The New Jersey and Pennsylvania markets house a variety of Fortune 500 companies - and plenty of homegrown talent.
The New Jersey and western Pennsylvania markets are dominated by large corporations, as well as by specialized agencies that have to have the best talent and services to compete with nearby New York and Philadelphia. (Philadelphia will be profiled separately in the December 11 issue of PRWeek.)
Yet, this market offers something its big city counterparts do not: a quality of life that can only be found in the suburbs. "A lot of people are trading in the grind of the city for a shorter commute and more time with their families," says Tom Coyne, president and CEO of New Jersey-based Coyne PR. "It's a balanced lifestyle."
The agency arena
Despite the close proximity to large, global agencies, New Jersey and Pennsylvania firms are thriving. The few national agencies in the area include East Rutherford, NJ-based MWW Group, and Pittsburgh branches of Burson-Marsteller and Ketchum; however, the small firms that populate the market are pulling in their share of local and national clients.
"People who truly want to engage New Jersey residents see the importance of hiring a New Jersey firm," says Michael Cherenson, VP of PR for The Cherenson Group in Livingston, NJ. "You need to hire firms that understand the landscape."
That unique, two-state landscape is littered with issues that directly affect the PR industry.
The Pittsburgh area has seen a range of sporting events - including the 2006 MLB All-Star game, the 2007 US Open, and the Bass Master Classic - that have boosted communications in the region and brought business to many local firms. "We've had these sporting events that are drawing national press," says Lori Lecker, director of communications at law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney (BI&R) and president of PRSA Pittsburgh. "Pittsburgh got tremendous publicity as a result of that. We are seeing interesting PR opportunities surrounding all of these events."
In New Jersey, local politics have dramatically reshaped the industry. Newly elected Gov. Jon Corzine has proposed legislation that would close underperforming area hospitals and is considering legislation to curb New Jersey's property-tax problem.
"This will create whole new dynamics and structures that will create opportunities for PR people," says Cherenson. "When you have a changing field, someone has to explain it to someone else, and that is what we do."
And local firms, regardless of their size, are not just confined to working with local clients, says Michael Kempner, CEO of MWW Group. "You are seeing New Jersey, and the reputations of the firms in New Jersey, rapidly grow," he says. "They are generally no longer viewed as New Jersey firms, but firms that happen to be based in New Jersey."
"In general, I see a real robust business climate in the area," says Tom Dowling, MD and market leader for Burson's Pennsylvania region. "There is a refocus on the value of PR and communications, leading clients to do more work and new clients to call us up all the time."
The corporate picture
With an abundance of Fortune 500 companies in the area - New Jersey has 37 and Pennsylvania 49 - many of them handle communications in-house, though there is a rising trend of spreading PR business around smaller agencies.
"One thing I am seeing, specifically in Pittsburgh, is a lot of sole practitioners or really small shops that have developed over the past five years," says BI&R's Lecker. "I see a lot of the corporate business going piecemeal to [them]."
Corporate budgets and hiring have been largely flat, say experts. "I'm seeing growth on the agency side, but it seems the corporate side has stayed conservative in its hiring," says Jeff Worden, manager of PR for manufacturing giant PPG in Pittsburgh. "I think you are seeing a lot of companies with lean PR staffs."
Despite the small in-house staffs, the corporate sector is seeing an influx of high-quality talent in the middle and senior levels, although it is having trouble recruiting a lot of the quality junior-level talent. The region tends to attract older professionals with families who are looking to settle outside the hustle and bustle of the city.
"There is an unbelievable talent pool because you've got the top pharmaceutical companies headquartered out here," says Ray Kerins, executive director of media relations at Merck, who recently moved to New Jersey from New York. "More people I know move out to New Jersey to get a better quality of life. There is a greater pull to senior people."
But the movement works both ways, says Leslie Cifelli, director of communications for external affairs for Prudential Financial. "We're setting the tone here in the tri-state area for everywhere else," she says. "We cultivate the talent, who then goes out to set the trends in the industry."
The media landscape
Being so close to the first- and fourth-largest news markets in the country - New York and Philadelphia, respectively - allows for a multitude of media opportunities, but also shapes the way PR professionals deal with the local media.
"We have to go to Philadelphia, and we have to go to New York to even communicate in New Jersey," says Jim McQueeny, chairman of Winning Strategies. "We have the same relationships at the same level [as New York agencies], whether it's The New York Times, or network TV out of New York or Philadelphia."
According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, New Jersey-based The Star Ledger, the largest newspaper in the state, has an average daily Monday-Friday circulation of 398,329, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has 222,927.
"We consider The Star Ledger and The Philadelphia Inquirer to be top-tier newspapers," says Merck's Kerins. The pharma giant uses the local papers as a means to reach out to employees, owing to their wide readership by residents of the region.
"People read different publications for different reasons, and that is no different in New Jersey," says Kempner. "There is a sense of ownership and a sense of pride in New Jersey that you can really cultivate to your advantage [when dealing with the media]."
Selected PR firms
The Brownstein Group
The Cherenson Group
Jack Horner Communications
Tierney Communications Toplin & Associates
Vox Medica Healthcare PR
Winning Strategies PR
Fortune 1,000 companies
Johnson & Johnson
Medco Health Solutions
United States Steel
Public Service Enterprise Group
Toys "R" Us