Regional Roundtable: Los Angeles

In the fourth year of its Regional Forums, PRWeek is returning to cities it has previously visited, as well as adding a handful of new regions to the rotation. For each event, leading PR pros from a variety of agencies, corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations take part in a roundtable discussion about the issues affecting them and their peers.

In the fourth year of its Regional Forums, PRWeek is returning to cities it has previously visited, as well as adding a handful of new regions to the rotation. For each event, leading PR pros from a variety of agencies, corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations take part in a roundtable discussion about the issues affecting them and their peers.

PRWeek's Eleanor Trickett and Randi Schmelzer were in Los Angeles for this year's first Regional Forum. Click here for the pdf.

Eleanor Trickett: (PRWeek): What are some of the differences between marketing to audiences in Los Angeles and Southern California as opposed to other parts of the country?

David Schull (Euro RSCG Life): Our agency's focus is primarily healthcare, raising awareness and educating the doctors, as well as consumers; we also do corporate communications and investor relations for companies in the biotech space. There are about 25,000 people employed in the biomedical industry here in LA County alone - there's a lot of opportunity in this state for health care.

Gail Becker (Edelman): I think that's right. Healthcare is doing quite well, as are technology and entertainment. But the bulk of our work is actually national: We don't really do work on a local basis. For those projects that we do do on a local basis, one of the particular challenges of this market is, it's very jaded. You have to be that much above, beyond, loud, splashy, and different in order to capture people's attention.

Duncan Wardle (Disney): One of the biggest challenges facing us at the moment - and the movie industry as a whole - is piracy. Particularly for a company that wants to enter China in a big way. Having to deal with the piracy issues within China makes it a very awkward world to step into, because it's a world where piracy is considered a way of life and is generally accepted - and yet you're there to protect your brand.

Jimmy Lee (IW Group): In the Asian-American marketplace, there's a globalization of entertainment going on, actually a cross-pollination of the entertainment industry. Before, Chinese Americans would watch Chinese programs, South Asians would watch South Asian programs. Now what's happening is, a lot of these programs are being cross-pollinated within cultures and countries within Asia. You see the growth of Bollywood, the growth of the Korean entertainment industry - there's a Korean singer by the name of Rain, he's actually cross-pollinated across all the Asian countries and sold out Madison Square Garden two nights in a row. That's a globalization. Those are things that are going to start infiltrating what Hollywood is doing here in the US, as well.

Wardle (Disney):That's what technology is enabling now. Up until this year, we had separate campaigns for Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Completely different campaigns, you wouldn't recognize them. And yet if you do global insight studies, and you look at what consumers see us as, it's not where they go on vacation, but why they take vacation: People take a holiday to escape the reality of their everyday lives and spend time together with loved ones. That's how consumers across global boundaries see our brand today, and technology is taking us there.

Ryan Fey (Omelet): That's something we found, as well - and the influence that Latin American, Asian and African American communities have had, especially urban communities, by moving out to the 'burbs.

Stephen Macias (Here): We're actually finding the exact opposite to be true. Every single market in this country - in "gayborhoods" as we call them, neighborhoods where gays and lesbians are concentrated - are very different. San Francisco is different than Los Angeles, Los Angeles is different than New York. Los Angeles and New York share a similar cynicism or skepticism that folks in Fresno or Toledo or even Miami don't have. So figuring out those specific markets has been a real challenge. And I think that's one of the things you're going to find technology doing, is allowing us to get a better look at how diverse this country is, and the growing challenge diversity creates for a national campaign.

Stephen Chavez (La Agencia de Orsi): That's also very true when you're looking at the Dominicans in New York, the Cubans in Florida, the very strong Mexican community here in Los Angeles. You can't do a blanket PR campaign nationwide. You can point out some universal themes, some universal truths. But to make it really work, you really need to tailor it and get people at the local level involved.

Schull (Euro RSCB): How many of you find that when you talk about your location in Southern California, the immediate reaction of a client is, that's the trend-setting market? I've already experienced it here: The doctors we speak with are much more in tune with generating publicity and speaking on behalf of the brand out here versus some of the doctors we were dealing with in the Midwest and also in the Southeast.

Wardle (Disney): Because Los Angeles and the West Coast do set the trends - particularly in the entertainment industry - we've been able to do some grassroots campaigns on a local level, very directly and specifically aimed at getting national attention, but not spending the national budget. I think that this market in particular has allowed us to do that.

Kim Hunter (Lagrant Communications): When I moved here 20 years ago, the entertainment industry was the dominant industry - and to a large extent, it still drives the city of Los Angeles. But there's another industry that drives Los Angeles: There are six automotive companies, based right here in the Southland. One of those - my largest account - is Nissan of North America. And I am baffled how a state this size - the wealthiest state in the Union - allowed a company like Nissan of North America that had 1,300 employees to move out.

Rod Clayton (Weber Shandwick): Because of the ability to travel and communicate much more easily now, most of the time, you probably would be able to a lot of the great work you do anyway wherever you are, wherever your client is based.

