MARKET FOCUS ATLANTA: Atlanta PR is on fire - Atlanta is hot and it’s not just the summer heat. Kimberly Krautter explains how hi-tech and other emerging sectors have expanded its PR market 31.2%

As soon as headlines shouted, ’It’s Atlanta!’ in 1990, an Olympic boom hit the city, capping an already cresting wave of growth that began in the 1960s. City officials and business leaders redoubled their efforts to attract new industries with the pitch ’If the world is coming to Atlanta, so should you.’

As soon as headlines shouted, ’It’s Atlanta!’ in 1990, an Olympic boom hit the city, capping an already cresting wave of growth that began in the 1960s. City officials and business leaders redoubled their efforts to attract new industries with the pitch ’If the world is coming to Atlanta, so should you.’

As soon as headlines shouted, ’It’s Atlanta!’ in 1990, an Olympic

boom hit the city, capping an already cresting wave of growth that began

in the 1960s. City officials and business leaders redoubled their

efforts to attract new industries with the pitch ’If the world is coming

to Atlanta, so should you.’

New life was pumped into every sector of the city. Atlanta’s PR industry

was fueled by the pre-Olympic expansion. The summer 1996 games brought

many agencies valuable exposure to large and global clients that wanted

a beachhead in Atlanta for the event. And the city’s largest agency

offices - Cohn & Wolfe, GCI Group, Ketchum, Fleishman-Hillard - were

able to showcase their abilities as strategic marketers in a very high

stakes game. In fact, GCI-Atlanta, born during this period, has become a

top-three player.

To everyone’s surprise, a much-prognosticated post-games lull never


Instead, the city’s combination of urban amenities with small-town charm

and a low cost of living proved to transplants that they would be crazy

to transfer out of Atlanta.

The people who stayed are responsible for the emerging industries that

account for a large share of today’s Atlanta PR business. The city is

now an incubator of new technologies and start-up dot-coms are fueling

PR agencies with healthy capital. The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce

reports that at year-end 1998, the city absorbed 201 new industry

relocations, 77,000 new jobs and nearly 100,000 new residents across the

20-county metropolitan area.

And according to PRWeek’s survey of the nation’s top 200 PR firms,

between 1997 and 1998, revenues for those Atlanta firms that could

provide figures for both years increased 31.2%, from dollars 32.4

million to dollars 42.5 million.

In the past two years, hometown PR shop Hayslett Sorrel has attracted

Kodak and Andersen Consulting to its national client roster. President

and CEO Charlie Hayslett maintains that the emphasis on global and

national outreach is important, but agencies still thrive from local


’A lot of firms have done a good job of diversifying into other markets

and other states, but the reality is that our core business is servicing

Atlanta and Georgia-based clients,’ he says, adding that his shop is

charting a steady growth of 23% to 25% over last year, primarily from

new clients.

With the city’s roster of blue chip players, Hayslett’s observation is

not off-base. Each year from 1993 to 1997 Atlanta led the country in new

jobs, housing starts and domestic migration. Industrial giants such as

Siemens and Porsche established plants and US headquarters in the metro

area. And Dillard’s and Nordstrom have bolstered the retail sector,

while Motorola, Nortel and a host of telecom and hi-tech start-ups are

both serving and challenging Ma Bell and its favorite son,


Diversified PR fortunes

Hence, though the grand-daddies of Atlanta business - BellSouth,

Coca-Cola and Delta - still account for a large portion of the local

workforce, the fortunes of the city’s PR agencies are no longer strictly

tied to these home-grown entities.

Jane Shivers has been a top Atlanta PR pro for over 20 years and now

heads Ketchum-Atlanta, which has been a major beneficiary of the city’s

business growth. ’In the early years most of that growth was from

Atlanta-based clients,’ says Shivers. ’Today our clients are located

throughout the country. Geography no longer drives the decision.’

Shivers is projecting fees of dollars 16.7 million for her shop in 1999.

Its acquisition last year of Crescent Communications, now Ketchum

Crescent, is the major factor in the agency’s dominance in the city.

Crescent and Alexander-Ogilvy were the two pioneers of hi-tech PR in the

South, and are responsible for spawning a niche industry in the


Jan Lewin, GM of the local Manning Selvage & Lee office, believes the

city’s PR community is reaping more than just the rewards of an

interactive society. ’Atlanta has always been a service economy and that

is where the fastest growth is occurring,’ she says.

