At the beginning of 2008, Jack O’Dwyer of O’Dwyer’s the prominent industry trade, asked Liz Kaplow for her view on an article that appeared in the Dec. 24, 2007 edition of the New Yorker entitled, “Twilight of the Books.” Liz happily obliged. Her insight into the newest generation to enter the workplace—the Millennials—is below as well as her thoughts on the future of the written word.
Jan. 31, 2008
READING NOT DEAD YET
Author Caleb Crain, writing on “Twilight of the Books” in the Dec. 24, 2007 New Yorker, contended that Americans and especially younger Americans may be “losing not just the will to read, but even the ability.” Readers and viewers think differently, argues Crain. He quotes Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research, Tufts University, as saying that different “brain chemistry” is involved in processing reading vs. processing images. According to Wolf, as reading proficiency increases, brain chemistry changes and allows the reader to process what’s being read more quickly and efficiently.”
Crain says reading “makes you smarter because it leaves more of your brain alone.” One haymaker that Wolf lands is that “the digital world may be the greatest threat yet to the endangered reading brain as it has developed over the past 5,000 years.”
Things Are Not That Bad
Our agency employs a number of PR pros in their 20s and we find that reading is far from dead. Reading is no doubt one of the great ways to stretch the imagination. A survey of staffers found that many read blogs but they’ve also recently read Atonement, the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay’s biography and Cyrano de Bergerac. One staff member in her 20s said that since she spends her day on the computer at the office, she turns to reading at night and does not even have a computer at home. She has a long list of novels that “must be read.” She just finished War and Peace while on a long flight and told me there are “big lessons to learn from literature.” I know what she means. We encourage our employees to take deep dives into books and newspapers to make them smarter, well-rounded PR practitioners. We want them to read the top news stories of the day and follow the bylines of journalists before contacting them.
What We Can Learn from “Millennials”
But we must all face the fact that there are about 80 million “Millennials” — those who are between the ages of 13 and 28.
With them, if it’s not moving, it may not be remembered! Early childhood education embraced learning through multimedia platforms. As they grew, Millennials spent more and more time with multimedia, including TV and other forms of video. A teenager today needs to respond to an important text message or pick up of the cell phone to “think straight” while doing homework. This behavior has influenced the approach of young people to PR. They prefer to gather information on a wide range of topics by surveying many sources. Instead of spending the day at the Metropolitan Museum or reading the entirety of a newspaper, they prefer to get a “sampling” of highlights about each from bloggers they trust and that they feel are experts in their field.
Like a Ball of Mercury
To envision what it’s like to reach this generation, imagine a ball of mercury. Every time you think you’ve got it, it moves to another place. To reach this target, PR needs to tap multiple channels using multimedia. Many Kaplow staffers in their 20s get their information from a laundry list of blogs including Gawker (New York media and gossip blog); Perez Hilton (tongue-in-cheek celebrity gossip blog); PopWatch (Entertainment Weekly’s pop culture blog), and Mashable (which is about social networking and social software).
Long Press Release Is Dead
The heyday of the long press release is gone. Virtual pitches enable the media to quickly snap up the visual story.
PR needs to reconcile some generational differences in moving forward. We can reinforce the value of reading as the foundation of effective PR. But the new generation can help us to understand the new zeitgeist of PR because they are living it. They can better discern the blogs that are of value. They can better help us navigate the waters of social networking as they themselves are immersed in the conversation. Crain says the nation’s conversation with itself is changing. As the Millennials enter the workforce and the PR industry in greater numbers, this change is inevitable.
Thankfully, our firm is strengthened by the presence of young PR pros who are able and qualified to converse with others of this age group who are on the receiving end of our messages. Ambassadors from that same generation will only strengthen the conversation on our clients’ behalf.
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Liz Kaplow, an honors gradute of Vassar College with a graduate degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology, founded her firm, Kaplow Communications, in 1991 with the goal of helping marketers to become the chief source of news in their industries. Award-winning programs have been conducted for numerous clients including American Express Platinum cards, eBay, Avon mark, Leapfrog and Robert Mondavi Private Selection. Kaplow has received Target’s “Best of Bullseye” Award and the Alberto-Culver Accent Award. An active supporter of causes, Kaplow is on the advisory board of VOICE, a publisher of women writers, of Hyperion, and is on the board of governors for the Cosmetic Executive Women and its Foundation, Cancer and Careers.