A unique atmosphere

Colorado is home to a number of diverse industries, providing plenty of opportunities for communications work.

Colorado is home to a number of diverse industries, providing plenty of opportunities
for communications work.

Hit hard by the high-tech downturn of the late '90s, Colorado today remains a center of technological innovation, but also a home to a diverse range of businesses, including organic foods, biotech, military defense, and tourism. That should help the state's tight-knit PR community, as well as Colorado in general, better weather a potential national recession. Always popular with nature lovers, Colorado will also be a magnet for politicos late this summer when it hosts the Democratic National Convention (DNC).

Agency scene
Agency execs say that multinational firms have attempted to build a significant presence in the Colorado market, but few have succeeded because it is not home to as many large corporations as other states. But it does attract more than its share of start-up companies, in part because entrepreneurs simply like living there. These businesses are also typically represented by local agencies.

"It's a lifestyle thing; people who are highly educated and highly paid get more choice about where to live," says John Metzger, CEO of Boulder-based Metzger Associates. "You have a huge entrepreneurial community. A lot of people have moved here."

VisiTech PR president Lisa Wilson, whose Denver-based firm predominantly serves Silicon Valley customers, notes that successful businesses created in the state, including StorageTek, JD Edwards, and McData, typically get acquired by other companies instead of developing into major marketing organizations, which again limits the opportunity for PR firms.

Still, creative startups can spur great innovation on the part of local agencies, says Gwin Johnston, CEO of JohnstonWells PR.

"I think the level of sophistication of Colorado PR is far, far greater than it was a few years ago, and far greater than other cities, frankly," says the 36-year industry veteran. "You get to work with smaller organizations where you're able to participate in real strategic thinking with clients that you'd never be able to with [a big corporation]."

Quite a large number of PR professionals in the state work as freelancers, notes Jeff Julin, MGA Communications president and PRSA CEO and chairman. The local PRSA chapter has more than 400 members, making it one of the largest. Thanks to new technology, many independent practitioners will work together to serve clients that might previously have hired large agencies.

Diverse economy
Along with high-tech businesses, including biotech and software development, Colorado growth industries include such fields as organic foods and renewable energy development. Sonja Tuitele, senior director of communications for Aurora Organic Dairy, says her company targets not just trade magazines, but also environmental writers interested in organic foods and environmental best practices.

Many large businesses are based in the state, including energy and telecommunications companies. Tourism also remains a big draw, with people from around the world coming to the state to ski at top-class resorts in famous towns like Aspen and Vail. Kristin Rust, international PR director for the Aspen Skiing Company, notes that ski resorts spend far less on PR than marketing, though, and typically handle PR work internally.

"It varies from resort to resort, but I would say that [almost] everybody does [the majority of] their PR in-house," Rust says, although sometimes outside firms, usually from LA or New York, are used to help with additional outreach. "It really is a product you have to know well to be able to sell."

The DNC will be a major promotional opportunity for the entire state, which Denver is hosting this summer just prior to Labor Day weekend. Chris Lopez, the DNC's director of communications, says a number of local PR firms are helping organize various communications efforts, including community outreach and a planned film festival based on the theme of "personal democracy."

"Denver will nominate [either] the first woman or [the first] African American for president," Lopez adds. "That's something we want to leverage: That history is being made in Denver."

Media market
Denver remains a two-newspaper town. Despite consolidating their back operations, The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News are struggling to cope with a drop in circulation and advertising that has prompted layoffs. Magazines serving the state include the Denver Business Journal, ColoradoBiz, the consumer lifestyle magazine 5280 (in reference to Denver's mile-high elevation), and upscale titles like Aspen and Vail.

The state is also home to a range of niche titles, including telecom trade magazines - like RCR Wireless New - as well as magazines focused on yoga or other interests related to health and well-being.

"Because of the interest of Coloradans and people in [the] Rocky Mountain Region, you'll find a lot of specialist publications, such as SKI Magazine and Backpacker, which competes with Outside," notes Sharon Linhart, managing partner of Linhart Public Relations.

Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, and Denver all have several local network TV affiliates. In addition, the state offers a range of Spanish-language newspapers and networks, including Telemundo and Univision, to reach the growing Hispanic population.
Additionally, like elsewhere around the country, PR execs say they spend an increasing amount of time doing outreach to bloggers and other members of the online community.

"We've got a pretty healthy blogging community here," Linhart SVP Paul Raab says. "You'll find a fair amount of commentary by blue bloggers and red bloggers, and also [blogs] on the environment and renewable energy."

Selected agencies
GroundFloor Media
The Hoffman Agency
Corporate Affairs
JohnstonWells Public
Linhart Public Relations
Metzger Associates
MGA Communications
Praco Public Relations
& Advertising

Fortune 500 companies
Company Rev. ($bn)
Qwest Communications 13.9
Echostar Communications 9.8
S&C Holdco 3 9.4
Liberty Media 8.9
First Data 7.0
Liberty Global 6.8
Ball 6.6
Molson Coors Brewing 5.9
Newmont Mining 5.0
MDC Holdings 4.8

Source: Fortune

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