Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Buzzing Millions

Tina Wells Story


Happening movies, hot TV programs, cool clothes, hip music--it all sounds like a lot of fun, but keeping up with youth culture and advising companies on how to market to young people is also a lot of hard work. “I work when I’m not sleeping,” says Tina Wells. “Sixteen-hour days are the average, but I have a rule about getting eight hours of sleep.” In a world where she is constantly traveling, taking business classes at Wharton and keeping her finger on the pulse of pop culture, the only constant in Wells’ working day is a morning cup of coffee at Starbucks. Yes, Starbucks is still hot and happening, according to Wells.

Wells has been blazing a trail in youth marketing for a decade, founding her company, which was initially called The Buzz, in 1996. Do the math, and you’ll discover she started the company at 16 years old. She wasn’t your typical teenager. “I’m a big daydreamer, but I didn’t have a clue that people would actually pay me to tell them what I thought about their cool products,” she says. Once Wells figured that out, she didn’t look back. What began from her parents’ home as writing product reviews for a newspaper for teen girls grew into a multimillion-dollar business. Says Wells, “I was a teenager, so it wasn’t like I had incredible startup costs.”

Buzz Marketing Group extends well beyond its 10 employees. A BuzzSpotters network of more than 9,000 teens and tweens helps feed the company’s research and keeps Wells in touch with what’s happening. “I talk to young people every day,” she says. “I also spend a lot of time talking to parents. I really think that’s the key to my business success. [I keep in mind that] with every child comes a parent.”

In 2005, Wells launched a youth marketing magazine called BuzzEd and is looking to branch out from there. “I’ve marketed other people’s products for so long that I’m going to start creating a lot of my own stuff,” says Wells, adding that she can see herself still doing what she’s doing 20 years from now. When it comes to a love of pop culture, age is just a number.

The best way to know your market is to dive right in and find creative ways to keep in touch with the people who can provide you with knowledge.