Joe Schubert, head of the Philadelphia b-to-b agency that has born
his name for 30 years, says he recently met with two new hires in his
office. Both had recently come from jobs at larger New York City
"They wanted to know the difference between how public relations is
practiced in Pennsylvania from the way they practiced in New York," he
says. "I told them that in New York it seems like you're comfortable
being all things to all people. In Pennsylvania, we're very comfortable
finding a specialty and sticking to it, no matter what outside forces
The statistics say that Pennsylvania's revenue growth (20%) lagged
behind the rest of the country's (32%) in 2000. But PR agency executives
in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh say they'll take their rate
of growth. Because when the numbers check in next year, they claim the
state will see an increase in revenue while the rest of the country
swallows the bitter pill of the dot-com crash and soft media economy.
While California, New York, and Massachusetts (among others) have had to
deal with a tremendous readjustment in the business world, Pennsylvania
mainly deals in stable industries. Dot-coms never found a fast track
here. Energy, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and big consumer packaged
goods have. And those areas have given Pennsylvania PR firms some
shelter from the economic storm.
Evidence can be seen in some of the big gains of the past year. Though
he runs a small agency, Schubert says his focus on b-to-b clients netted
13 new accounts in 2000, and this year he is reporting one of his best
years ever. That has been fueled by new business from Motorola
Broadband, bill processing company MEI, and National Standards Testing
Laboratories, which tests and approves the technology that drives
everything from toasters to computers. At Pittsburgh's Jack Horner
Communications, Microsoft has been its lone tech client, but the agency
has profited from new business from hotels built in the refurbished
downtown area, as well as from stalwart brands Fisher Electronics and
Alcoa. Horner posted a 24% increase in revenue in 2000.
"We did not change our stripes to participate in the boom economy," says
CEO Jack Horner. "We kept to our specialty, which is providing excellent
general PR. The boom economy led to growth in some of our local
businesses downtown, and we're having a great year with them."
PA in the big leagues
The biggest player in Pennsylvania is the Pittsburgh-based Ketchum. With
$9.5 million in revenue, the office counts Alcoa and Heinz among
its biggest clients. The Heinz pet snacks division is the biggest area
of new business for the agency this year, says SVP/associate director
Kelly Skoloda. Other new accounts include Pittsburgh-based Quigley, best
known for a cold-symptom-easing gum called ColdEeze. Following it at No.
2 is Tierney at $7.8 million for 2000. According to director Jay
Devine, old-economy clients like Exelon, Aventis, American Water Works,
Blank Rome Comiskey & McCauley, McDonald's, and Deloitte Consulting are
Healthcare - despite continued struggles with regulations in Washington
and rising costs - continues to grow as an industry, with many large
pharmaceutical firms based in the state. Several Pennsylvania-based
agencies have had significant wins in this sector recently. Among them
is Earle Palmer Brown (EPB), the state's No. 7 agency. Lisa Robinson
Packer, general manager of EPB PR Philadelphia, says the agency's most
visible initiative last year was on behalf of the Children's Hospital of
Philadelphia. It produced a video news release about the separation of
conjoined twins at the hospital, which aired nationally and around the
world. EPB claims it is one of the most viewed VNRs ever distributed by
MediaLink (with more than 17.5 million viewers), and has won several
Philadelphia-based healthcare specialist Dorland Sweeney Jones (DSJ),
the third-largest Pennsylvania agency, grew by 28% last year. This year
is proving to show another increase, says DSJ's PR director Nancy Bacher
She points out that DSJ has had to accept more project work and fewer
retainers. "You take the project, you get in there, and you try to grow
the business," she says. Long adds that agencies like her own are
suffering from non-healthcare-specialist agencies (especially in New
York) turning to the sector for a business replacement for dot-coms.
