Minnesota's Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have been getting some great PR lately.
This month's Kiplinger's Personal Finance named the Twin Cities one of the five best places to be married with children, while Minneapolis ranked number two in Kiplinger's 2006 poll of "Smart Places to Live" and as one of "Seven Cool Cities" for young professionals. Minneapolis is also the country's "Top Tech City" (Popular Science), "One of the Top 10 Green Cities in the US" (National Geographic), and the "Where to Go Next" city of 2006 (Travel & Leisure).
Such accolades hint at a robust regional economy - supported by a healthy mix of industries - that offers an enhanced quality of life, all key factors currently propelling the thriving PR industry.
Today, the Twin Cities boast a "disproportionately large" PR industry, says Doug Spong, president of local stalwart Carmichael Lynch Spong.
"We rank as one of the six or seven largest regions within the PR industry, but we are actually the 13th-largest [Nielsen Designated Market Area] in the US," he adds.
The agency life
"Companies here are doing more than just talking about more PR, but hiring firms, increasing budgets, and adding PR earlier in the mix," says Rose McKinney, president of the Minnesota PRSA chapter, which is enjoying a 10% swell in membership this year.
Financial performance is positive, though varied, with most agencies alluding to top-line and bottom-line growth. Peak performers include Padilla Speer Beardsley (PSB), reporting revenue growth in the 15% range.
"This has always been a particularly strong PR market compared with similar-sized markets," says Lynn Casey, CEO of PSB. "That's largely related to the disproportionate number of corporate headquarters here."
That deep mix of clients includes such important brands as General Mills, Best Buy, Target, and 3M.
Robert Hanvik, SVP/partner/ GM at Fleishman-Hillard, says PR thrives due to collaboration with other marketing disciplines.
"Maybe it's 'Minnesota nice,' but I believe we do integration better than most regions," Hanvik says.
"We play in the same sandbox with ad and promotion agencies, small boutiques... in the name of what's best for the client."
This cross pollination has caused some here to re-envision how they do business. For example, agency Fast Horse is planning to shed its PR moniker to exhibit more of a consumer marketing persona, says president Jšrg Pierach.
"In the fast-changing consumer marketing world, PR has become too narrowly defined," he adds.
Meanwhile, Weber Shandwick continues its run as the largest PR operation in the area.
"It is very competitive market, but historically a market where there is very good respect across agencies," says Sara Gavin, president of WS' Minneapolis office, who reports strongest growth in healthcare and tech.
"You know how I know the market is heating up?" asks Ryan May, author of Minnesota PR Blog. "I'm receiving a tremendous number of requests to post job openings, especially in technology and especially for mid-level PR people."
"This region is well diversified," says Casey. "We may not see the great windfalls when a certain sector takes off, a la the dot-coms. But we also don't experience the downside of being overly dependent on one or two industries."
Once a nexus for timber and milling, the Twin Cities are the primary business center between Chicago and Seattle, with a corporate presence in commerce, finance, transportation, and health- care, while smaller verticals thrive, including publishing, milling, food processing, graphic arts, insurance, and hi-tech.
Greg Zimprich, director of brand PR for General Mills, says he loves the stability of the local PR scene. "We have built strong partnerships with several Minneapolis-based agencies that have been around for years," he says. "Some of our local agencies service national clients that could partner with anyone, but they choose to bring their business here."
In addition to solid historical performers like General Mills, a new crop of industries continues to produce new revenue streams.
"Large medical device manufacturers continue to grow, while emerging med-tech companies are raising capital fast and furiously," says Margaret Anne Hennen, PR director for Fairview Health Services.
"Everything is not happening in New York," she adds. "This is a highly competitive atmosphere, producing quality PR for companies at the forefront of their industries."
Top media in the Twin Cities include Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, Twin Cities Business, Minnesota Business, Minnesota Public Radio, WCCO-AM (CBS), WCCO-TV (CBS), KARE-TV (NBC), KMSP-TV (FOX), and KSTP-TV (ABC).
"The newspapers here, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, are both reeling from the same advertising downturn and loss of readers to the Web that is afflicting other newspapers," says David Hakensen, VP of PR for Pearson Education.
Zimprich notes that local media factor heavily into his outreach.
"We've established good ties to our local media outlets, and it's important that we continue to nurture those relationships," he says. "While our campaigns generally target a broader focus, it's always nice to secure placements right here in our own backyard."
Selected PR agencies
Carmichael Lynch Spong Clarity Coverdale Fury Exponent Fast Horse Fleishman-Hillard Haberman & Associates Karwoski & Courage Kohnstamm Communications Maccabee Group Misukanis & Odden Morgan & Myers Padilla Speer Beardsley Tunheim Partners Weber Shandwick
Fortune 500 companies
Company Rev. ($bn)
Target 59.5 Travelers Cos. 25.1 3M 22.9
US Bancorp 19.1 General Mills 11.6 Medtronic 11.2 Xcel Energy 9.8 Ameriprise Financial 8.1 Thrivent Financial for Lutherans 6.1 Ecolab 4.8 Nash-Finch 4.6 PepsiAmericas 3.9 St. Jude Medical 3.3