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Car Companies Let the Young Speak
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With the auto show tuning up in Detroit this week, a recent story from my favorite newspaper, the Detroit Free Press, seems so appropriate.

One of the cars being unveiled this week is the redesigned 2010 Buick LaCrosse. According to J.D. Power and Associated, the averageage of Buick buyers in the United States last year was 63. Yes, you read that correctly.

Tim Higgins, the young guy on the Freep's auto team, reported oin the designers who overhauled the LaCrosse. They are young, too. In their 20s and 30s. The article is striking because GM's solution to an aging clientele is exactly what a lot of newspaper companies should be trying. If you want to expand and extend your market, give people who are in that demographic a bigger vote.

Here are a couple of excerpts from Higgins' article. But I have substituted a couple words -- in bold. See what you think.

"The company turned to a collection of some of the newspaper's youngest lead designers in hopes of injecting a more youthful voice into the newspaper.


" 'We wanted people like us to be able to go, "That's a cool newspaper. I've got to look at that," ' said Justin Thompson, 33, a lead exterior designer on the newspaper.

"For the designers, the newspaper was a unique opportunity, since many designers their ages rarely get the opportunity to take leadership roles in such a project, company officials said.

" 'It's an opportunity to make your mark on a brand that's re-emerging from a design point of view,' Thompson said."

For years, I worked to get more youthful ideas into the Free Press. A lot of editors supported that. But not all. At one point, shortly after hiring someone in their 20s, I was trying to bring in a second person, also in their 20s. An editor objected: "Aren't we hiring an awful lot of young people?" Right. Two out of what was then 300? I don't think so. As the 300 raised our average age a year at a time, we would hardly see a dent with 10 young people, let alone two.

The second young person was hired, but that's not even half the issue. Newspapers need to ask them what they think.

I am not in favor of kicking all the Buick drivers out of the executive garage. We need experience, too. But let's get the 60-year-olds and the 30-year-olds to sit down together and work on some solutions.

Higgins' original article is here.

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