Sacramento: A government city ready for its own brand

Ambitious revitalization project set to shake up the city's public affairs sector.

The government city is undergoing a renaissance that PR professionals say has revived communications in Sacramento, the capital of California.

An ambitious downtown revitalization project is underway, including the construction of a $477 millionarena for the Sacramento Kings. The city’s mayor, Kevin Johnson, is a former NBA all-star and the arena could also be the home of a new Major League Soccer franchise should the city win its well-received bid.  Moreover, a grassroots, volunteer-based campaign called Brandathon – supported by PR firms such as Edelman – is working to attract new businesses to the city.

"Even though it’s the 20th-largest city in the US, Sacramento has always been identified as being close to something else – Napa Valley, San Francisco, or Lake Tahoe," says Steve Telliano, EVP and GM for Edelman’s Sacramento office. "The city really has never had a brand of its own. That is starting to change."

All the above initiatives are good news for an economy too dependent on public spending, says Jeff Randle, CEO of his eponymous firm Randle Communications. 

"The public sector really suffered through the recession, and it was a long slog that saw a lot of people and companies in the private sector leave," he adds.

"We’ve been government-focused for so long that at 5pm everything shuts down," Randle notes. "But you can feel that starting to change. Once the arena is finished, it will be a booming place."

Public affairs has always been the bread and butter of mid- to large-size agencies in Sacramento. In the case of the Edelman office, for example, public affairs ac-counted for at least half of revenue, which last year totalled $3.8 million, a 10% increase versus 2013.

With a renewed sense of optimism, corporations and trade groups such as the California Hospital Association are spending more money on issues and reputation management. Having worked largely with political consultants at the height of the downturn, the association has been doing more broader-based public affairs work as of late, says VP of external relations Jan Emerson-Shea. The company has been working with Randle Communications.

Public affairs strategies are also taking into account that the Democrats lost its supermajorities in both houses of the legislature last year, which means it can no longer override vetoes without support from Republicans.

"While we’re still extremely focused on how something will play from a Democratic point of view, Republicans are also important," says Emerson-Shea. "We also recognize there are some moderate Democrats who are very business-oriented."   

"We take a public affairs approach that incorporates earned and paid media and social to reach 121 legislatures, the administration, and likely voters," she adds. 

Increased spending
By all accounts, government spending has also risen after years of cutbacks, as California tackles some of its most pressing issues, including water conservation. That is also generating spend from key stakeholders. In addition to the California Department of Water Resources, Edelman has been working with California Water Foundation, for instance, while Randle Communications works with Golden State Water Company.

But the competition for work is tough. Some lobby firms often straddle the line between lobbying, which is highly regulated, and public affairs work.

Big agencies are also coming into the market. Weber Shandwick opened an office in the city late last year, and Burson-Marsteller, which closed its Sacramento office in 2005, also now has staff on the ground, if not yet a physical location. Still, no one is forecasting the talent wars seen elsewhere in California.

"We’re only 90 miles from the Bay Area, but it’s a bit different here," says Edelman’s Telliano. "We have a lot of options for talent. We’ve also had people move from our Bay Area office looking for better work-life balance."  


Fact File

Top economic growth sectors
Health and education (4.7% annual growth); construction (4.5%), mining, and logging (6.4%)

Biggest companies in the area 
UC Davis Health System, Sutter Health, and Intel

Biggest agencies in the area
Edelman, Randle Communications, and APCO Worldwide

Why people love it
Affordable, lots of green spaces, and the political backdrop

Why people leave it
Employment opportunities and looking for more nightlife

Fun fact
It’s a nutty city: more than 80% of the world’s supply in almonds is produced in Sacramento

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