A brotherly community

In the fourth year of its Regional Forums, PRWeek is returning to cities it has previously visited, as well as adding a handful of new regions to the rotation. For each event, leading PR pros from a variety of agencies, corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations take part in a roundtable discussion about the issues affecting them and their peers.

In the fourth year of its Regional Forums, PRWeek is returning to cities it has previously visited, as well as adding a handful of new regions to the rotation. For each event, leading PR pros from a variety of agencies, corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations take part in a roundtable discussion about the issues affecting them and their peers.

PRWeek's Julia Hood, Eleanor Trickett, and Marc Longpre were in Philadelphia for this year's seventh Regional Forum.

The Philadelphia area

D'Arcy Rudnay (Comcast): I'm from Philadelphia. I moved [back] about 15 years ago, [having] started my career in DC. From a PR standpoint, we have many really good agencies who bring a lot of talent to whatever opportunity the company might have.

Lori Doyle (University of Pennsylvania): I've lived here for some time. Philadelphia is a very livable city and the business community is very easy to navigate. It's a large city, but I think it still has a certain small-town feel. My experience is that larger firms here have clients that are both national and international in scope, but there is a perception that firms here primarily handle Philadelphia-based clients. I don't believe that's true.
Jeff Guaracino (Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation): I was born and raised in Philadelphia. I was educated at Rowan University and chose to stay working here. What appeals to me about working here is that it's a very well-networked PR community where big ideas can happen, whether it's bringing the Republican National Convention here in 2000, Elton John raising $1 million for AIDS last year, or Rosie O'Donnell, who will come here with her family for a gay-friendly vacation in March. Big ideas can happen and be implemented.

Eve Dryer (Vox Medica): It's an interesting contrast that the agency world is rather supportive and collaborative - a lot less cut-throat than, say, New York, where I've worked. More often than not, as Lori mentioned, many of us who do national work are not pitching against one other, but we're pitching against the Edelmans, the Porter Novellis, the Fleishman-Hillards.

Julia Hood (PRWeek): Is the political structure of the city supportive of PR?

Anita Lewis (Health Partners): As a PR pro, I did not have a difficult time - whether it was good press or negative press - getting coverage for my legislator or having him respond to something when needed. I think they were available, open, and receptive. But I think that is the nature of the Philadelphia beast. This is a very political town in my experience.

Guaracino (GPTMC): The gaming issue has been very good for the PR agencies because there is a limited number of licenses that will be awarded in December. So a number of local PR firms who I've worked with are being paid well, as I understand it, for community building, for consensus building.

Hood (PRWeek): When we think about Philadelphia, we think often of healthcare. Can we get a picture of the healthcare market and some other industries that are strong?

Sheryl Williams (Cephalon): I grew up in Chicago, a big city with a lot of media. I had no idea Philadelphia was the great city that it is. As a matter of fact, other states have tried to court us to move our business, but our CEO was adamant that we would stay in the region.

Look at the number of academic medical centers and the stature of those organizations. [Look] how the biotech industry has grown in this region and the innovative things that the state of Pennsylvania has done, such as [using] the tobacco-settlement money to fund innovative healthcare ideas.

Rudnay (Comcast): There are other opportunities. Comcast is generating a lot of jobs. People may have thought of us in the past as being a cable company, [but] the reality is we are in multiple industries. We are now in telecoms, cable, and high-speed internet. We are creating national Web sites. We are moving some of our networks here and we think that will help make Philadelphia a cool place for young people to stay after college.

Hood (PRWeek): Some of our Seattle roundtable participants said one of their best recruiting pools was spouses of Microsoft employees.

Mary Stengel Austen (Tierney Communications): Right, and I think we were shy to do that [with local companies]. I think we're more aggressive as a community to say that's our opportunity to kind of fly the flag and show people it's a different place. I think the city has a bit of an inferiority complex. People who aren't born and bred here are really blown away by this city. Other companies are growing. Biotech and tourism [are] booming. You can't argue with the fact that there is opportunity there.

Finbarr O'Sullivan (Voice Public Relations): We have clients from as far away as California. The beauty of the kind of work we do, because it's online-based, [is that] geography really isn't an issue. The quality of work is what's important. I'm a relative newcomer to Philadelphia. What attracted me was the similarities between it and where I come from in Ireland. The Irish economy is doing very well at the moment because it took a stance and made a name for itself. It started to attract specific industries, [ones] that wouldn't come and go, [ones] that would make significant investments into the area and be enticed to stay.

Nancy Sacunas (Sacunas): [An area in which] we've seen a lot of increases is real estate. Pennsylvania is a major roadway and highway infrastructure network and that pulls in distribution companies, commercial real estate, and land development, which then feeds the engineering services community.

Hood (PRWeek): Philadelphia is seen as a big sports town, right?

