Market Focus Tennessee: The New Twang of Tennessee PR - Tennessee is home to Elvis, barbecue and Music City. As Alan Salomon reports, it also has an eclectic PR market being energized by the new sports scene

Tennessee’s economy is in its eighth year of unprecedented growth, job creation is strong, unemployment is less than 4% and confidence among consumers is at an all-time high. Companies are moving into the state instead of out. Gibson Guitar is opening a plant in Memphis, and Dell Computer is opening one in Nashville.

Tennessee’s economy is in its eighth year of unprecedented growth, job creation is strong, unemployment is less than 4% and confidence among consumers is at an all-time high. Companies are moving into the state instead of out. Gibson Guitar is opening a plant in Memphis, and Dell Computer is opening one in Nashville.

Tennessee’s economy is in its eighth year of unprecedented growth,

job creation is strong, unemployment is less than 4% and confidence

among consumers is at an all-time high. Companies are moving into the

state instead of out. Gibson Guitar is opening a plant in Memphis, and

Dell Computer is opening one in Nashville.

Music, entertainment and sports - especially with a new hockey team, a

new baseball stadium and a new Super-Bowl-playing football team - are

the main PR drivers here. While PR firms always say they could use more

business, most - from freelancers to the larger agencies - say there is

more than enough work to go around.

To understand Tennessee, one must first understand that it is really

three states rolled into one. There is West Tennessee, the area closest

to the Mississippi River (main city: Memphis); Middle Tennessee (main

city: Nashville) and East Tennessee, which is hill country and still

fights a ’goober’ image (main city: Knoxville).


Hank Dye, president of Dye, Van Mol & Lawrence PR, claims that Nashville

has always been ahead of the rest of the state when it comes to PR. The

state capital has 35 full-time firms - more than Memphis, Knoxville and

Chattanooga combined - but there are not many major firms among them,

says Dye.

According to the PRWeek 200 survey, Dye Van Mol’s 1998 income was

dollars 5.9 million (up from dollars 5.6 million in 1997) and McNeely

Piggot & Fox PR’s 1998 income increased from dollars 3.4 million in 1997

to dollars 4 million in 1998.

Dye credits new media for some agencies’ growth, plus the fact that

Nashville is now a ’major league’ city. ’Our affiliation with (hockey

team) the Predators has been great for us,’ he says.

Beth Seigenthaler, president of Seigenthaler PR in Nashville, says she

is seeing growth in her city because of its location. ’We are in the

midst of the Sun Belt and are able to attract vibrant businesses,’ she

says. ’And with that comes sophisticated understandings of what PR is

and its importance.’

Nashville has seen major relocations in the last decade, the latest

being Dell Computer, which has not yet tapped a Nashville PR firm.

Interestingly, not many of the bigger firms work for Nashville music

companies, leaving that to freelancers and one- and two-person shops (in

Tennessee, some pros who work full-time are known to do freelance

projects on the side). Experts say most major agencies shy away from the

music business because of its volatility. ’That industry is in a major

downturn now and I think that is one reason why major shops don’t have

any (music companies) on their list,’ Seigenthaler says.


Memphis is the home of Elvis and barbecue - both of which get plenty of

publicity on their own - and Federal Express, which gets help from


FedEx has had a couple of banner years, even though it went through

several crises and a corporate image change. The company garnered

several national PR awards following a job action by its pilots union

and the 1998 United Parcel Service strike.

Locally, FedEx is known to be able to respond better to a crisis than

any company in the state. ’We feel every smart company, regardless of

its size, prepares for crisis PR,’ says PR director Shirlee Clark.

Archer/Malmo PR, part of a larger communications firm, has been helping

to promote FedEx’s new campus and technological center in Collerville;

the agency is also working on the opening event.

Cynthia Ham, president of Archer/Malmo PR, believes Memphis PR is held

back because many companies don’t understand the value of it or how to

work with PR firms. ’They have to focus on themselves and they don’t

know how to do that,’ she says. ’They also are not quite sure of the

difference between PR and advertising.’ (Ham says Archer/Malmo PR is

expected to reach the dollars 1 million billings mark for the first time

this year.)

