Beyond the stereotypes

The Minneapolis-St. Paul region provides many opportunities for PR professionals.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul region provides many opportunities for PR professionals.

In January, community leaders from Minneapolis and St. Paul (MSP), including mayors of both cities and PR agencies Padilla Speer Beardsley, Tunheim Partners, and Weber Shandwick (WS), launched a branding initiative called "More to Life" to help change misperceptions of the region.

Those opinions were reflected in a study by FutureBrand, which revealed that people outside the Midwest tend to think of MSP as an economically lagging, boring expanse of perpetually cold flyover space. But in fact, area professionals argue, it's an economically diverse, sophisticated metropolitan area with a highly educated workforce and a large concentration of Fortune 1000 companies.

A stable market
"Research showed that people don't get it," says Padilla chair and CEO Lynn Casey. "[MSP] has been the launch pad and landing strip for a lot of large companies and sophisticated growth companies. The economy is stable, and there's a good amount of wealth."

That local economy will certainly get a boost when the Republican National Convention comes to town in September. Casey notes that some area firms are involved in projects related to the convention, and others, including Padilla, are working on a pro-bono basis to ensure MSP's role is well publicized.

Sara Gavin, president of WS - MSP, says the business scene balances innovative sectors, such as medical technology and biotech, and traditional ones, such as food, manufacturing, retail, and financial services.

"Historically, our economic strength has been the diverse base of companies," Gavin says. "We've not seen a diminishment of business locally or outside of Minnesota. We're seeing continued PR investment, maybe because of this [economic] environment."

Agency business
Casey calls the local PR agency scene "extraordinarily robust" and expects Padilla to pull in more than $16 million this year. About 40% of business comes from MSP-based clients, including General Mills, 3M, Mayo Clinic, and HB Fuller.

"There's a lot of communications talent here," Casey says. "Local agencies are in demand - not necessarily because they're local, but because they've got highly skilled people. We're growing, and we need people. We import a fair amount of talent. Sometimes it's difficult to get them here, but then they tend to stay."

Greg Zimprich, director of brand PR at General Mills (GM), explains that GM doesn't have AOR relationships, and "big, national agencies in New York and Chicago" help with large product launches. The in-house team leads brand work, but the company regularly uses many local agencies for project work.

"If an agency has expertise that aligns, we'll work with them," Zimprich says. "We've taken the lead in engaging influencers to drive brand advocacy. We're doing more social media and word of mouth. Padilla supports all of those things, and helps with product launches and media relations."

GM also works with Olson & Company, Exponent PR, Carmichael Lynch Spong, WS, and Fleishman-Hillard.

Carlson Companies owns travel, restaurant, and marketing businesses, including a variety of hotels and T.G.I. Friday's. Chief communications officer Kim Olson has an internal PR team of about 60, but the company also works with local agencies, including Fast Horse and WS.

Media flux
MSP still supports two daily newspapers - the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press - but both have changed ownership and shaved staff over the past 18 months.

"[The media market] is pretty fractured and stressed - like many major markets," says Eric Wieffering, the Star Tribune's assistant managing editor of business. "The Star Tribune has exasperated its audience over the last couple of years - not intentionally - it's just the financial pressures. The perception is that coverage has gone down. That's not true, but exasperation is a measure of how invested people are in our newspaper."

Wieffering says the two dailies are "still dominant sources," but the media landscape is clearly shifting. Minnpost.com, a nonprofit news outlet, went live last November and is home to many journalists who were displaced from the dailies. Minnesota Monitor, a liberal-leaning site, is another online upstart written by a mix of bloggers and journalists.

Minnpost.com media reporter David Brauer notes that both dailies are struggling, but growing in online strength. He says ratings and viewers are down at all three local TV stations. As far as alternative papers, City Pages is the only one that remains, and after changing ownership last year, Brauer estimates staff cuts of about 25%.

Despite those challenges, local media outlets are still important to companies in the area.

"Local media is great for us," Zimprich says. "We have good relationships, and they're important to maintain and nurture. We have a strong foundation in
community relations. It's part of being a hometown company, and it's the right thing to do."

Carlson is also active in CSR and community relations, and those efforts often garner local coverage. "We're always going to be interested in Minnesota [media]," Olson says. "This is where we were born and where we live."

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