MARKET FOCUS INDIANA: Indiana: pulling out of PR adolescence - A few years ago, PR in Indiana meant handing out balloons at mall openings. But as John Frank discovers, PR in the Hoosier state is growing up

If the PR business in Indiana were a person, it would be a teenager - cocky and self-assured, but just starting to grow and define itself for the future as it deals with the usual bumps and bruises along the way.

If the PR business in Indiana were a person, it would be a teenager - cocky and self-assured, but just starting to grow and define itself for the future as it deals with the usual bumps and bruises along the way.

If the PR business in Indiana were a person, it would be a teenager

- cocky and self-assured, but just starting to grow and define itself

for the future as it deals with the usual bumps and bruises along the


Fifteen to 20 years ago, there were few PR agencies in Indiana. Even

seven years ago, when Mike Snyder, now VP of PR with Caldwell

VanRiper/MARC, returned to his native Indiana from Los Angeles, ’there

was a lot of balloon PR still being done.’ Translation: handing out

balloons at mall openings was passing for PR.

The old-line industries that then fueled the state’s economy didn’t

believe in using external PR agencies, explains Mel Sharpe, a professor

at Ball State University in Muncie, who’s been observing the Indiana PR

scene since he came to the school in 1981. What PR those companies did,

they did in-house.

When Myra Borshoff started her Indianapolis PR firm 15 years ago, ’there

really was only one independent PR firm of any size’ in the city (it’s

now called Sease Gerig), she says. Now when you open up the Yellow

Pages, there’s a ton of them.’

A new scene

As Borshoff notes, it’s a much different PR scene in the Hoosier state

today. The old-line industrial companies once based here are largely

gone (the wrenching changes the Rust Belt economy went through in the

’80s took care of that). Today, Eli Lilly, a pharmaceuticals giant,

ranks as the top corporate employer in the state. The US government is

the major employer, followed by the state itself.

The corporate employers left, in most cases, have dramatically trimmed

in-house PR and are hiring less-seasoned, and therefore lower-cost,

internal PR people, notes Sharpe. At the same time, they’re increasingly

looking outside for PR strategy counsel. ’They’re not bringing in the

management strategists, they’re bringing in the technicians,’ he says of

in-house PR staffs.

That’s meant business for the likes of Borshoff, Snyder and others such

as David Sease, vice chairman and partner with Indianapolis-based Sease

Gerig, one of the oldest PR firms in the state (a predecessor firm that

Sease evolved out of began doing business in 1966). ’Growth is coming

from more companies understanding the need for PR services,’ Sease


The lack of major corporate accounts has been a blessing in disguise for

firms like Borshoff. Major international PR firms largely have stayed

out of the state because of the lack of major corporate business. Of the

big names in PR, only Publicis Dialog has an office in Indiana.

Without the majors nipping at their heels, the locals have been able to

develop business in sectors such as healthcare and professional


State efforts to promote hi-tech are just beginning to bear fruit in

terms of start-ups - and such companies are hungry for PR.

And when industrial growth has come - several manufacturers have truck

plants in the state and Visteon, the Ford car-parts businesses, is still

a major employer - such operations are increasingly using local PR


All that spells growth for Indiana PR, perhaps not at the national

average of 24% a year, but healthy enough that the few firms releasing

their revenue numbers say they’re expecting a big year in 2000.

Indianapolis, the state capital and largest city, has become the hub of

Indiana PR, although firms also populate places like Evansville, Fort

Wayne and the northern border region near Chicago.

Borshoff’s 21-person firm, Borshoff Johnson & Co., is the largest in

both Indianapolis and the state with PR revenues of dollars 2.2 million

last year. Borshoff represents such clients as Indiana Power & Light and

the Indianapolis Colts football team. Her 1999 revenues were largely

unchanged from what she calls a robust ’98, but Borshoff attributes that

to efforts devoted to moving her company to new space.

Like most Indiana firms, Borshoff Johnson calls itself a PR


Its client base is also a diverse one, with no single client dominating

its billing rolls - a pattern Borshoff says holds true for her

competitors as well. ’Every firm has a whole bunch of little clients,’

she says. ’We don’t have a lot of clients who are considered blue


CRE Marcom is another shop that saw only modest growth last year after a

strong ’98, says Les Boyle, president of the integrated marketing


Boyle is expecting that to change, though, predicting 40% PR growth this

year. He says he is looking to hire two more pros to add to the four his

shop now has. While noting his office had total capitalized billings of

dollars 25 million last year, he doesn’t break out PR income. With only

four pros, however, it would be fair to estimate his PR fees in the

dollars 400,000 area.

