Regional Forum: Chicago (continued)

In the third year of its Regional Forums, PRWeek will focus on seven top markets: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, theBay Area, Washington, DC, Atlanta, and Texas.

In the third year of its Regional Forums, PRWeek will focus on seven top markets: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, theBay Area, Washington, DC, Atlanta, and Texas.

For each, leading PR pros from a variety of agencies, corporations, and nonprofits participate in a roundtable discussion about issues affecting them and their peers. Julia Hood, Eleanor Trickett, and John N. Frank were in Chicago for the third of this year's PRWeek Regional Forums.

This is the second page of the unedited transcript.

Procter-Rogers (HBO): But could I just say one more point to the topic. I think its just a matter of time before corporations demand more diverse presentations from agencies and agencies don't know how many times they miss out when they bring the same lineup to bid on business because I'm on the side of hiring and I know who pitched me and I know who I hired. So I think agencies would be smart to be proactive. As Harlan was saying, having a diverse force, especially regionally, when you look at political landscape in Chicago at all levels I think agencies would be smart to be more proactive before the corporations because we're all over diversity and there's all kinds of models, network, groups. So to be proactive before its expected, and the buddy system, the mentoring piece is big, just like the diversity piece is. So that could be a very easy strategy not even just saying we're going to pitch business together but saying lets have a relationships before time to do one.

Frank (PRWeek): What other issues are facing Chicago PR, we were talking about mergers before. When Boeing came here a few years ago it was big news. We don't get that many corporate headquarters anymore, how does that impact business here, do you have to look farther a field?

Brennan (Zeno): I think agencies here have huge opportunities because Chicago is surrounded by thousands of miles of farmland. We can really claim from Pennsylvania, you have the Pittsburgh office under you, to the Rockies as our pool of opportunity. We have clients from Michigan and Indiana and Ohio because we're the biggest game in town. Chicago is the biggest game in town and they might feel more comfortable dealing with a Midwestern agency than necessarily going to New York.

Putnam (Ketchum): And some of them worked in this market and took positions in these other states and they still look to this market for the expertise.

Slack (Slack): More than half our business is outside Chicago. We've often discussed how we could spend the next year just focused on opportunity in a five-mile radius of our building, in a two-mile radius of our building just across the street and be highly successful.

Stenitzer (Tellabs): I don't think in terms of the Chicago market anymore or a Midwestern market or even a national market. I think its global, where we compete for business is everywhere and part of the diversity of experience we're looking for is cross-cultural. How do you find somebody who knows how to work with the Finns, with the Chinese, with the Danes, with the Brits? And how do you get these various nationalities to work together when they all have different expectations culturally. I don't think its so much about regional market I really don't.

Loeb (FD): That's certainly true about my practice, about litigation. There's a certain degree of consistency but it is not a geographic center, its not a mature enough market, there's not enough volume, even if it was to be a Chicago focused enterprise. And the total clearly is greater than the parts. I think that's true in the critical communications area generally. I do think that, culturally, I have found a lot of non-Midwestern clients find a certain comfort level and, I don't know why it is, with the Chicago-based firms.

Brennan (Zeno): I've found the same thing.

Loeb (FD): And I don't know why that is. I don't pretend to be a sociologist.

Slack (Slack): We've found that to be the case with Washington-based trade associations. Whereas the staff deal with DC and the members, who are from all the committees, who authorize all the budgets, usually don't live in Washington and they really like it when they can convince their associations to hire out of town, especially a Midwest agency.

Calhoun (Weber): I think from our perspective, geography is irrelevant. Its about the extra talent and where it exists. You have to be able to transcend geography to be successful. Our clients are all over the country and its more about what you bring to the table rather than where you are. Even clients who are in a market where there a lot of other options, they like if you are bringing something to them they feel you can't get or is unique or special. Then they don't care anymore. Who meets anymore? You don't meet, you get on a plane, you email. Its so easy to do business no matter where you are.

Stenitzer (Tellabs): We have three main agencies, one's in Chicago, one is Atlanta, one's in New York.

Procter-Rogers (HBO): Its so funny because I got a call from a colleague and he said 'I want the name of your printer that you use' and I said 'you know my printer is in San Francisco' because he had the best product and his price was amazing and thank God for FedEx and technology today. It doesn't matter where you are.

Slack (Slack): You've got to do a conference call with all those people around the world, so either Asia or Europe gets the short end of a stick, right?

