Think of Ohio and you think of old-line industries churning out obsolete products and pollution, right? Not these days.
Think of Ohio and you think of old-line industries churning out
obsolete products and pollution, right? Not these days.
Ohio’s business base has transformed itself. ’It’s no longer
characterized by manufacturing and heavy industry like back in the days
of the Rust Belt,’ notes Mark Nylander, EVP and GM of Liggett-Stashhower
Public Relations in Cleveland.
In 1990, service jobs accounted for only a slightly larger share of the
state’s job base than manufacturing. But last year, services had
increased that lead substantially, accounting for roughly 1.5 million of
the state’s 5.6 million jobs. Manufacturing accounted for just over 1
million, with retail trade about the same.
Statewide, the biggest locally based employer is supermarket chain
Kroger Co., headquartered in Cincinnati. Long-time Ohio companies such
Goodrich and NCR (once known by the now archaic sounding National Cash
Register) are transforming themselves into companies that can survive
and prosper in the changing US marketplace. The two largest employers in
Cleveland, a city once known for Lake Erie’s industrial pollution, are
The rejuvenation of Ohio’s economy - unemployment stands at roughly 4.2%
compared with 6.3% at the start of the ’90s - has been good news for
Ohio PR firms. Major operations in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati -
the three key metro areas - are expecting double-digit growth this
The PR pros in these cities see that growth coming from many places:
old-line companies looking for help in crafting messages about what they
have become; technology start-ups proliferating in Ohio; the growing
healthcare and financial services industries and the public affairs
In the private sector, PR pros expect more business from Ohio-based
consumer goods companies that increasingly are turning to PR to reach an
ever-more-fragmented consumer market.
The move by such companies as Cincinnati-based giant Procter & Gamble
and Columbus-based family restaurant chain Bob Evans Farms to do more
local marketing, which includes local PR work, ’reflects the
fragmentation of the national media,’ says Charlotte Otto, global public
affairs officer with P&G. For Evans, when it opens a new restaurant in a
locality, it’s ’looking at being ingrained in the community’ and uses
local PR to achieve that, says Mary Cusick, VP of corporate
As for public affairs, the onset of state-mandated term limits for
elected officials has many firms expecting a bonanza of lobbying work;
interest groups will scramble to get their points across to new
legislators brought in as term limits force out long-time pols. Indeed,
to go after the business it expects to emerge in the state capital,
Northlich Public Relations in Cincinnati has formed a public affairs
joint venture, called Groundswell, with lobbying firm State Street
Consultants in Columbus, says Rick Miller, managing director at
’With term limits, the ability to persuade will be much more
information-based and not just relationship-based,’ explains Jan Allen,
president of Columbus’ HMS Success Public Relations, a firm that does
public affairs work.
Another major PR plum is expected to be work awarded by the state’s
public utilities commission to educate consumers about energy
deregulation in 2001. Total spending on the campaign, including
advertising and PR, is projected at about dollars 33 million over two
years. While most of that is going to advertising, the PR chunk is
expected to exceed dollars 3 million. (PRWeek, Jan. 24, 2000)
Some wonder if positive PR prospects in Ohio will draw more outside
Right now, not many of the large national agencies are in the state.
Fleishman-Hillard last year bought Watt, Roop & Co., then the
third-largest firm in Cleveland. Early this year, Golin/Harris took on a
Cleveland office with plans to add people there. Minneapolis-based
Bozell/Kamstra, which is owned by Bozell Worldwide, has an outpost in
Cleveland with 35 people, only a third of whom do strictly PR (Sherwin
Williams is a major client).
Until those moves, the state’s PR business had been relatively immune
from outside takeovers or incursions. True, major companies like P&G
routinely looked to New York or Chicago for their lead PR agencies. But
there’s enough business below that top tier, in addition to project work
from even the largest companies, so that Ohio PR firms can grow.
’The big companies use the nationals out of their headquarters’
offices,’ confirms Tom Schick, who coordinates the PR program at Xavier
University and just finished a term as president of the Cincinnati PRSA
But ’you drop down to the next level (of corporations), and there’s a
great loyalty to the locals.’
More often than not, ’local’ for Ohio means in the same metro area.
