When Michael Ehrlich, senior PR manager for Adidas, made the move from Los Angeles to Portland, OR, three years ago, the sketch comedy series Portlandia had just premiered.
The show, starring Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen and rock band Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein, paints a slightly exaggerated portrait of a laid-back, green city filled with feminist bookstores, organic food, vintage clothes-wearing coffee enthusiasts, and a quirky mayor who prefers an exercise ball to an office chair. In the opening scene, Armisen describes Portland as, "A city where young people go to retire."
"I saw this and thought, ‘what did I get myself into?’" says Ehrlich, who is one of five on Adidas’ Portland-based PR team.
"But even though Portland does seem more relaxed than your bigger cities, it is extremely competitive professionally. That sort of trickles down to each function of a company and each professional within those walls."
Adidas’ Portland headquarters has its own food court known as the Village where staffers regularly hold meetings. If Ehrlich does leave campus for a lunch meeting, his go-to spots include Fire on the Mountain and Bunk Sandwiches.
Portland-area companies on the 2013 Fortune 500 list include Precision Castparts (#355)and Nike (#126).
The city’s population in 2012 was 603,106, with 2,226,009 people in the metropolitan area, according to the US Census Bureau. The median household income is $54,641 according to Forbes.
The area’s unemployment rate in July 2013 was 7%, compared to 7.6% for the nation, according to the Oregon Employment Department Portland’s average technology salary dropped 5.6% between 2012 and 2013 from $89,291 to $84,295, according to Dice, a career site for technology and engineering pros.
Portland, also known as Beervana, currently has the most breweries of any city in the world. There are 53 breweries in Portland and 72 in the Portland metro area. The first was opened in 1852 when Henry Saxer established the Liberty Brewery.
Ehrlich joined Adidas from its PR agency, Hill+Knowlton Strategies. He worked on the brand’s account in H+K’s LA office before making the switch in-house.
"Moving from the entertainment capital of the world to the sporting goods equivalent, you can see the similarities between the professional cultures of the two cities," he adds. "The pace of life outside the office is where the real difference lies."
Local agencies, including Edelman, Henry V Events, Gallatin Public Affairs, Metropolitan Group, and Lane were ranked as the area’s top five PR firms by the Portland Business Journal last year. Waggener Edstrom was founded in Portland in 1983 and today has more than 200 employees in the city.
Although he arrived in the area from a neighboring state, Ehrlich says most talent in the area is local, consisting of people who grew up in the city and attended nearby schools, including the University of Portland, Reed College, and Lewis and Clark College.
Major industries in the city include real estate, construction, and technology, but Ehrlich explains that the sporting goods industry, along with food and beverage markets in the area are booming.
"The sporting goods industry is definitely a key market in Portland," he says, adding that major competitors headquartered in the area include Nike and Columbia Sportswear.
Spanning a mere 145 square miles, Portland is tiny as far as cities go, resulting in smaller PR teams, such as Adidas’. With fewer staffers, PR pros have to be able to do more, says Ehrlich.
"The media landscape is changing every day and moving more toward digital and social versus traditional print mediums," he explains, "a deep understanding of these platforms and how they influence communications will distinguish prospective candidates in Portland."
PRSA Portland Metro Chapter
PMB #111, 5331 SW Macadam Ave, Suite 258,
Portland, OR 97239
International Association of Business Communicators Oregon-Columbia
American Marketing Association PDX