Santa Barbara's PR climate: highly desirable, low on entry-level opportunities

A sophisticated California lifestyle without LA's traffic or huge crowds has many young comms pros psyched to work in the beachside city, says Davies CEO.

Santa Barbara's PR climate: highly desirable, low on entry-level opportunities

With today’s technology, you can be working and running your agency from anywhere in the country, so what better place to locate your office than the beach city of Santa Barbara.

The lifestyle is unbeatably serene – think Los Angeles weather minus the traffic. And that feeling is carried inside the walls of Davies, an agency where, if you see someone wearing a suit, you can safely assume they must be headed off to an important meeting, probably out of town.

With offices in Los Angeles and Washington, DC, as well, Davies is well established on both coasts. But the employees who work in Santa Barbara are there because they want to be.

"The draw is obviously the lifestyle. You can live a pretty sophisticated Southern California life without the traffic and crowds," explains the company’s CEO and chairman, John Davies, who has led the firm for more than three decades.

However, being a smaller community does mean there is limited opportunity for agency hopping in Santa Barbara. The market is not very competitive and consists of many one- or two-person shops, so when it’s time to find a new position, PR employees usually have to leave town.

Many among the agency’s executive team have worked there between 16 and 25 years. Davies is careful to recruit team members who work well with others and have an honest, can-do work ethic.

"And part of a great work ethic is knowing when there is nothing to do and using that time to go play and recharge," Davies points out. But there are very few entry-level positions. "We don’t have a lot of people leaving here voluntarily," he says.

Although life in Santa Barbara may seem ideal, running a business in the area does have some drawbacks. The state of California heavily taxes corporations, giving a company no incentive to save and keep money invested in the business. And that challenge will continue to work against agencies in California when other states have more appealing business incentives.

There is also a shortage of housing and what is available does not come cheap. A two-bedroom that went for $651,000 five years ago now sells for $765,000, according to Zillow.

Still, Santa Barbara has a lot to offer young communications professionals. The beach is only short a distance from the firm’s office. And when clients come to visit, Davies always places them in a hotel near the ocean to take advantage of a morning or evening shoreside stroll.

"We only have to convince them once to come for a two-day planning session," Davies explains. Then clients are hooked on it as a working vacation spot.

Fast facts

1. Clients ask to dine at Lucky’s steakhouse, owned by the cofounder of Lucky Brand Jeans, Gene Montesano, and at the Wine Cask, close to the Davies offices.

2. Santa Barbara County’s largest economic sectors are tourism, education, technology, and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

3. Santa Barbara earned the 80th spot on WalletHub’s ranking of college towns; Berkeley was 13th; San Diego, 76th; San Francisco, 89th; and Santa Monica, 212th.

4. The Santa Barbara Mission, founded in the 1700s, was dubbed "Queen of the Missions" and set up by the king of Spain to convert indigenous tribes, according to USA Today.

5. The fast-growing occupation in Santa Barbara County that earns above the median wage is nursing, according to a University of California, Santa Barbara, economic forecast project.

Reach out

PRSA – California Gold Coast Chapter
2955 E. Hillcrest Drive, Suite 126, Westlake Village, CA 91362
(805) 373-1100

The Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region
104 W. Anapamu Street, Suite A, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 965-3023

Synergy Business and Technology Center
1 N. Calle Cesar Chavez, Suite 102 Santa Barbara, CA 93103
(805) 452-9542

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