Putnam (Ketchum): That's an interesting thing, though, because one of the things that we started to do is make sure we get the short end of the stick. Sometimes so we don't just schedule them at 11 in the morning thinking, well, its right before Asia goes to bed. We're not doing them at some crazy times back to your point about globalization, you've really got to change your practices.

Frank (PRWeek): Well is there a Chicago approach to PR, its come up in our past roundtables as well, a difference in how Chicago handles PR?

Putnam (Ketchum): I don't see it between our offices, office to office to office; they're all doing great creative results, delivering media results

Brennan (Zeno): I don't see a difference either. Those of us who work for agencies in the room, most of us have other offices somewhere where we all collaborate together or we pitch together and its not a dramatic difference in how things happen. if somebody's working in New York chances are they're not even from New York anyway or San Francisco. They're a transplant from somewhere else, they have lots of Brits.

Slack (Slack): Relationships are really important in the Midwest but results are more important so relationships only get you so far, you have to get the results.

Stenitzer (Tellabs): If you go around the world and say the Midwest, they say 'where?' If you go to the coast and say the Midwest, they say 'fly over land.' I think there's a positive side of it in that Midwesterns are expected to be more straight-forward and maybe a little more honest, stupidly honest even but there's a downside of it, which is a view that if you're in the Midwest you must be a hayseed, you must pull the corn stalk out of your mouth before you came to the meeting and I think all those perceptions are there.

Loeb (FD): I think the Chicago economy presents certain idiosyncrasies that are different and all of us react appropriately. We have the exchanges here, misunderstood under-celebrated business as many of them are considering demutualization, the Merc [Chicago Mercantile Exchange] has done it the CBOT [Chicago Board of Trade] is going to do it. I think the politics of Chicago make the business here different. I think the litigation climate had changed a little bit with class action litigation reform but I think malpractice reform, tax incentives or lack thereof for business, I think relationships in Chicago are more enduring between agencies and their clients. There's a degree of loyalty in a relationship. In my experience clients in this region see their relationships, they stay with the individual, there's a degree of loyalty. You have to continue to earn it, you have to earn it every single day and it's a privilege. I really believe that and its one that's based on commitment and many of us do take it home with us as I see Blackberrys around the table. In some ways, I think that is the Chicago economy, I think we, if you look at it from an economic perspective, we don't have the highs that New York and LA have but we certainly don't have the lows and that dictates how business is done. I think the economy drives Chicago PR more than any kind of idiosyncrasy

Redmond (Safeway): And don't leave out politics. I have to say having so many different divisions across North America with Safeway, everyone always laughs at us because Chicago politics really do impact business and so looking for our needs locally the PR department certainly respects their political relationships. We have stores to open in different communities, different towns, so the relationship and the tracks record, that's one of the reasons to hire locally. I think Chicago is a relationship-driven town.

Frank (PRWeek): Is that something Wal-Mart didn't realize when they tried to come here?

Redmond (Safeway): They won one and lost one.

Wilks (Ogilvy): There is no other city in the world where alderman, think about it, how many cities I don't think there are any, where three or four aldermen controls not only local offices but state politics and that makes a big difference for business, particularly small business. Real estate developers I know, some of them as clients, some as friends, the ticket to doing business is, despite the recent effort at no cronyism in city government..they interviewed people right along the street here near our offices. About the best they could usually get was a no comment because there was a fear of reprisals.

Slack (Slack): Or I work for the city...

Loeb (FD): That someone would somehow figure out who they were, That's how steeped in cronyism this city is and I do think it makes a difference for small business, for very, very large business I think there, mid-tier and smaller business..

Brennan (Zeno): To your point about relationships, Harlan, I remember when we first won our very first consumer client when Zeno was first starting out as PR21, the client who is still with us sent over a three-year contract and the CEO said 'only in the Midwest,' our New York-based CEO, because the Midwest is all about relationships, they are looking at this as a long-term relationship.

Wilks (Ogilvy): We had something similar. We had a piece of business in Wisconsin and when we first met with them they presented us with a clock and they said 'this signifies time and the longevity of the relationship' was unbelievable sort of ceremonial thing and everybody was 'what are we going to do with the clock?'

Frank (PRWeek): Your impressions of the Chicago media, what's its like to work with?

