Though its economy has been hit like other US cities, a bevy of solid companies and news outlets is helping Seattle maintain its media and PR relevance.Boasting the headquarters of some of US' most dynamic and interesting companies, including Amazon, T-Mobile, Starbucks and, of course, Microsoft, the Seattle area casts a far larger shadow over the nation's economy than its size suggests. That doesn't mean it's been impervious to economic woes. "We've been hit by a triple-whammy - September 11, which hurt tourism, the tech collapse, and Boeing relocating to the Midwest," says Patrick McGuire, GM of Edelman's Seattle office. "But that's been mitigated by the fact that people like living here." Part of this has to do with a lifestyle that mixes natural outdoor beauty with a cultural life that has served as the launching pad for everything from the musical Hairspray to the grunge music scene. Local media epitomizes the city The Seattle media market in many ways mirrors the city's personality. It's small enough that civility and personal relationships rule the day and resilient enough that most outlets are surviving despite the continuing ad slump. Many PR pros who represent national or global businesses say the local media market can't really be compared to New York, LA, or even San Francisco, but they stress Seattle journalists are still worth pitching. Caroline Boren, VP with Waggener Edstrom, which represents area clients such as Microsoft and T-Mobile, says, "I'd say the local media market is extremely important because of the large number of customers based here. But also, as in the case of Microsoft and others, there's a huge shareholder base to consider, and that audience is very important." Most of those messages are delivered through the general interest newspapers and, to a lesser extent, dedicated business publications such as the Puget Sound Business Journal. While Seattle remains a tech hub, Don Varyu, SVP in the Seattle office of Golin/Harris International, says, "The level of magnitude was never like it was in Silicon Valley as far as the number of outlets was concerned." The past year has seen the demise of the technology/lifestyle magazine Tekbug. In addition, many other outlets have been forced to tighten their belts. "Both of the dailies have admitted that their revenues have declined substantially since the dot-com bubble burst," says Sandeep Kaushik, media reporter at The Stranger, one of two area alternative weeklies. "It seems like everyone is sort of limping along and hurting." That includes local online-only publications, though Seattle was a never a hotbed for local web content sites. The biggest sites, the Microsoft-backed online magazine Slate and MSNBC.com are considered national outlets that, while important, aren't really a target for local pitches. Healthy competition What Seattle can boast, at least for the time being, is that it's a truly competitive two-newspaper town. The Post-Intelligencer, owned by Hearst, and the Times, whose majority owner is the Blethen family, are locked in a legal battle over the Times' attempt to break the joint operating agreement the papers have worked under since 1983. In recent weeks, a judge ruled against the Times, a decision that can be appealed. The paper can also make another attempt next year. What will happen if the Times is eventually successful is anyone's guess, but the general consensus is that eventually one paper, likely the Post-Intelligencer since it has the smaller circulation, would go under. Varyu says, "If Hearst decided to fight they may be able to win, but nobody knows if they're going to make that investment." In the meantime, Seattle area PR pros say both papers are very competitive when it comes to breaking news scoops. "Certainly it gives us more opportunities to tell stories, and because they're so competitive, there's a desire on the part of reporters to be first with information or get the better interview," Boren says. The only major challenge that arises from this is when reporters at either outlet look for exclusives. "It's always very awkward," says Jennifer Rice, PR manager with the Fifth Avenue Theatre. "If we have an interview opportunity that would only be appropriate to go to one paper or the other, I must pick and choose, which can be a tough situation." ----- Pitching...Seattle media Enjoy having two newspapers while you can. Seattle is a competitive print market, but signs point to one of the newspapers disappearing at some point in the near future. Focus on the freelance market. Seattle's lifestyle attracts a lot of freelancers, many of whom don't work for local outlets. As such, this can be a good way to pitch locally yet get national coverage. Don't give up on tech. The area remains a hotbed for innovation, so Seattle should be one of the first to benefit if technology recovers.
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