Second, the cachet that New York carries is proving to be a stronger
force when clients choose an agency. Still, this year has given the firm
some significant wins, including major healthcare technology firms
Beckman Coulter, Firekey, Matrix, Novascept, Orametrix, and Roche
"Because we've concentrated on a specialty niche, we've been well served
by that focus," Long says. "I'm cautiously optimistic about the economy
and how it will affect the healthcare field, but I know that we're
positioned extremely well. But the big elephant in the yard is the
Collaboration in lieu of acquisition
That elephant has for all intents and purposes cooled the agency
acquisition activity in the state. Long expects to see more strategic
alliances rather than cash deals between firms in the future. For
example, she is currently talking to other firms in the state that
specialize in targeted marketing to jointly pitch new businesses.
Outside of that, the lone acquisition of note was in February of this
year, when EPB's parent company, Panoramic Communications, acquired
Odyssey, a provider of Internet solutions.
Because of the relative stability of the leading industries in the
state, leading PR executives are optimistic about future prospects.
Healthcare, despite continued struggles with regulations in Washington
and rising costs, continues to grow as an industry.
Energy deregulation will continue to cause worry and even distrust among
consumers. Therefore, it will continue to need the skills of the PR
Burson-Marsteller Pittsburgh, for example, won a key government account
from Pennsylvania's Low Income Energy and Housing initiative, which
sought to inform low-income residents about the effect regulation would
have on them.
"This energy issue is huge across the board," says John Evans, SVP of
Philadelphia-based Al Paul Lefton. "Even companies only marginally
concerned with the energy field are tapping into consumer concerns in
that area to promote the value of their products."
Lefton has found its niche in the energy space by representing
Pennsylvania Power and Light, as well as the Washington, DC-based
Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium, which promotes alternative energy
sources. But Evans says even building-material clients such as Leviton
have turned toward promoting the energy efficiency of their brands.
While the dot-com downturn has not hit Pennsylvania firms as hard as
those in other states, Pennsylvania has harvested the spoils of the
economic boom it spawned. Long says all three of the major PR and
business centers - Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg - have
different reasons to realize growth based on their core businesses.
Healthcare pervades both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Energy is more
prevalent in Harrisburg. "It's a very cool time to be in Pittsburgh,"
says native Jack Horner. Other Pennsylvania PR practitioners agree.
"We haven't had to cut back any staff, and we're hoping we don't have
to," says Laura Gongus, managing director of Burson-Marsteller
"From my perspective, the clients that are in the industries that are
the highest profile in this state are blurring the lines between
advertising and PR, and advertising is cut before PR. So we're seeing
"Big clients are still big clients," says Ketchum's Skoloda. "We haven't
seen any declines from big accounts. We have seen a lot more initial
inquiries over the past six months from potential clients, ranging from
very big to small projects. They could be planning for next year, or
they could be looking to work with us soon. Either way, we'll take
PENNSYLVANIA PR AGENCIES
Rank Firm Name (dollars) Increase Staff Location
2000 2000 (%)
1 Ketchum 9,569,000 12.84 67 Pittsburgh
2 Tierney Strategic
Communications 7,859,382 29.37 47 Philadelphia
3 Dorland Sweeney Jones
Health Comm. 4,050,000 28.82 13 Philadelphia
4 Elias Savion 3,389,700 4.62 10 Pittsburgh
5 Burson-Marsteller 3,308,000 -2.68 17 Pittsburgh
6 Al Paul Lefton Company 2,934,453 10.66 15 Philadelphia
7 Earle Palmer Brown/PR 2,446,259 20.00 12 Philadelphia
8 Magnet Communications 2,127,000 N/A 14 Pittsburgh
9 Signova 1,681,980 381.34 2 Philadelphia
10 Jack Horner
Communications 1,636,834 23.91 20 Pittsburgh
11 Anne Klein & Associates 864,973 -9.18 7 Marlton, NJ*
12 Michael James & Company 626,767 -40.31 8 Pittsburgh
13 Altus Group 425,000 21.43 3 Philadelphia
* Included in PA rankings due to proximity to Philadelphia.
SOURCE: Council of PR Firms Auditing: No audit was required for
inclusion in the rankings. The CEO/CFO/principal was required to sign a
statement verifying the accuracy of the data and agreeing to possible
participation in a random audit Disclaimer: While every effort has been
made to ensure the accuracy of these figures, PRWeek cannot accept
liability for, nor make financial guarantees based upon the information
in this chart.