Howard Gordon (The Cheesecake Factory): Our job is to make sure that we're taking care of the businesses and the people that we're working for. We go where the people are that we're working with, and make sure that wherever they are, that they're going to be happy with our services.

Schull (Euro RSCG): In the biomedical industry, we actually see that the companies are choosing to come here. So you see initiatives to attract these biomedical companies because what they're looking for is real estate and proximity to the venture capital firms, and then they want the scientists, the researchers from these regional academic institutions.

Becker (Edelman): I think what the issue exemplifies is both sides of the coin in terms of being, living and working in LA. Yes, we're very grateful that Nissan still wants to work with both of us - we're thrilled about that. And I think one of the reasons is that they do is because they still want an LA presence. Los Angeles is a key automotive market, it's a very key market, period.

Jean Oh (LACMA): One of the things that really strikes me is, we are a large public institution in a very non-civic minded city. Here we are trying to promote something that is cultural and educational - sometimes, it seems to a large, cynical audience that doesn't really care. The irony about being in the art world is that you have "the public," but then you also have the very influential arts audience. One of our large challenges is diversifying our audience because the typical member of LACMA is late 40s, female, white, upper-middle class, college- and university-educated. But we have the challenges of a public institution.

Trickett (PRWeek): How is government business right now? Has the overbilling issue affected local/government work?

Hunter (Lagrant): That whole [issue] had a dramatic impact on local contracts from the city and the county. When I started this agency 15 years ago, I built it a lot on healthcare and social marketing issues - but that market has dried up. A lot of people are resistant to issue a PR RFP because they're concerned about the ramifications.

Manuel Camargo (The Rogers Group): We've been involved in the public sector for more than a decade, and one of the things you become accustomed to right away is just working in a very transparent way, especially if you're spending taxpayer dollars. From an internal standpoint, you need to have all the systems in place, be able to help an outside audience understand exactly how you spent every dime.

Becker (Edelman): One of the by-products of this was exemplified in a VP candidate interview I had recently. She said ethical behavior was very important to her, and wanted to know about our policies. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to tell her about our code of conduct and our ethical officer and all these things. And not only was she really intrigued and enticed by it, but it felt really good that people now have it on their radar screen and are really caring about this issue. It's a wonderful opportunity for us to sort of redeem the industry.

Trickett (PRWeek): Who's hiring right now? And who is just banging their head against their desk trying to find the right person?

Wardle (Disney): One of the challenges we're facing right now is the cost of living in Southern California. On a pay scale, we are equitable with many other agencies or corporate houses. But to attract young, talented people in from around the country has been a real challenge.

Chavez (La Agencia): I'm having to be more flexible, too, with commuting, and people wanting to work part-time, for family issues - I don't want to lose my talent because I'm being rigid with that. So I'm having to re-evaluate: Yeah, she can work from home today. Yeah, she can call in for this conference.

Clayton (WS): But the reality is, you have clients who want to see the person. And the employee themselves, particularly at the more senior level, has really got to be there if they're managing people.

Hunter (Lagrant): I see this big disconnect between the academic world and matriculating into the real world: I am amazed at the number of kids that come out of the Cal State system. They're not teaching these kids the fundamentals of communicating. The fundamentals of writing have been lost.

Carol Stogsdill (UCLA): I hear this all the time: Kids aren't as smart as they used to be, they can't write as well as they used to, they can't communicate as well as they used to - the truth is, that's not the truth. In the last year, I've done a lot of hiring in the communications department at UCLA, and a lot of really good candidates have come in.

Becker (Edelman): I think the talent pool applying for jobs today is the best I've ever seen. One of things the dot-com boom has done is, it really elevated PR. It really showed that PR can have a seat at the table, and ultimately does make a difference in business. And I see that more and more young people are interested in it, and enticed by the prospect of being part of that.

Schull (Euro RSCG): Because we focus on healthcare, we prefer to hire people who work in healthcare positions or have science backgrounds, not necessarily public relations backgrounds. It's a lot easier for us to train somebody who understands the science than it is to bring somebody who's out of school, wants to work in public relations, and then has to learn the subject matter.

Chavez (La Agencia): I don't see the diversity in hiring, and it's almost scary. We're looking at Southern California, which has a Latino population of close to 47%. But if you go to some of the larger general-market firms in this town, I'm not seeing the management reflect that. ...I sat on the board of our local PRSA chapter, I was the token Latino. What's going on here?

Macias (Here): It's a very good question... It's a challenge, but I'm not exactly sure what that's about. Maybe we have different expectations of what the room should look like.

Wardle (Disney): The tendency of any company is, "I've hired a Hispanic employee, therefore they must work on the Hispanic account. I've hired an African-American employee, therefore I'm going to put them on the African-American account." And yet if you ask the employee, the one thing they don't want to work on is that. Because they want to expand their own horizons.

