Generation Text: Strategic Communications Students Propose How to Reach Millennials

“Young donors want to be part of a world that is always improving, and they want to contribute to progress,” said Strategic Communications student Jessica Bing Gurfinkle during her team presentation of a speculative campaign for the nonprofit Médecins Sans Frontières. “But they...want to contribute to progress on their own terms [in the way] that inspires them the most and with the tools they're most comfortable using.”

For their November 2014 Capstone projects, the outgoing cohort of Strategic Communications students grappled with how to attract, engage, and convert younger consumers for the groups’ clients. These brands included WNYC, The Wall Street Journal, and the humanitarian aid nonprofit Médecins Sans Frontières. Each company asked the students to propose a hypothetical campaign that sought to expand their listener base, reader base, or donor base with millennials. To that end, these student teams proposed communications plans that would get results while remaining within the organizations’ budgetary restraints.

Younger consumers are plugged in digital natives, the respective groups argued. As such, their attention spans are shorter, they don’t want to pay for media, and they expect immediate gratification. However, they are tech-savvy, ambitious, entrepreneurial, and mission-driven – attributes that these teams of Strategic Communications students evoked in their respective campaign proposals.


One team, tasked with infusing WNYC with younger listeners, tapped the power of story – with a technologically innovative edge. Kay Blackwell summoned the phrase “only in New York,” which characterizes WNYC’s original content. With the radio station’s abundance of New York-based narratives, this team focused on leveraging this legacy in order to gain brand awareness. The team’s plan suggested interactive out-of-home advertisements, placement in magazines, and an invitation for users to “share their stories” with WNYC via social media. “By positioning WNYC as the storyteller of New York,” Blackwell and teammate Lauren Hare Lopez wrote, “we will access these feelings of New York pride” in order to attain a larger audience of young, diverse listeners.

The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal team chose to delve deeper into competitor analysis and market research. Group members Carolann Kowalski, Ashley Patterson, Sandy Sanchez, Preety Sidhu, and Landon Wellford researched millennials as a means of refreshing the newspaper’s brand. The Wall Street Journal’s ideal young readers, the group said, are more likely to look up to Mark Zuckerberg than Warren Buffett. This demographic is ambitious, entrepreneurial, and obsessed with innovation. At the same time, this audience isn’t accustomed to paying for media. By introducing a one dollar per week digital-only subscription, the publication could attract these voracious yet financially risk averse media consumers. And with an ad campaign that showcases the humble beginnings of the Steve Jobs of the world, The Wall Street Journal’s messaging could tap into this generation’s ambition and entrepreneurialism. “Make Your Mark,” the team said, summarizing their campaign. “Start here.”

Médecins Sans Frontières

The most innovative team was the Médecins Sans Frontières group, comprised of Jessica Bing Gurfinkle, Erika Amundson, Meg Crockett, and David Meikson. They called attention to millennials’ quest for inspiration and engagement and proposed an experiential booth at the forward-thinking conference South by Southwest. Here, users would not only be able to donate to the nonprofit organization via text but would also encounter the kind of tent that Médecins Sans Frontières uses to perform life-saving medical aid. Visitors would view a multimedia exhibit highlighting the organization’s work in zones of struggle such as West Africa and Syria. Everything in the tent would be camera-ready, enabling users to shoot it and share it on social media with the hashtag #MSFnow. By appealing to the emotions of consumers, positioning MSF as innovative, and enabling immediacy and sharing, the team showed a sophisticated understanding of their audience and its modes of interaction with brands whose values match theirs. It was a vision of 360-degree branding that showed deep consideration and foresight.

With a total of nine teams, each client heard from three groups, which put this triad of student teams in direct competition with each other to win the highest praises. WNYC appreciated one group’s ability to “position [the brand] for the future” while the Wall Street Journal representatives admired one group’s use of Google Hangouts, which “brought [user testimonials] to life.” Strategic Communications faculty member Frank Oswald applauded the aforementioned Médecins Sans Frontières team in particular. “Half of giving a good presentation is about conveying passion for the subject matter,” he said, “and that definitely came through.”