Although Atlanta hasn't been immune to the recent financial turmoil, its focus on global opportunities could help local PR pros face the crisis.
Refer to Atlanta as a southern hub and you'll likely be corrected. The city, home to many Fortune 500 companies and Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport according to Airports Council International, is a global hub, say area PR pros. As such, economic woes affecting the city's businesses, agencies, and media don't detract from its eclectic corporate scene and international growth.
Bo Spalding, cofounder and partner at Jackson Spalding, notes that the city is projecting to add 2 million people by 2030. Atlanta's evolution as a global city is helping to sustain PR budgets during the downturn, he adds, citing the firm's work with a local Civil Rights Museum, for which Coca-Cola, one of the city's largest global companies, donated property. “Coca-Cola is here and it's pretty recession-resistant,” he says.
Regardless, the economy is taking its toll. “Growth [for us] right now is continuing, but it's not as strong as it was in '07,” Spalding reports, adding that the agency's revenue increased 36% in 2007, but it only projects a 14% rise for 2008.
For example, he says, the state recently mandated that Georgia agencies plan for a budget cut as high as 9%. “That's going to impact any business that PR firms are doing with the state or with public partnerships like universities,” he adds.
Also, while budgets for the agency's mainstay clients – Orkin, Delta, and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta – remain intact, Spalding notes that there's been a downturn in the agency's real-estate portfolio.
Hilary McKean, partner and director at Ketchum South, says, “Real estate is the number-one [trend impacting this market] because we're a region that's been in high-growth mode.” She notes that the trend also affects companies in the region's home category like Home Depot, which she says has taken a lot of work in-house and consolidated spending.
However, McKean adds that while the slowdown in housing and construction has impacted PR for related businesses in Atlanta, “the PR market is experiencing growth.”
Specifically, Ketchum South is seeing more diversity and Latin American opportunities for some of its global clients, such as Kodak, FedEx, and Nokia.
“A few years ago, the countries were negatively impacted economically, whereas that [area] is back to supercharged growth,” McKean says. “Big global clients are looking to go strongly into Latin America.”
The corporate scene
Delta, especially following its acquisition of Northwest, is one of many forces fueling the growth of other global businesses, the local airport, and the city itself.
As a result of the large presence of global companies, Delta has added international destinations – now nearing 100 from just 12 in 1996 – and grown its worldwide communications team, says Kent Landers, director of external communications for Delta's US domestic market.
That surge will continue, he adds, referring to a new nonstop flight to India and a need for a presence in Asia now that it has become such a large airline.
Tim Klein, VP of PR at Equifax, who formerly worked in communications at AT&T, says that the changing business landscape over the past five to seven years “has certainly had an impact on the corporate communications environment... specifically... from an overall opportunity standpoint.”
You'd need more and varied types of communications pros when you're a large public company, he adds. Once companies have merged, however, those roles may already exist within the parent company, generating fewer internal opportunities.
Regardless, he says, “I think it's a more resilient economy as a result of the diversity of businesses here.” He adds that the airport is one of the region's key business drivers.
Atlanta's media scene, which most notably includes CNN's headquarters, is also changing with the economy affecting many national outlets, as well as the city's business growth.
“We've gone from a one-paper town to a no-paper town,” explains Karen Kaplan, senior partner and GM in Fleishman-Hillard's Atlanta office, referring to recent layoffs and structural changes at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). “As it pertains to the media in town, the AJC is hit by the same pressures [as] all dailies. They've seen an erosion in readership, reductions, I'm sure, in ad revenues, and tremendous competition from... new media.”
As a result, she adds, “The real winners are the local neighborhood newspapers... They're the only media really covering local news.”
The economy and affluence of business news, however, is contributing to the success of the Atlanta Business Chronicle, a paper that recently hired Maria Saporta, former AJC reporter, and has become “the most recognized business journalist in Atlanta,” says Chronicle editor David Allison.
He says the Chronicle has seen growth in print circulation and an “exploding” online readership.
“I like to think it's because we're in a booming city,” adds Allison. “Even in a down economy, people have more need for information than ever.”
Allison adds that there's very little overlap between the print and online readers, and he attributes the gap to a national readership and interest in Atlanta's business community.
“[People] own stock in companies here, or they have businesses or interest in companies here, or their clients or their competitors are here,” he explains. “They want to know what's going on. That never stops.”
Fitzpatrick & Lewis PR
Fortune 500 companies
Home Depot 84.7
United Parcel Service 49.6
Delta Air Lines 19.1
SunTrust Banks 13.4
Genuine Parts 10.8
Newell Rubbermaid 6.4
BlueLinx Holdings 3.8
Coca-Cola Enterprises 0.9