Philadelphia: A city of its own

Philly's PR community is proving that the city is no also-ran to Washington and New York.

Philly's PR community is proving that the city is no also-ran to Washington and New York.

When The New York Times published an article this summer proclaiming Philadelphia as the "sixth borough" of New York City, the only people more baffled than New Yorkers were Philadelphians. The idea was that the city had begun to attract a breed of New Yorkers impressed with its reasonably priced real estate and burgeoning culture. But while it undoubtedly brought some new attention to the City of Brotherly Love, it's safe to say Philadelphians aren't interested in being lumped together with New York City. The city has a culture and vibe all its own - one that extends to its PR scene, as well.

Although caught in what could be considered a "no-man's land" in between DC and New York, PR pros in Philadelphia are taking advantage of the fact that they are in neither of those cities. The Agency Leadership Council (ALC), started two years ago as an offshoot of the PRSA's Philadelphia chapter, comprises 16 area firms dedicated to promoting the city's PR industry.

"We continue to push the envelope as PR agencies to try to get local corporations to look to us first, not to New York, not to Washington," says Scott Tattar, president of Tattar Richards-DBC, two-term president of the Philadelphia PRSA, and an ALC member.

The ALC seems to fit in well with a PR scene that most describe as collaborative and collegial. Kristen Saponaro, PR manager at The Brownstein Group, is also involved with the ALC and says she has found it to be a productive environment - commendable considering that the person sitting across the table at an ALC meeting could very well be pitching against you the next morning. "I see much more collaboration in this market that elsewhere," she says.

That collaborative spirit came to life this past June, when Philadelphia magazine published an article about the city's PR scene that the majority of pros in the city found to be less than flattering, to say the least. It portrayed the city's female PR practitioners as Jimmy Choo-wearing, Sex and the City-style divas. Nancy Long, president of Dorland Global Public Relations, says ALC's members sprung into action once it learned the article was going to be published. "We knew we had to plan a response," she says. "We had a ready-made communications chain." Long authored an Op-Ed that appeared in the Philadelphia Business Journal. "We stood up as a group and said, 'That's not acceptable,'" adds Tattar.

The agency arena

For the most part, the city's PR industry is made up of independent midsize agencies, something Tattar believes adds to the appeal of working with a Philadelphia PR firm. "You are much more likely to get senior counsel from your account team [in Philadelphia] than you are from a New York shop," Tattar says. "We're jacks of all trades in Philadelphia because we have to be."

Promoting the virtues of city PR firms is necessary to attract not only clients, but also employees. Saponaro says one of the challenges of the market is finding junior managers, those with five to eight years of experience. "We have such intellectual capital in the city," she says referring to surrounding universities like Temple, the University of Pennsylvania, and Villanova. "We educate them, and then we watch them leave. The onus has very much been on the agencies to keep people here and happy, and attract people from outside Philadelphia."

Long agrees that recruitment issues continue to plague firms. "In Philadelphia, it has historically been challenging because if you're pulling from top-tier New York firms, you are asking people to make a lifestyle change." Still, she adds, Dorland has had success in recruiting talent from the New York firms.

In fact, it has been a successful year overall for Philadelphia's PR industry. Long points to BIO 2005, the Biotechnology Industry Organization's conference held in the city this year that attracted 18,000 visitors from 57 countries. Long says she saw the conference as a "coming out" party for the city's healthcare and PR industries.

That success has translated to generalist agencies, as well. Tattar says his firm has won business from Susquehanna Bank and, for the sixth year in a row, the Philadelphia International Auto Show.

In addition to winning as a client, Alta Communications has also been hired to work on the Benjamin Franklin 300 celebration, a commissioned federal program. Kate Allison, president, says the agency is also engaging some of its other clients, including Starbucks, as part of the campaign.

Some are finding new opportunities in the area. Of the approximately 14 new clients Tierney Communications says it won this past year, most are based in the Philadelphia area. Steve Albertini, EVP and GM, says changes in the market have presented opportunities for PR, such as the Pennsylvania state legislature passing a law to allow slot gambling. "We are one of the agencies lucky to be in on the ground floor for that," he says. Tierney is also involved in trying to get the 2016 Olympics in Philadelphia.

The corporate sector

Although Philadelphia is not on the level of New York or Chicago as far as being a corporate mecca, it does house some of the country's largest companies, including Comcast, Aramark, and Cigna. It also is home to some of the largest branches of companies with headquarters outside the Philadelphia area. But that doesn't always equal guaranteed work for the city's PR agencies.

D'Arcy Rudnay, VP of corporate communications for Comcast, acknowledges that the city plays a key part in the company's communications strategy. "Philadelphia is really important to us," she says. "It really is essential that we are working with the major publications, TV, and radio." While the communications giant uses local firms for project work, New York-based Abernathy MacGregor is its AOR. Rudnay says she is looking to further develop the company's communications department.

Although Cigna has worked with Philly healthcare agency Vox Medica in the past, Wendell Potter, VP of corporate communications, says the company is currently conducting all PR work in-house. He adds that while Philadelphia is important to the company, it is not considered one of its major markets.

The opposite is true for IMS Health, a pharmaceutical consulting firm based in Fairfield, CT, but with its largest office in Philadelphia. "Philadelphia is really the hub of the industry -always has been always will be - for the bio corridor," says Lance Longwell, PR manager. "It's important that we're here." The company primarily uses Vox Medica for its North American outreach. "We like having a local firm ... who understands this area," Longwell says. "The firms that are here have really focused on developing local talent and understanding not just the needs of local business, but how larger corporations play in this area." He adds that, for the healthcare sector, Philadelphia's location between healthcare capital New York, legislative center Washington, DC, and Maryland where FDA headquarters are, provides an advantage. "Philadelphia is really in the sweet spot," he says.

The local media

Recent changes in the city's media landscape are representative of what is occurring across the US, and some are bound to present challenges for the area's PR pros. Albertini points to the recent announcement by The Philadelphia Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer that they are cutting newsroom jobs as something that could impact PR. "We're dealing with a situation where there are not only fewer reporters, but fewer experienced reporters," he says.

PR practitioners are taking advantage of new media opportunities, as well, especially those with local appeal. "We're seeing a lot of opportunities online," says Saponaro, adding that her agency monitors and works with such local blogs as PhillyBlog and Philly List. Working with such blogs is especially important for the agency's real-estate clients, she adds. "Four thousand people in Philadelphia are posting on [Philly List]," she says. "We would be foolish not to pay attention to that audience."

By all accounts, the Philadelphia PR industry has more than recovered from the recent nationwide recession. Practitioners here are enjoying the business and identity that working in the city has to offer. Says Tattar, "We're very happy where we are."


Population (2003 est.): 1,479,339
White: 45%
Black or African American: 43.2%
American Indian and Alaska native: 0.3%
Asian: 4.5%
Hispanic/Latino: 8.5%

Top employment sectors
Management, professional, and related occupations: 31.5%
Sales/office occupations: 29.6%
Service occupations: 19.7%
Production, transportation, and material-moving jobs: 12.5%
Construction, extraction, and maintenance occupations: 6.5%

Top industry sectors
Edu., health, social services: 26%
Professional, scientific, management, administrative, and waste- management services: 10.5%
Retail trade: 10.4%
Manufacturing: 8.8%
Arts, ent., recreation, accommodation, food services: 8.1%

Largest daily newspaper:
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Weekly circulation:
Sunday: 759,524

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