Shawn Tilger (Philadelphia Flyers): We're very fortunate because it is a very passionate sports city. It's a luxury to be in this position. Surprisingly, that's a challenge around the country, especially in the NHL. New expansion markets have trouble drawing people. Philadelphia is the antithesis of that. We view the media here as a strategic partner that's an extension of our marketing events. It's more a function of using them as a resource and creating allies, which we've done with many of our partnerships.

Hood (PRWeek): Lisa, you have worked in the region, but are new to Philadelphia proper. What have you seen about the PR community?

Lisa Davis (AstraZeneca): It's probably too early to tell. One of the things I have found is that people will work and live in any of the four states in the area. The ability to bounce back and forth has made it more attractive. I have [also] noticed that there is a different work-life balance, which I think is attractive to people who come from other major cities.

Nancy Bacher Long (Dorland Public Relations): In the past three years, half of our staff has been recruited from New York and northern New Jersey. When we've been asking everyone [what they think of Philadelphia], I've heard very few negatives and many more positives.

Talent and diversity

Dryer (Vox Medica): We've become very non-traditional in the way we put together a workplace. I'd like to think that it's not just our organization. I have flex time among our staff, I have people who work two to three days in Philadelphia and then work out of New York, northern New Jersey, or DC.

Lewis (Health Partners): [As] a founding member of the Black Public Relations Society, I'd run into a lot of graduates looking for jobs, talented people who had done internships for no pay.

I went to Temple University, which isn't Columbia, but isn't a bad school either. It was a struggle for me. I could not get a job at any of the local agencies here. It wasn't because of my writing samples, it was comfort level. I'm an African-American woman. They wanted to hire a younger white woman or man. That's fine. I understand about comfort level, but I felt I was just as passionate as the other candidate... [But what] I'm finding is it's slowly changing.

Long (Dorland): We work aggressively to hire from the local market. From entry- through mid-level, we hire aggressively locally. The issue we have as a healthcare specialist is you get to a mid-career point and the path then diverges. You have folks who go to the corporate side. It's a funnel and it becomes a smaller pool of talent. 

There's a great effort underway to diversify the talent pool. We participated in a diversity career fair last year at Howard University. Maybe we could do it in Philadelphia. I think there's an aggressive desire to diversify the community and the talent pool.

Austen (Tierney): We all agree there is not enough [diversity]. We must figure out how to go deeper. You need to go into some schools and programs and talk about opportunities in PR. The reality is some of these diverse candidates are not going into PR, they are going into other markets. You have to feed it at an earlier stage, perhaps even in high school. I think it is happening.

There's an effort in the city called the Big Pitch, which is going deeper into the high schools. Each year, it is partnering agency pros with kids in the projects and they actually get to do a pitch. They [work] as a team and are able to dabble in it to see if communications is an area they want to go into.

Williams (Cephalon): A lot of it has to do with bias about whether skills are transferable. We've tried to convince people that it is OK to hire someone who doesn't have a pharma background to be a communicator because the skill set is the thing. I've seen people not get corporate jobs because the feeling is they've only looked at things from an agency perspective and this job level is too high.

Davis (AstraZeneca): That's interesting. Maybe this is something for this region, because I've actually found that it's easier to jump from the agency into corporate than from other places simply because people think if you're from an agency you've dealt with a lot of clients and you understand the process, the planning.

Obviously, the higher up you are in the agency, the better opportunity you'd have because you've done more managing. If this is what this market is like, that it's hard for agency people to make the jump to corporate, that's different than what I've seen elsewhere.

Guaracino (GPTMC): The PR industry has really matured in Philadelphia in the past 10 years, making more senior jobs available. The job and retention issue is a much larger one facing Philadelphia.

We have 50,000 college freshman coming each year to the region. So we're attracting them, but our challenge is to engage them, get them to establish some roots. There's been a natural cycle where people graduate and want to do their New York thing or their San Francisco thing, but by the time they look at quality-of-life issues, then they look to come back to the city among a number of industries.

I think the PR industry has  grown enough that we can re-attract some of those top-level people who can make the salary they want and be challenged in the work that they want. I think you might be able to argue that in a lot of other industries in Philadelphia.

Community spirit

Tilger (Flyers): Our strategy is to embrace our role as community leader. We look at PR as determining how people think, but community relations determines how people feel. We always try to grow the sport, as well as give back in all we do. But any corporation that's not embracing that role is truly underserved.

Davis (AstraZeneca): This goes on no matter where you go. Being engaged in the community now is a license to do business. The whole world has gotten to a point [where] corporations need to be good corporate citizens, especially in their backyard. In terms of recruiting it's important. From a standpoint of how we go about doing our business as communicators, community outreach is huge.

Guaracino (GPTMC): I see Philadelphia as a city of communities. You have strong African-American [and] Latino communities, and very strong Asian and Italian communities. There are openly gay people in the administration and running major organizations in this city. The mayor is African American, with a very diverse and strong group of community leaders. Philadelphia isn't just Rocky. It's not just that blue-collar town which most people think of.

