It may be a difficult time for the pharmaceutical companies that have long formed the backbone of Philadelphia's PR business, but communicators say the city and surrounding region still have plenty of promise for growth. An increase in talent willing to leave New York and a diverse population that makes up the nation's fifth-largest metropolitan area provide for plenty of business opportunities in the region.
Philadelphia is a tight-knit family, mixing big-city benefits with a small-town atmosphere. While the big-name agencies are largely absent from the city, the void is more than filled by a vibrant scene of small to midsize agencies.
"There are a lot of hungry midsize and small agencies in the region," says Jeff Jubelirer, principal at Ceisler Jubelirer, a local public affairs shop. "And there must be business out there, or they wouldn't have formed."
Indeed, agency executives are optimistic about the region's outlook. "I would say that the Philadelphia market continues to be robust, though there have obviously been some major changes within agencies regarding identity and management," says Nancy Bacher Long, president of Dorland Global Public Relations. Long's agency caused the biggest stir in the city this year when Huntsworth PLC, the London-based communications company, acquired Dorland in a deal that could be worth as much as $50 million.
While some agency executives quietly admit it hasn't been a great year for their bottom line, there's growing evidence that local firms are finding success looking for business outside of the region.
Finbarr O'Sullivan, director of PR for Voice PR, a division of the Brownstein Group, says that while local business still makes up for three-quarters of his agency's business, things are slowly shifting. "It's definitely starting to trickle a little bit," he says. "We're talking to companies a lot further out than we used to."
O'Sullivan's confidence that Philadelphia agencies are increasingly a force outside of the Delaware Valley is backed by the observation that firms are attracting talent like never before. He says some agencies are offering salaries intended to compete with New York, and firms are having some success attracting top talent away from New York and Washington.
Firms are indeed finding greater success luring young professionals to Philadelphia, both in terms of recent graduates hoping to return to their hometown and professionals looking to get out of the grinding lifestyle of New York. With a more affordable cost of living, a high quality of life, and the benefits of a lively cultural scene, PR pros say they are finding it easier getting talent to come to Philadelphia over other cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.
"Although there's a very narrow talent pool here, we are finding many New Yorkers wanting to get out of the fray," says Eve Dryer, president of Vox Medica.
Dryer says her firm has also been successful in its efforts to increase diversity over the past year, something many local agencies have focused on recently. Key to that success has been an effort to engage with Philadelphia's universities, which make it the East Coast's second-largest college town.
Philadelphia is home to a number of Fortune 500 companies that tend to be very involved in the local community. Sunoco, Comcast, Cigna, and Aramark are all based in the city, and a number of pharmaceutical companies lie just over the river in New Jersey.
While many of the biggest companies operate on a national scale, their influence is still felt locally. Cigna, for instance, doesn't work with any local PR firms, but does keep in the local press through its Cigna Foundation, a nonprofit that concentrates heavily on Philadelphia, notes Gloria Barone, director of corporate communications at Cigna. Comcast, meanwhile, does work with a number of local agencies and is currently in the midst of constructing a new building downtown.
The companies play another role in the local PR scene: They often attract talent to town through spouses who come to work for companies like Comcast. "Whenever we bring people to Philadelphia they're not sure how they'll like it, but it's a great place to live, and they always end up loving it," says D'Arcy Rudnay, SVP of corporate communications for Comcast.
Media and culture
Philadelphia's resurgence as a cultural capital has prompted local institutions to pay more attention to communications. "The communications people at cultural institutions are tending to be more senior than in the past," says Jeff Guaracino, VP for communications at the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp.
He says the city is seeing huge growth in multicultural communications, with local institutions looking to reach out to the many groups that make up the diverse city and with groups like the Philadelphia Black Public Relations Association having a bigger voice.
When it comes to the media scene, uncertainty prevails. Print outlets face an uncertain time, and the biggest daily newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, was sold in 2006 to new owners, including former PR man Brian Tierney.
But the number of strong niche publications makes Philadelphia an overwhelmingly strong media town, according to most. Barone says Cigna enjoys a strong relationship with the local newspapers, as well as national media organizations with operations in the city.
With this year's PRSA convention recently taking place in Philadelphia, PR pros are talking about the city in terms of growth potential and as a place where the friendly atmosphere makes business easier.
"From time to time I refer business if it's not the right flavor. Occasionally people refer things to us," says Jubelirer. "It's a very supportive collaborative community."
Selected PR firms
Dorland Public Relations
Jack Horner Communications
Beach Creative Communications
Toplin & Associates
Voice Public Relations
Vox Medica Health Care Public Relations
Fortune 500 companies
Company 2006 Rev. ($bn)
Rohm & Haas $7.9
Crown Holdings $6.9
Lincoln National $5.5
Sovereign Bancorp $3.6
Pep Boys $2.2