’We have grown up as communities and business centers quite separate,’
notes Otto. Adds Chan Cochran, president of Cochran Public Relations in
Columbus: ’Ohio is really three or four very distinct states.’ There is
the industrial belt in the northeast, the rural farm economy in the
central and western parts of the state and Cincinnati in the south.
The state’s PR scene last year varied by market. The major Cleveland
agencies, preoccupied by management transitions and acquisitions, are
not reporting major jumps in business. Those firms include Dix & Eaton,
with 1998 PR income of roughly dollars 8.5 million, and Edward Howard,
with roughly dollars 5.8 million in 1998.
Edward Howard officials say they don’t have 1999 results as yet, but
outgoing chairman Stanley L. Ulchaker calls last year’s performance
’solid.’ The company added such major clients as Rubbermaid. ’They felt
they wanted to have the comfort of an agency nearby,’ explains Kathy
Obert, who on March 1 becomes president and CEO at Howard.
Dix & Eaton saw modest growth last year but had not been focused on
that, says CEO Scott Chaikin. The company completed an employee buyout
last June as its long-time scion, Henry Eaton, retired. From 1997 to
1998, the agency experienced 14% growth in billings, to dollars 8.5
million, according to the PRWeek Top 200 survey.
Fleishman’s Cleveland operation had 1998 income of about dollars 3.1
million and dollars 3.5 million in 1999, says Ron Watt, who sold his
firm to Fleishman last year and now runs the Cleveland office. The deal
caused Watt to take his eye off growth last year, he admits, but this
year he expects to expand to the dollars 6-million level, nearly
doubling the firm in size.
In Columbus, major players include Lord Sullivan and Yoder Public
Relations, with about dollars 3 million in 1999 revenues, up from
dollars 2.6 million in 1998, roughly 15% growth. The company expects
growth in the mid-20% range this year, says Neil Mortine, president and
COO. Other key Columbus agencies include Cochran’s shop and HMS Success,
which do not release revenue figures, and Paul Werth & Associates.
HMS is only about a year and a half old, created by an ad firm, HMS
Partners, and a PR operation formerly known as The Success Group. All
its principals have backgrounds in government, says Allen. It has about
a dozen employees and roughly 30 clients around the state.
Cincinnati’s PR scene is dominated by Northlich, which saw a 25% jump in
its PR fees last year to roughly dollars 4.2 million; Dan Pinger Public
Relations with 46 staffers; and the recently renamed HSR
Business-to-Business, an integrated communications company. ’There is a
new appreciation for business-to-business marketing’ among Ohio
companies, notes Steve Kissing, who heads up the 19-person PR operation
at HSR. Kissing expects to double his staff this year. HSR estimates its
overall revenue at dollars 11 million but doesn’t break out PR
Observers wonder how long Ohio’s PR parochialism can survive in a PR
business becoming increasingly national and international.
The native-born agencies don’t have many branch offices. Today, only
Edward Howard & Co. maintains offices across the state. But other
agencies have started to move beyond their local markets in the state
and have out-of-state clients as well. HMS Success does considerable
public affairs work in Cincinnati, for example. And Northlich got the
attention of some state PR pros with its decision to start the
Groundswell joint venture.
DanPinger PR has reorganized into five practice groups - consumer
branding, community/public affairs, transportation/infrastructure, IR
and business-to-business - to better serve its roughly 60 active
clients. It sees growth coming this year from cross-selling services to
existing clients while also expanding its client base toward Dayton and
into Kentucky cities such as Louisville and Lexington, says Ellen
Knight, a VP who heads up the business-to-business practice. Pinger
often finds itself competing with New York-based agencies, even for
business from new companies, she says. ’A lot of really growing
companies feel they are making the safe bet by going with a New York
But old habits die hard in this state, as major corporations find they
like having PR help nearby. Mike Monroe, EVP of public affairs at
Cleveland-based banking firm KeyCorp., works with several agencies,
including Dix & Eaton. ’I’ve been very impressed with the quality of the
(PR) talent’ in Ohio, says Monroe, who joined KeyCorp last July after 16
years with Philadelphia’s Cigna Corp. KeyCorp, in the midst of a major
business restructuring, has reorganized its internal PR into one public
affairs unit. Also, ’KeyCorp is looking to increase its proactive
programs and activities extensively at the product/services level,’
Those types of efforts could mean more local PR - and that’s the way
Ohio PR firms want to keep it.