Southern hospitality

With a congenial atmosphere that extends to its PR industry, Atlanta is bursting with activity on the agency and corporate fronts.

With a congenial atmosphere that extends to its PR industry, Atlanta is bursting with activity on the agency and corporate fronts.

Atlanta is a city oozing with Southern charm - something evident from the convivial undercurrent that runs through the PR industry. Firms routinely pass business to each other when they feel another agency is more suited to a particular project. Organizations like the PRSA also report high attendance by professionals of all levels.

"The PR community here is a friendly, healthy [one]," says Genna Keller, principal, Trevelino/ Keller Communications Group.

Adding to that atmosphere is the role that giving back to the community plays in this market.

"There isn't one weekend - spring, summer, or fall - where the streets aren't filled with people walking for breast cancer, AIDS, the homeless, or raising money for the Atlanta community food bank," says Claudia Patton, EVP and GM, Edelman Atlanta.

The agency landscape

The agency scene in Atlanta is littered with boutique specialty firms, but also has branch offices of many of the major players in the industry.

"There is a great mix of all kinds of agencies here," says Sonia Fuller, VP of media relations for Cohn, Overstreet & Parrish. "We have a great location for a lot of the large global agencies, but I find it's a great place to be an independent. There is a lot of mid-market business here, which plays well for small agencies."

Stephen Brown, VP of media relations for Manning Selvage & Lee, says many boutiques are developing around the city's budding luxury-lifestyle culture.

"Atlanta definitely is emerging as a point of reference in the New South for tourism and new business," he adds. According to Brown and other area practitioners, PR for restaurants and lifestyle interests has picked up dramatically, something they attribute to the growing population.

According the US Census Bureau, the population in Atlanta has increased by about 55,000 since July 2000 to more than 470,000 people.

Despite the population increase, the city's agencies still deal with the industry-wide problem of finding mid-level talent.

"It's hard to find good talent in the city right now," says Brown. "It's hard to say why, but many of those people would have been graduating into the post-9/11 world and may not have gone this route because of that."

The corporate story

With 14 Fortune 500 companies, Atlanta is a microcosm for big business. But the corporate landscape has changed dramatically due to acquisitions and mergers of major corporations in the area, as well as the turnover of several top executives in recent years at big players like Delta and The Home Depot.

Atlanta has recently seen the merger of BellSouth and AT&T, and, in March, Koch Industries acquired Georgia Pacific. This corporate turnover is bringing new business to many of the agencies in the area.

"AT&T is one of Fleishman-Hillard's largest clients and they are planning their merger with BellSouth," says Karen Kaplan, GM and senior partner at the agency. "They are expanding their footprint exponentially, so we are working with Cingular and BellSouth to continue building a brand."

According to Julie Pigott, VP of marketing and customer support for SouthernLINC Wireless, most of the corporations in Atlanta are doing a mix of project and retainer work with the firms in the area, but many of the area's Fortune 500 companies are working with more of the big-name global agencies. Many of the companies in the area are recruiting firms for corporate reputation work and crisis and issues management.

"When you go to the corporate side of the big-name companies headquartered here, the theme of the day is going to be more global than local, but local remains a top priority because the news starts here," says Steve Holmes, corporate PR manager of UPS.

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin has played a major role in getting corporations involved in projects around Atlanta, including the Beltway Project to turn an old railway into modern transportation and the rebranding of Atlanta with its new tagline: "Everyday is opening day."

"Shirley Franklin is the best mayor that this city has seen in a long time," says Bo Spalding, principal at Jackson Spalding. "She has united the business community with the civic community. Now it's government and business working together."

The city's new tagline speaks to the many opportunities opening everyday in Atlanta, but the rebranding effort has not been as successful as the city had hoped.

"I think they were trying to make the city seem more young, hip, and urban, but I don't think it has really stuck with all the masses in Atlanta," says Fuller.

The media scene

"What is written in your local paper is often times what can spur coverage on a national and global level," says Holmes. "We don't come out with any news without including our local reporters."

That local media is dominated by its daily newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but the weekly business paper, the Atlanta Business Chronicle is rapidly becoming a must-read.

"We depend a lot on the Chronicle," says Edelman's Patton. "It's a hard-hitting, great business publication that is very well-targeted."

National media plays a major role in this market with a proliferation of bureau offices and the headquarters of CNN.

"We're lucky here in that we have bureaus of almost every major publication," says Mark Scott, VP of marketing for HomeBanc. "It's a good market to network with a lot of these journalists. It gives you a leg-up when pitching to the national media."

Atlanta is also seeing a surge in titles targeting women and minorities with the debut of glossies like Atlanta Peach and Skirt!

Selected PR firms

Brandware Public Relations
Cohn, Overstreet & Parrish
Eric Mower & Associates
GCI Group
Hope-Beckham PR
Jackson Spalding
Manning Selvage & Lee
Porter Novelli
Strategic Vision
Trevelino/Keller Communications Group
Weber Shandwick
William Mills Agency

Fortune 1,000 companies
Company                          Rev. ($bn)
Home Depot                      81.5
United Parcel Service         42.5
Coca-Cola                         23.1
BellSouth                          20.6
Coca-Cola Enterprises        18.7
Delta Air Lines                   16.1
Southern                           13.5
SunTrust Banks                 10.8
Genuine Parts                    9.7
Cox Communications         7.0
Newell Rubbermaid            6.5
BlueLinx Holdings               5.6
Beazer Homes USA            4.9
Mirant                              4.2
AGL Resources                 2.7

Source: Fortune

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