REGIONAL FOCUS <strong>Philadelphia: </strong>Brotherly collaboration

Philadelphia's PR industry is working together toward growth.

Philadelphia's PR industry is working together toward growth.

In the City of Brotherly Love, even the leaders of the sometimes cutthroat PR industry get along like old pals. That's because, in a sense, they are. Having survived the ups and downs of economic fluctuations and the consequences of corporate relocations, the Philadelphia PR scene has come together to claim a place in the spotlight. Though it is one of the largest markets in the nation, Philadelphia has always been somewhat of an underdog. The Yankees are perennial contenders, the Red Sox became world champions and media darlings, and the Phillies - well, maybe next year. The windup of an old joke crystallizes the city's hard-to-shed image: "First prize: a week in Philadelphia. Second prize: two weeks in Philadelphia." "We all weathered the storm together," says Scott Tattar, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the PRSA and the Tattar Richards-DBC PR agency. But the lean times of the past are giving way to a stronger market, and unity is both the local industry's buzzword and its strategic plan to boost the city into the forefront of US communications. The Agency Leadership Council (ALC), formed last year under the auspices of the Philadelphia PRSA, has grown to include 19 of the region's top agencies, all of which pay dues and come together for quarterly meetings. The ALC's stated goal, "to serve as the voice and face of Philadelphia's dynamic and growing PR community ... [and] build local and national awareness for the Philadelphia-area PR agencies," is now beginning to bear fruit. The council has started an ad campaign designed to draw big accounts to the area. And perhaps more important, all of the members actually seem to have genuine appreciation for each other's work and offer helping hands rather than knives in the back. "You won't find this happening ... in a market of conglomerates," Tattar says. When large conventions with scores of potential clients have come through recently, he says, "the Philadelphia agencies come together and greet them in unison," rather than clawing at each other over the business. Competition in Philadelphia is less fierce for a variety of reasons. It is less than a two-hour car ride from both New York and Washington, DC, a fact of geography that has largely kept the huge agencies out of the city's backyard for any extended period of time. Those who've tried have found that the client base and insular culture of the region do not justify the overhead expense of opening and maintaining an office there. Couple that with a bevy of niche firms, decades-old agencies with deep roots in the community, strong family-run agencies, and a growing number of one- to three-person shops made up of practitioners who have branched off to try their hand at entrepreneurship, and you have what Tattar calls a "flat" scene. With so much diversification and personal contact, there seems to be enough business to go around. One firm that can afford to be benevolent is Tierney Communications, widely viewed to be the leading all-purpose agency in the Philadelphia region. Steve Albertini, EVP and general manager of PR, says that Tierney's size and reputation allow it to pull in national clients like Lincoln Financial, as well as large regional clients like McDonald's. In past years, some locals have decried the difficulty in getting large firms based in Philadelphia to hire agencies in their hometown. But Albertini says that Tierney is proof that geography need not be a drawback. "I've been in Philadelphia agencies my whole life, and I've had clients all over the country," he says. "It didn't matter that we were in Philadelphia; they knew that we could handle the work. ... So I'm not one of those people that bemoans the location that we're in because I don't think that has anything to do with the success or failure of an individual agency." Tierney's business has grown 17% this year, with a combination of organic growth and new wins like Pennsylvania's tourism and economic development account. Its crisis communications and regional public affairs practices are also strengthening, and Albertini is optimistic about next year. Strength of healthcare While multipurpose agencies do make up a decent chunk of the Philadelphia industry, one specialty is by far the most prominent in town: healthcare and its related fields of pharmaceuticals and biotech. The city has long been a Mecca for all aspects of health-related business, a natural outgrowth of its critical mass of hospitals, universities, and scientists. "It's always been very much of a medical community," says Anne Klein, who founded Anne Klein & Associates PR more than 20 years ago. "That seems to be the strongest market in the city." Klein says that as Fortune 500 companies like International Utilities and Scott Paper have pulled out of the Philadelphia region over the past 10 to 15 years, the already-prominent healthcare aspect of the local economy has only added to its share of the market. It is so strong, in fact, that agencies can specialize within the field. While Klein focuses on hospital communications, others pick up pharma or biotech accounts. Firms like hers must often be satisfied with a particular drug or product line to work with, rather than catching on as an AOR with a major locally based drug company. With competition from small boutique agencies nipping at her heels as well, the bigger players in town are pushing to grow their business in order to remain competitive. "We've had pieces of very large corporations," says Klein, "and we're saying, 'You know, you trusted us with this [product line]. We've got talent here; you can give us more.'" Klein & Associates is maintaining its viability, increasing business by 15% this year. Another strong player in the field is Vox Medica, a healthcare marketing firm with a thriving PR practice. Eve Dryer, president of PR, says this year was "a challenging year, like working in healthcare always is," but adds that it was solid economically. Vox Medica is gaining business as a result of FDA regulatory decisions. Dryer says that Philadelphia's history is the reason for the industry's explosion. "We're home to a couple of the most significant medical research hospitals in the country," Dryer notes. "When you've got that preponderance of highly trained and innovation-focused physicians and scientists, obviously the community is going to keep growth with that." Even local corporations that are not traditionally thought of as health-related might play up the health angle in their branding activities because of their location. Dryer offers the example of Philadelphia-based food-services conglomerate Aramark, whose health angle is the fight against obesity. Any company can similarly take advantage of the forward-thinking health PR services available in town. "I think this is a really buzzing place in terms of shaping what healthcare is going to be in the next 100 years," says Dryer. The largest Philadelphia health agency is Dorland Global Health Communications. Nancy Bacher Long, Dorland's president of PR, calls 2004 "a tremendously successful year," with billings rising 50% to more than $10 million. Long predicts a "sea change" in Philadelphia PR, as more national clients recognize the benefits of the area: geographic proximity to major markets, more affordable rates, and hands-on involvement of upper management. On top of that, Long says that she recruits "top-shelf experience from top-shelf agencies" - mostly from New York - who are drawn to Philadelphia for its quality of life. "It's a whole lifestyle package," she says. Servicing out-of-towners Part of the attraction is a slew of upscale restaurants that are pushing the city's reputation past the cheesesteak. Taking advantage of the trend is Breslow Partners, a family-owned firm specializing in restaurant PR throughout Philadelphia and the rest of the nation. It has built a reputation over the past 20 years that has allowed it to land accounts up and down the East Coast and is now looking toward the international scene. Founder Tina Breslow says it is no longer necessary to be in a market to understand it, as long as you know the field well. Peter Breslow, her son and company president, says that what they have learned in Philadelphia (which he calls "a pretty provincial place") is serving them well out of town. "It's a glorious time here," he says. Marc Brownstein, president of the Brownstein Group, has followed the same blueprint. "We have a presence in the Philadelphia area, but we've also taken a lot of local clients national," he says. The reverse is also true - Brownstein says that clients from outside the region are easier to land because when they stumble onto a Philadelphia agency, "they think they got a find." The variety and expertise of the city's agencies make it almost impossible for local corporations to claim that they couldn't be served by at least one of them. The healthcare sector is a given - major Philadelphia-based companies like Jefferson Health System, Independence Blue Cross, and Merck all use local firms for projects. Even cable giant Comcast has used Philadelphia agencies for area-specific work, says D'Arcy Rudnay, corporate communications VP. With the ALC promoting the city abroad and fostering camaraderie at home, Philadelphia appears to be on the road to bigger and better things. Tattar is so confident about the year to come that he predicts an Eagles victory in the Super Bowl. In a hard-working city, there is always room to dream.

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