Lewin points out that the city’s unusually young demographic skew (in

the 1990 census, 45% of the population is between ages 21 and 44) makes

it a high consuming market. And an unexpected Atlanta oddity is that it

has more restaurants per capita than any other in the US.

Of the top agencies, Cohn & Wolfe has probably undergone the most

significant transformation since the Olympics. It suffered a notable dip

in earnings between 1997 and 1998, making it the only major player to

feel a post-games lull. New C&W Atlanta chief Tony DeMartino says that

certain client contracts tied to the Olympics simply ended at the end of

1997 and beginning of 1998. However, DeMartino also feels the agency was

not properly positioned for success in the post-games business


Indeed, since DeMartino’s arrival C&W Atlanta has repositioned itself as

a branding expert, steering away from its tradition as a

sports-marketing agency. The most remarkable change is the shop’s

success at attracting new e-commerce and Internet clients. He claims

that C&W Atlanta has bettered Ketchum, GCI and Fleishman in a dozen

recent hi-tech account wins. ’We are tracking to end up at dollars 5.2

million for 1999,’ says DeMartino, a 30% increase over 1998.

As a top PR man with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, new

GCI GM Bill Marks was a major player in attracting new and global

companies to the area in the early ’90s. At his own agency, Marks has

embarked on an aggressive healthcare practice that includes the

development of an animal healthcare practice. ’About 60% of our growth

has come from existing clients,’ says Marks, who projects the agency’s

fee billings to reach the dollars 7 million target at year end.

A market in full

Even smaller agencies are booming. Some of the boutiques, like Abovo

Marketing and Duffey Communications, are redefining themselves as

full-service communications firms, emphasizing the strategic elements of

business communications but lumping press releases and creative into

tactical offerings.

’We’re not going to turn into an Andersen Consulting nor do we want to,’

says Duffey president Lee Duffey. ’But the management consulting firm

has flourished in this year and that’s where we see the agency


Georgia peaches: the top 15 Atlanta PR agencies

Rank    Company                        Income        Chge

98 97                              1998        1997     %

1  1    Ketchum PR           14,304,000   8,002,000    79

2  3    GCI/APCO              5,330,170   3,931,474    36

3  N/A  Ogilvy PR             4,986,200         N/A   N/A

4  4    Duffey

        Communications        4,590,000   3,410,000    35

5  2    Cohn & Wolfe          4,231,499   5,085,000   -17

6  5    Fleishman Hillard     3,616,000   2,322,000    56

7  N/A  Manning Selvage &

        Lee                   2,949,000         N/A   N/A

8  6    Hayslett Sorrel       2,099,434   1,992,640     5

9  9    The Headline Group    1,846,473   1,572,665    17

10 8    Golin/Harris          1,700,000   1,600,000     6

11 12   Edelman PR            1,458,698     942,293    55

12 7    Weber PR              1,184,048   1,783,952   -34

13 11   Dowling, Langley &

        Associates            1,104,978     734,301    50

14 10   Copithorne & Bellows    985,571     984,583   0.1

15 N/A  Porter Novelli          538,355         N/A   N/A

        TOTAL                50,924,426  32,360,908  31.2*

Rank    Company                US income  Atlanta    US income  Atlanta

98 97                                           %                     %

                                    1998     1998         1997     1997

1  1    Ketchum PR           101,485,000       14   78,769,000       10

2  3    GCI/APCO              44,539,245       12   37,786,457       10

3  N/A  Ogilvy PR             54,457,700        9   33,053,000      N/A

4  4    Duffey

        Communications         4,590,000      100    3,410,000      100

5  2    Cohn & Wolfe          25,981,976       16   21,533,360       24

6  5    Fleishman Hillard    136,272,000        3  115,193,000        2

7  N/A  Manning Selvage &

        Lee                   50,173,300        6   37,767,050      N/A

8  6    Hayslett Sorrel        2,099,434      100    1,992,640      100

9  9    The Headline Group     1,846,473      100    1,572,665      100

10 8    Golin/Harris          48,612,159        3   42,088,000        4

11 12   Edelman PR           101,868,218        1   86,833,594        1

12 7    Weber PR              57,866,543        2   49,020,178        4

13 11   Dowling, Langley &

        Associates             1,104,978      100      734,301      100

14 10   Copithorne & Bellows  23,563,683        4   19,863,246        5

15 N/A  Porter Novelli        85,235,570        1   66,594,342      N/A

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in