus all the niche trade publications to drive a huge surge in waitlist traffic to their site without ever going mainstream.”
Her team found YouTube channels, newsletters and Facebook groups specifically dedicated to RV enthusiasts, and delivered content and information through that route.
Evans also believes in the power of newsletters, and says communication professionals should look to niche writers on Substack that may also write for a major news outlet.
She says sometimes those journalists will share even more pointed information on their personal platforms, and she finds reaching out through those channels a great way to connect with journalists.
Fitting the Platform
ScholarshipOwl, a scholarship search engine and application platform, primarily looks to connect with Gen Z, and looks for alternative ways to market to this demographic. The platform recently launched Scholarship Campaigns as a marketing channel to "activate" Gen Z. Additionally, the platform connected with their audience by creating their own ScholarshipOwl community on Discord.
Patrick Tedjamulia, CMO, says it's important to reach the audience where they are and not try to force information.
“We recommend that brands adopt the best practice of reaching Gen Z in a channel where they are already looking for scholarships, instead of just trying to reach Gen Z in a channel where they are seeking entertainment, friendship, etc.,” Tedjamulia says.
Some readers may notice the traditional social media platforms absent from this article. We asked if this is something that should still be considered in an earned media strategy for Gen Z.
"I think that social media is still a great place for amplification or re-sharing of earned media,” Evans says. “It sometimes can still be the source where news starts, or emerges, but I don't necessarily treat it as the starting point from an earned media strategy.”
Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her: @buffalogal