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.
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
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
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.