Growth areas

Bruce Hetrick, president of Hetrick Communications, puts his firm at

number two among those in the state, with ’99 revenues of roughly

dollars 1.1 million, up 25% from ’98. Since opening its doors eight

years ago, Hetrick’s shop has grown from just himself to a staff of 15

pros, garnering business from professional services organizations such

as law firms, from non-profit and government clients and from

health-related accounts. Hetrick points to healthcare as a growth area

for PR, fueled by the presence of Lilly, several major hospital

complexes and medical schools, such as Indiana University’s. He also

notes that the auto industry remains a major source of business. ’It’s a

diverse client base,’ he says of the state PR scene.

’There’s a greater appreciation of PR - it’s seen as more cost-effective

than advertising.’

Caldwell VanRiper/MARC is an integrated shop with PR accounting for

about 30% of its revenues, says Snyder. He quadrupled the amount of PR

business his office has done since 1993, he says, although he wouldn’t

discuss specific PR income. Caldwell scored a major coup last year when

it snagged the NCAA Hall of Champions as a client after the college

sports group moved its headquarters from the Kansas City area to

Indianapolis. That account could eventually spell dollars 1 million in

fees for Caldwell - a figure, which when combined with its other PR

work, could well put it at number two, if not the top spot, in terms of

Indiana PR income in the not-too-distant future. (Today, Snyder will say

only that his PR billings and Borshoff’s are ’not far apart.’)

’There’s a lot of sports-related opportunities around here,’ Snyder


In fact, Indianapolis, working through a now-shuttered public-private

partnership group called the Indianapolis Project, launched a major

effort over the past two decades to fashion itself into the amateur

sports capital of America. That’s resulted in such developments as the

NCAA moving to town and has meant sports PR work for some local


Other serious agency players in the Indianapolis PR market include Coles

Media and Public Relations, Dittmer Wildey Public Relations, Shank

Public Relations Counselors, Executive Media Communications, the local

office of Public Relations Network (which is based in Louisville, KY)

and the local office of Seattle-based Publicis Dialog.

Outside the state capital, the major PR powerhouse is Keller Crescent in

Evansville, in the southwestern tip of the state. Keller is also an

integrated marketing firm that doesn’t break out PR fees. But with a PR

staff of eight, income is likely in the dollars 800,000 range if it is

meeting industry income-to-employee norms. Between 80% and 85% of its

work involves national activity for clients, notes Kim Cox, VP of PR and


Keller does a great deal of business-to-business PR, Cox says, but also

has clients in the consumer products area.

Reconsidering small firms

Cox and others note that major companies in the state that once might

have considered working only with larger PR firms from Chicago or New

York are changing their attitudes about local firms. ’You’re starting to

see companies take a chance on smaller firms,’ she says.

Edward West, who with 15 years as director of PR for Eli Lilly is a

senior member of the state PR establishment, says, ’We look at

central-Indiana-based PR firms when we have state or city kinds of

issues to deal with. PR firms in our state have evolved from almost

exclusively legislative work to full service these days.’

West’s experience at Lilly runs counter to the downsizing trend at many

corporate PR operations. The in-house pro now has 20 internal PR people

compared to only about a half dozen when he started 15 years ago.

Originally his staff concentrated on media relations. But today, he

says, his group handles a range of duties such as product PR, corporate

affairs and international market issues. He also works with about a

dozen outside PR agencies.

Some PR firms have come to Indiana just to work with major clients.

CMF&Z Public Relations, based in Des Moines, has a one-person

Indianapolis outpost to work with Dow Agrisciences and the animal health

division of Lilly, says Kenda Resler Friend, supervisor of client

services. Friend hopes to grow the office by going after more Midwest

food-related accounts.

The Publicis Dialog office in Indianapolis has six PR people and is

projecting revenues this year of dollars 700,000, compared to dollars

538,000 in 1999 and dollars 416,000 in 1998, says Gail Brown, principal

managing director of PR. Publicis does business-to-business work and is

active statewide, she says.

Brown, like others, is expecting the state’s push for hi-tech companies

to produce major PR business down the line. Once that starts happening,

it may mark the end of Indiana’s PR adolescence.

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