Loeb (FD): If you look at Crain's Chicago Business, I think it's totally gone through a metamorphosis in the last two years. Our clients have not been eager to spend a lot of time with Crain's, it was difficult before, its even worse now. I think they're trying to change that. Bob Reid [a former Crain's editor] had a fantastic reputation in Chicago and he was escorted out because it didn't represent the philosophy of Crain's. I think Crain's decided they wanted to be much more a Chicago business tabloid, whatever that means, but yet they're taken seriously. Everyone if they're in Crain's will quickly go to see what was said about them and what was portrayed. So if that's the business journal of record of the city...

Stenitzer (Tellabs): I think what's neat about Chicago media, at least for us, is I've been here about 12 years now working with the same beat reporter at the Tribune that I was working with when I started. There's a great relationship trust and we've been through some tough moments together trying to make sure that stories are accurate, on time and reporting both sides and the relationships we have are very long-term and there's good understanding on both sides and I don't walk away form the Trib or the Sun-Times or even smaller media, the Daily Herald, feeling like we're getting a bad shake.

Brennan (Zeno): First of all, we have so many outlets. When I moved here from Dallas it was a one-horse, one-paper town. I think it still is. Here, we have lots of different types of media. The reporters don't change that often, there isn't the turnover. They're there forever and they're really open to stories as long as you can find that Chicago connection.

Slack (Slack): In the technology area, how long has Jon Van been at the Tribune, and Howard Wolinsky at the Sun-Times and really even though she no longer does the tech column, Julie Johnsson at Crain's. We mainly deal with print media as you'd expect that to be the case with principally a b-to-b agency but we think all three do an excellent job and generally deal fairly with PR people and PR firms. I know Crain's is sometimes viewed as being hard on companies but my experience, there are companies that stonewall Crain's, you just have to think of the CEO of CDW, see the way he makes himself available to Chicago media. He's there when it's a tough call, when it's a good call, and as a result he's built up a tremendous favor bank that's going to help them if they ever hit a hard patch which is probably unlikely.

Frank (PRWeek): How important is it for clients to get favorable publicity in the hometown paper?

Stenitzer (Tellabs): It really matters. We surveyed our employees and one thing we learned at Tellabs is that more than 70% of our employees read a paper every day, so there's much higher readership. When I have opportunities, part of what I'm doing is measuring how much impact can I have on employees, its much more believable to read it than to get it on the Internet.

Procter-Rogers (HBO): And it is about relationships I find that particularly with the Trib and the Sun-Times. People that complain are doing just that, stonewalling or trying to pitch stories that really have no hook or no credibility or its just fluff but those that are really only calling the reporter and spending time with the client saying 'you know what this doesn't really have any news value let us come up with something else.' Those are the relationships that you build over time, that when you make that call, they call you back. My relationships with not just the entertain pages but the Tempo and the other sections of the paper that I rely on to communicate some of our messages, those are relationships that have been built over time and the wonderful thing about Chicago, having lived in LA for 12 years, is its been 12 years and you're still there and you were there 12 years before I started calling you.

Putnam (Ketchum): And that means we get in-depth, very good, solid reporting. From a staff management, staff development, staff training perspective, it means we have to have people who are on top of their game because they can't pull the wool over somebody who's got a year's worth of experience and shove something in there. So it forces us to really develop our people very solidly so they can hold their own with some experienced nationally recognized professionals.

Wilks (Ogilvy): This is not unique to Chicago but one of the issues the profession needs to wrestle with a little bit is the decree of relevance of print media in general, especially to the younger audience. I have a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old and they would never read the paper.

Procter-Rogers (HBO): And doesn't that drive you crazy, we had to read the paper.

Wilks (Ogilvy): It does. Circulation figures are going down on a steady basis, all this stuff sort of says there's a whole generation that for them the daily newspaper is an irrelevance, an anachronism.

Frank (PRWeek): Is there a new media in Chicago, both the major papers have their new, young-adult papers, is there other media out there? Is it the internet?

Stenitzer (Tellabs): It is the Internet, whenever there's a breaking news event at our house the first person I hear it from is our son is on the internet all the time and he'll come out of the room and say 'Michael Jackson got off.' I know I'm going to get it from him first and he has the advantage, breaking news comes at that moment.

Slack (Slack): My son does the same thing but he's getting it from the New York or Wall Street, I'm proud to say, I don't mean to brag, that my 16-year-old actually reads the Wall Street Journal.

Procter-Rogers (HBO) Thank goodness, so there's hope.

Slack (Slack): He reads both just like I do, in fact I only read online now, I don't read the print edition. The only reason I do that, I'll skim it because I need to see the ads.