Camargo (Rogers): We have strong diversity within our firm, right through to a Latino partner, Latinos on the management committee, African Americans on the management committee, openly gay employees within the group. And we look for the same diversity when it comes to the types of backgrounds that people have. Because in the end, we don't have a homogenous target as we reach out for our clients, and having that diversity around the table is a strong competitive advantage. One of the ways we've been able to increase the diversity of the firm over the years is to make sure that the pool of candidates is as diverse as it can be, then we hire the person we think is the best for the job. But if you don't start by reaching out into the communities, have candidates in those communities know that you have jobs available, you're never going to be able to increase the diversity of the firm.

Macias (Here): From somebody who's actually hiring PR agencies, the thing that I'm pleased to see is that I have some choices. I have agencies that are gay-and-lesbian specific in everything that they do, and I met with Fleishman-Hillard, because they have a gay and lesbian initiative within their company. And so from my company's perspective, the ability to have choices does speak to at least some forward movement.

Lee (IW): I actually worked at a Fortune 500 company on the PR side for about eight years; I was the only Asian-American PR practitioner among 250 professionals in the company. And one of the things that I saw was that there weren't people that looked like me, that I could go for advice or mentoring. What ends up happening is, you see an opportunity where you think you can make the most contributions - often times you may be a person of color, and you may not want to do Latino marketing or Asian-American marketing or African-American marketing, but you see that's your opportunity to shine within an organization. However, I see a lot of Asian Americans who start off at a general-market agency but who leave after being there two, three, four years because they don't see the opportunities for advancement. They feel like they're pigeonholed into an Asian American or multicultural marketing role.

Fey (Omelet): My agency is a very color-blind place. We base everything we do and every person that we talk to on big ideas, period. I will show you this by giving you case studies: We're launching "What's Up Rockers" which is Larry Clark's next film - it's about a group of real Latino teens skating through Beverly Hills. X-Box Live, we're on the Asian initiative. Manifest XO, an affluent African-American brand. Harajuku Lovers, targeting not just Americans but Japanese Americans - again, we're white.

Trickett (PRWeek): Let's talk about the local media here. What trends have you noticed?

Stogsdill (UCLA): It's taken everybody a long time to get to the place where we don't feel like The LA Times is the only game in town: If you didn't get your story in The LA Times, your client wasn't happy. I don't see that anymore. It may be a lot more important to get a front-page story in La Opinion. It may be a lot more important to have Univison come out and do something, or the local ABC affiliate. It's a different world. We used to be really good at looking ahead, and I think we've all stumbled a little bit. Who would have figured that even two years ago blogs would be something we'd all have to make a media list for?

Chavez (La Agencia): A headline for me was reading Univision's press release that they beat ABC, NBC, and CBS in the February sweeps over the Olympics. It's what Carol is talking about: Here in Southern California, we've got two daily Spanish-language newspapers, we've now got six networks, and the top-rated radio station across general market is a Spanish-language station. The shift in demographics shows us we need to look at how we're reaching out to listeners and viewers.

Lee (IW Group): Ten years ago, there were only about 200 outlets that covered news and information in Asian languages. Currently there's about 650 outlets in the US, and of that, 293 are based in California. The Asian segment is also relying on newly created forms of media - things like your secondary FMs.

Wardle (Disney): I don't know how many of these media outlets will still be around in five years' time. The days of interruption marketing and interruption communication are over. Instead of PR communication at your consumers, it will be a conversation and a dialogue with your consumers. And I may or may not in five years' time choose to have that conversation via a news media partner. I may, because it will continue to add third-party credibility. But we're getting closer to one-on-one relationships: selected consumption is it. In five years' time, if a consumer screens me out, there's only one way to reach them - it won't be through NBC. It won't be through the Los Angeles Times, but through my advocates and evangelists. Our company has traditionally been somewhat conservative, but we've already taken 15% of our divisional marketing budget this year and moved it across, said we'll try some things we don't know the answers to yet. We're essentially going to leverage our evangelists' passion for the brand, and let them have the conversation for us.

Participants

Gail Becker

President Western region, Edelman

Manuel Camargo

EVP, The Rogers Group

Stephen Chavez

VP, director of PR, La Agencia de Orci

Rod Clayton

EVP, GM, Weber Shandwick

Ryan Fey

Partner, Omelet

Howard Gordon

SVP, corporate comms/mktg., The Cheesecake Factory

Kim Hunter

CEO, Lagrant Communications

Jimmy Lee

VPPR, IW Group

Stephen Macias

VP corporate comms and PR, Here Network

Jean Oh

External affairs director, Transformation Project, LACMA

David Schull

MD and SVP, Euro RSCG Life

Carol Stogsdill

Executive dir., media relations, UCLA

Duncan Wardle

VP, press and publicity, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts

SELECTEDPRFIRMS
Bender/Helper Impact
Edelman
FischerHealth
Fleishman-Hillard
GCI Group
GolinHarris
La Agencia de Orci
MS&L
MPRM
Porter Novelli
The Rogers Group
Rogers & Cowan
Weber Shandwick
Ogilvy PR


FORTUNE500 COMPANIES
Walt Disney
Northrop Grumman
Ingram Micro
Computer Sciences
Countrywide Financial
PacifiCare Health Systems
DirecTVGroup
Health Net
Occidental Petroleum
Edison International
Amgen

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