Long (Dorland): It's a passionate town. It could be passion for a sports team, your ethnic, racial, cultural neighborhood, or for an industry. Healthcare is one that ties a lot of us together. There's a great deal of passion around that. 

I think it's very easy for this community to mobilize and make its voice heard. People from the outside looking in need to understand what this city has to offer. I think biases are long held. It is an international, educated, passionate city.

Austen (Tierney): I think sometimes we forget we're the fifth-largest city in the US. We're reminded when companies like Comcast decide to keep their headquarters here, when Lincoln Financial moves here, when we have sports teams that are competitive.

I think when tourism has organized itself and tried to attract these collective groups, it's all starting to come together. We're exporting our restaurants. We're slowly building this incredible story. It's livable, manageable. We are in between New York and DC. which I think is a strength. I think the region as a whole is getting their arms around that.

Eleanor Trickett (PRWeek): A lot of people at this table have worked together. In terms of formal and informal opportunities, what kind of PR community is there here?

Long (Dorland): A couple of years ago, we started the Agency Leadership Council [in Philadelphia]. We talked about how many of us work with national and international clients, so we're outward-facing. We felt the need to turn inward, get to know our colleagues, and collaborate more closely.

We've been meeting on a regular basis for more than two years now. It has been incredibly collaborative and valuable to all of us personally, professionally and, frankly, from a bottom-line perspective.


Hood (PRWeek): What are the influential media outlets here?

Lewis (Health Partners): We have two Latino papers, one very strong African-American paper, and a very strong gay and lesbian paper. They definitely have a voice here.

Guaracino (GPTMC): There's been an interesting rise in the niche media compared to our mainstream media. Where the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News are seeing their daily circulation drop, the niche media have grown significantly. The Gay News continues to have record-breaking years. The City Paper and the Philadelphia Weekly continue to get thicker. I don't want to miss the social media - Philebrity and blogs.

Rudnay (Comcast): I belong to a group of top-level corporate communications pros. This came up at our last meeting. I think everyone's hoping the Inquirer will improve under new owner [Brian Tierney] because for the past few years the corporate communications community has felt very underserved.

O'Sullivan (Voice): In hindsight, the Inquirer was probably trying to do too many things, trying to be all things to all people. As a result, it lost its focus and that's not unique to this area. We have such a strong communications industry here and that was really problematic. If you have the paper of record turning a blind eye to things that are going on in this community, then that's just not good enough.

Dryer (Vox Medica): The Inquirer has been the hardest thing to pitch. We could be doing a national pitch on a local company and it will be really hard to get attention. If we do get the attention, they always look for the zinger.
O'Sullivan (Voice): We've had good success working with broadcast people. They seem very engaged, especially the pro bono accounts. They really do take an interest in that. They see themselves, or at least portray themselves, as members of the community. Whether it's giving you live on-air time to talk about your nonprofit, I think they do a stand-up job.

Austen (Tierney): They are players in the market, I would agree. They are all active businesspeople in terms of sponsorships of other entities. They all have access to their national bureaus which makes a difference. Many of them have grown up in this area or left and came back. They get it. I think radio is also a strong voice here. I think it's a really strong broadcast market.

The participants

Mary Stengel Austen
President & CEO, Tierney Communications

Lisa Davis
VP of corporate communications, AstraZeneca

Lori Doyle
VP of comms, University of Pennsylvania

Eve Dryer
President, Vox Medica Health Care PR Group

Jeff Guaracino
VP of comms, Greater Phila. Tourism Mktg. Corporation

Anita Lewis
Legislative Program Mgr., Health Partners

Nancy Bacher Long
President, Dorland Public Relations

Finbarr O'Sullivan
Director of PR, Voice Public Relations

D'Arcy Rudnay
VP of corporate communications, Comcast

Nancy Sacunas
President and CEO, Sacunas

Shawn Tilger
VP of marketing & PR, Philadelphia Flyers

Sheryl Williams
Senior director of PR, Cephalon

Pennsylvania PR Firms
Breslow Partners
Dorland Public Relations
Jack Horner Communications
Tierney Communications
Toplin & Associates
Voice Public Relations
Vox Medica Health Care
Public Relations


Fortune 1,000 companies in the Philadelphia area
Company - F1,000 - Rev. rank  ($bn)
Sunoco - 66 - 31.2
Comcast - 94 - 22.3  
Cigna - 130 - 16.7  
Aramark - 215 - 11.0 
Rohm & Haas - 286 - 8.0  
Crown Holdings - 321 - 6.9 
Lincoln National - 396 - 5.5  
Sovereign Bancorp - 531 - 3.6  
Pep Boys - 752 - 2.2  
FMC  - 771 - 2.2

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Explore further