Freelancers are enjoying a lot of work in West Tennessee, and they say

it is due to companies being rate-shy when dealing with the larger


’Some don’t have the budget for a megabucks campaign at dollars 175 an

hour, so they turn to us,’ says Stinson Lyles, a Memphis-based

freelancer and owner of The Stinson Lyles Group.

Memphis is also the lightning rod for expansion, by two Nashville PR

firms at least. The Ingram Group announced early this month it is

opening a Memphis office, and McNeely Piggot & Fox moved in late last

year. Senior partner Mark McNeely says he branched out into West

Tennessee because there is a lot of commerce there; the office has the

FedEx pilots group, Jackson Madison County General Hospital and Nordgear

Equipment Manufacturing as clients. It has also done project work for

International Paper Co.

East Tennessee

East Tennessee is defined by its country, down-home image. The area’s

most important assets are the University of Tennessee (especially its

football team), Oak Ridge National Lab and the Great Smoky Mountains

National Park. But they don’t offer much in the way of PR work except

for occasional projects.

The major agencies in Knoxville are Ackermann PR and Akins Public

Relations & Strategies.

Ackermann PR president Cathy Ackerman says PR is no different in

Knoxville than anywhere else. ’It’s a rifle-shot approach,’ she says.

’Budgets are low on the corporate side.’ She adds: ’A lot of technical

businesses are cropping up, and this is an easier market to work in

compared to Nashville.’

Ackermann has established a Nashville branch and hired a music industry

expert to tackle that business. It is also probably the only PR outfit

in the state to branch out into Dallas.

According to the PRWeek Top 200 survey, Ackermann PR had dollars 2.1

million in income in 1998 (up from dollars 2 million in 1997). Ackermann

says her fee billings in 1999 more than doubled to dollars 4.5


But it’s the state’s sports scene that has PR pros most excited. The

recent Super Bowl appearance by the Tennessee Titans might go a long way

in helping its once-bankrupt PR image (see sidebar). Nashville has a

particularly warm feeling for the Predators hockey team, which is, by

all accounts, expert at PR and generous with giveaways at games.

Even though Seigenthaler doesn’t have any business from the Titans or

Preds, she agrees sports has brought a new PR spectrum to Nashville.

’We are seeing newer, more interesting and bolder PR here being spurred

by our sports,’ she says. ’We are seeing celebrity endorsements, Times

Square-type billboards, ads in consumer publications and promo


You feel alive at a Predators game when you see Nashville companies

using publicity and corporate promos to do things they have never done


And in Memphis, the PR department of hometown ad agency Thompson & Co.

represents minor league baseball team the Memphis Redbirds, which has a

new downtown stadium.

The agency is busy preparing for several events coming before the April

1 opening game. A media tour will be held Valentine’s Day. Other media

opportunities include tryouts for the Redbirds dancers, the first

turning on of the lights and a ’Public Superflush’ day - when media and

other local dignitaries will simultaneously flush every toilet in the

stadium to make sure everything goes down properly.


There’s nothing like making it into the Super Bowl to change a

community’s attitude toward its football team.

When the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee three years ago, the team

didn’t exactly go out of its way to endear itself to the citizens of the

Volunteer State.

At first the team was playing in Memphis and owner K.S. ’Bud’ Adams Jr.

tried unsuccessfully to get the city to pay for the team’s

transportation to and from games. Adams did virtually no promotion and

the players would often stiff groups they promised to appear before.

Attendance at the games was terrible and things weren’t much better when

the team moved to Nashville, though changing its name to the Titans

helped a bit.

Then the once-woeful Tennessee Titans started to win.

All of a sudden the team became PR mavens, making all the right moves,

with the Nashville PR firm of McNeely Piggot & Fox helping out the

in-house PR department. Even a faux pas at the victory celebration after

the Titans beat Jacksonville to make it to the Super Bowl didn’t damage

its reputation: despite the cold, 10,000 fans showed up for an impromptu

welcome-home ceremony at Adelphia Coliseum - despite Adams charging them

dollars 5 to park their cars.

’Last year they would have stoned him,’ says Hank Dye, president of

Nashville-based Dye, Van Mol & Lawrence, the state’s largest and

probably most successful PR firm. ’This year, no one cared.’

Says Bob Phillips, account supervisor for the PR department of Memphis

ad agency Thompson & Co.: ’Winning takes care of a lot of PR glitches.’

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