A strong state of business

Ohio's various regions and economic drivers provide a wealth of opportunity for PR professionals.

A strong state of business

Ohio's various regions and economic drivers provide a wealth of opportunity for PR professionals.

Though Ohio has distinct regions with varying economic drivers, a common focus is attracting and retaining big businesses and a highly skilled workforce.

Two years ago, former Governor Robert Taft asked Procter & Gamble for help when he created the Ohio Business Development Coalition (OBDC), a public/private partnership to market Ohio and attract capital investment. The company "loaned" marketer Edward Burghard to serve as OBDC executive director.

"Our core promise is that in Ohio uniquely you can achieve professional aspirations and personal aspirations," Burghard says.

The big picture
Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus (known as "the three Cs") span the state. Cincinnati, which boasts 10 Fortune 500 companies, is considered a hotbed of brand design expertise. Cleveland is attracting significant investments from healthcare and educational institutions, including the Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center, a $250 million research and product development merger.

Columbus, the capital, is home to big retail brands including The Limited and Big Lots.

Generally speaking, Cincinnati provides a lot of consumer PR work. As Cleveland transitions from a manufacturing-based economy, a broader range of corporate PR opportunities are popping up, including healthcare.

Columbus, the capital, tends to be more characterized by government affairs and public policy work, though there are some big consumer brands based there, too.

Raymond Buse III, director of PR at Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, says brand design accounts for more than 2,000 jobs, and the availability of high-level work attracts first-rate talent. The region also has very strong concentration in biotech, aerospace, and chemical and automotive manufacturing businesses.

Downtown Cincinnati is enjoying a renaissance after a $42 million renovation, and foreign investment is bringing more growth. The region has 300 foreign companies, and TATA, India's largest IT company, will establish North American headquarters in Cincinnati.

With headquarters in Akron, Goodyear is one of the few remaining big brands in northeast Ohio, which has lost Firestone and OfficeMax in recent years. The company is considering a proposal to build new headquarters, which would keep it in the region and help anchor Akron's revitalization.

"To have a corporate headquarters for this redevelopment is good for everybody," says Rob Whitehouse, Goodyear's corporate communications director, who expects a decision by year's end. "We're focused on staying in Akron."

The agency scene
Ohio's PR landscape is dominated by independent agencies. Cleveland full-service shop Dix & Eaton (D&E) practices national media relations, IR, branding, and crisis and transaction communications for clients such as Sherwin Williams, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Northwest Airlines.

"About one-third of clients are out of state," says chairman and CEO Scott Chaikin. "Work is global for in-state clients. Most have very capable in-house staff."

D&E is currently competing against Edelman and Porter Novelli for a piece of national media relations business. "I feel like we have a 50/50 opportunity," he says.

Liggett Stashower CEO Mark Nylander says the firm has grown a very strong interactive practice, sharing best practices with partners in the WorldCom network and the Advertising and Marketing International Network. Clients include national and regional companies, with significant consumer retail brands, including a few from Dial Corporation. Nylander notes the number of clients from outside the region has increased.

Goodyear's Whitehouse feels corporate PR teams are shrinking in northeast Ohio due to the affordability of smaller firms. Without an AOR, his company's in-house team of about 20 has managed all crisis work.

Coyne PR in New Jersey handles product support for the North American tire unit, and Hitchcock Flemming & Associates in Akron supports marketing initiatives.

Fleishman-Hillard (FH) Cleveland is Ohio's only multinational, drawn by the large Fortune 500 base and arriving in 1999 via acquisition of Watt Roop.

"It was questionable if Cleveland was going to be a place FH could grow," says Douglas Bell, FH Cleveland's SVP, senior partner, and GM. "[We] pursu[ed] national and multinational companies that need depth and breath. If you go after clients selectively, there's ample opportunity."

FH Cleveland's roster includes Merck, H&R Block, and AT&T.

Northlich, a 60-year-old agency (rooted in advertising), has offices in "the three Cs." PR president Rick Miller says Northlich has "evolved to a brand engagement agency" fueled by PR and digital practice growth. The agency has an emphasis on social marketing, and one of its largest clients is the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation. A formal CSR unit will launch soon, and it recently acquired a digital agency.

"If you have not built social and digital media into your business, you're not going to be relevant locally or nationally," Miller notes.

Media snapshot
Ohio media are experiencing shrinking dailies and online investments - the same as the rest of the country. The Cincinnati Post (which was operating under joint agreement with The Cincinnati Enquirer) will cease publication December 31. The Columbus Dispatch lost 21 employees this year in early retirement buyouts. Dispatch editor Ben Marrison notes similar reductions around the state, including at the The Plain Dealer, which is down 60 staffers.

Carolyn Pione, The Cincinnati Enquirer business editor, says print circulation is growing by acquiring Kentucky readers. A push into suburban areas has also paid off. A robust online version is helping revenue. The site includes user-generated content, which Pione says PR pros love.

"We've been forced to think about new ways to bring news to readers - demographically and geographically," Pione says. "We aren't in position to be dismissive of pitches from PR people."

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