How Can Legacy Media Companies Reach Gen-Z?

January 11, 2023 – 6 min. read

Yoof Agency at CUE Days 2022
At CUE Days ’22, the founders of Yoof Agency, Pierre Caulliez and Martynas Vanagas, shared their insights on how media companies can build a new audience of young people. Pierre and Martynas work every day with Gen-Z'ers and advise publishers on how to reach youth through unconventional channels and story-telling formats. And the bottom line is: It’s not that young people don’t read news – it’s how they read news.

In a workshop with news professionals from across the world (IRL and online), Pierre Caulliez and Martynas Vanagas discussed how news media can recruit and retain young people as an audience and as news consumers.  

“Gen Z are up-and-coming news subscribers, and news outlets must be prepared to up their game to attract and keep them as loyal readers. It’s not just about the news; it has to be the whole package.”

Rebecca Frank

News Media Alliance, Vice President

Caulliez and Vanagas kicked off the workshop with this interesting quote from Rebecca Frank. The overall theme for the workshop was that media companies need to be there when people change their habits. 

It is not just about creating teasers for news on the website. It is about creating an alternative brand to answer the needs of young people – and recruit them that way to legacy media,” Caulliez and Vanagas said. 

It’s TikTok – for now

For Generation Z, the vehicle for news and content is social media – TikTok mainly, but also platforms such as YouTube. Furthermore, news must be presented in video form, it must be short, and it needs to be fact-based. This is the recipe that has created extremely strong news brands on TikTok in a remarkably short period of time.

“We really believe that TikTok is the way to go right now. But it is not about the platform as such: Content creators will continue to shift through platforms as they develop. The danger for media is in not evolving and not going with the flow,” Caulliez and Vanagas stressed. 

One strong example of this is the way The Washington Post has embraced TikTok. They use simple videos shot in The Post’s offices. They remain true to their roots but are partnering with people who can do content in a fun and interesting way. 

“The Washington Post is not trying to hide that they are a newspaper, even on TikTok,” Caulliez told the audience. “It shows TikTok has evolved rapidly and now embraces serious organizations and serious content, but in an ultra-short format.” 

The secret sauce, step 1: Build brand loyalty, and start early

There is a clear progression in news consumption, and it is based on age and on people’s situation in life. Understanding this progression is the key to recruiting new readers and subscribers – it is, all in all, the secret sauce, as Caulliez and Vanagas put it: 

For young people between the ages of 13 and 17, news companies must introduce themselves as brands and begin to build brand loyalty. “We believe in creating a team of content creators to test what works. Awareness is key – you need to make your brand look cool – keep it short, entertaining, educate them about the world (the “fun fact” approach), and do it in a dynamic way. This is what works for 13- to 17-year-olds. And remember, the famous eight seconds is the time span needed to decide whether you want to look at the content – not the time they can concentrate,” Vanagas said. 

Using influencers to deliver news can be a way to go, but it is inherently vulnerable. The key is to make news attractive upfront and accept the risk of being seen as clickbait. If the story is not presented in an ultra-short form and in a light-hearted way, it gets no traction.  

The secret sauce, step 2: Deliver knowledge and evolve to other platforms

For young people between 18 and 25, news media must realize that they enter a new phase in life. Some enter a university or begin a professional career, and this means people are interested in accumulating more knowledge, not just in having fun. At this stage, the media must work to increase loyalty with longer content formats and to convert their followers to the website. This should be supported by incentives such as strong offers and loyalty programs. In this phase, users are typically ready to move to longer formats which can be on platforms such as YouTube or in the form of a podcast – a good example of this is Hard Fork, NYTimes’ new tech podcast. 

The secret sauce, step 3: Conversion complete

Once a user turns 25 or thereabouts, the conversion will be complete if the news brand continues to deliver quality content in an easily accessible way, dares to challenge assumptions and – last, but not least – prices content fairly. After all, most people have no problem paying for Spotify and Netflix. Caulliez and Vanagas are convinced that legacy media can achieve the same with their news paywalls if they begin to recruit early and embrace the importance of long-term brand-building.  

Check it out:

Some of the news influencers that have an enormous following on TikTok are:  

Hugo Décrypte – the no. 1 news ambassador for young people in France with 3.3 million followers. 95 % of all young people in France check him daily 

Act2ality, Spain, is the single most powerful news outlet on TikTok today in the Spanish-speaking world with 4 million followers, mostly 18 to 24 years of age.  

Max Foster, CNN UK correspondent, with almost 1 million followers.  

Washington Post – 1.5 million followers. Note their payoff: “We are a newspaper.” 

“So, kind of what works now from what I can tell — is the news content that’s more sketch-based, where it’s kind of a skit. That seems to do better, on average.” - Dave Jorgenson, The Washington Post, TikTok Creator