Putnam (Ketchum): I still think there's something to be said for looking at the paper and figuring out placement and you can't really get a feel for that when you're doing it online but try convincing young people of that.

Stenitzer (Tellabs): You lose it when you do clips electronically.

Slack (Slack): I'm glad as a b-to-b agency our PR people can largely ignore Red Eye and Red Streak. I understand the demographic issues that regrettably drove the Sun-Times and the Tribune to start these papers but I don't understand how any self-respecting quote 'young professional' unquote could let himself or herself be seen reading one of these training-wheel newspapers. If I see someone reading Red Eye or Red Streak around our office, it had better be because they are trying to place a story.

Procter-Rogers (HBO): It is incumbent upon us to accept diversity into our worlds personally as well. Like there are some publications that I would not necessarily want to read but I do read them because I need to know what that other point of view is. I need to know if there's a large group of people in my community reading this publication then I feel that I have an obligation as a communicator to read that publication and know what kinds of stories are going in there and what's going on. I want to see what ads are being placed in there because that's going to tell me a lot about the consumer.

Harmon (Unilever): For example, the Axe consumer doesn't so much read any paper but they're watching the Sierra video which now I have watched, they're watching TRL which now I have to watch, they're playing Xbox, Playstation which now I have to know how to do. They're doing things that are not in my experience but now I have to go see. But I also have to play the Suave mom so I've got to watch Lifetime and Ellen

Procter-Rogers (HBO): And I have to watch Showtime

Stenitzer (Tellabs): The question that is coming 10 years out is that the news is coming on the internet and I think we will get more and more news on the internet. We can see from our research on the ad side that our customers are going there to get information when they make a purchase decision, so it just is relevant, it has to be. I think the question is how do the brands make the transition, how does the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, the Tribune, whoever, how do they get into the Internet space, maintain their credibility and be a preferred source there vs. the blogs vs. what I hear from another customer? Maybe I'd rather read the review of somebody whose going to buy that product or has bought it. I maybe trust their credibility more than the New York Times, and that's going to be the long-term challenge to us is how do we get the story from a credible source and what if the credible source is the mainstream media?

Brennan (Zeno): I teach PR at Northwestern and the Medill School of Journalism is struggling, all journalism schools are struggling, because people like your kids, not your kids, aren't growing up thinking 'gee I want to become a newspaper reporter' and the model for journalism schools is newspaper and print reporting and the people who run the schools grew up in an era where print was king and are really struggling with where is this going.

Harmon (Unilever): That's interesting, my uncle teaches journalism at University of Central Florida and they don't have enough space for the people who are applying

Brennan (Zeno): My journalism school that I went to closed, gone.

Harmon (Unilever): My journalism school, I went to Maryland, and they're doing well.

Frank (PRWeek): What about blogs, are you making the effort to reach them, do you need to reach them?

Putnam (Ketchum): I think you need to be monitoring what's being said. First of all you need to understand what's being said in the landscape and then make some strategic decisions about whether you want to engage in that conversation and if you do, you need to play by those rules. There needs to be transparency, there needs to be immediacy and we've got to educate ourselves and our staff and our clients are looking to us to be educated as well.

Slack (Slack): Well, we're doing all that just because we have to but I personally feel like blogs are a fad and a few years from now we're going to feel like we did at the end of the dotcom boom

Procter-Rogers (HBO): Well blogs are just another name for bulletin boards, we just dressed them up and called them something else and podcasts are just another audio stream

Putnam (Ketchum): It's just another way of reaching out. Twenty years ago when I worked in healthcare, we couldn't figure out how to reach doctors so we were geniuses, we did an audio cassette newsletter for them, figuring they were in their car, they could plug it in, they could listen to it. That's a podcast; but we've got to keep pace with this new technology, these new ways of reaching our audiences, and find those that are going to work.

Procter-Rogers (HBO): A lot of the kids, they turn on the computer in the morning, I know my oldest does this, and they download to their iPod all kinds of information, news, interviews, anything she's interested in. They're not only listening to music on those little iPods anymore and so as communicators are we going to have to start creating...

Wilks (Ogilvy): I think that's the challenge, how do they filter what is authentic and what's maybe not.

Putnam (Ketchum): How do you define authentic?

Frank (PRWeek): That's probably a good giant question to end with, we'll talk about it next year.

Hood (PRWeek): Thank you all for joining us in this discussion and hope you enjoyed it.

Go back to page 1.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in