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About The List—Technology boosts local PR, ad firms up the food chain

While San Diego may be the little fish in the big pond of public relations and advertising giants such as New York and San Francisco, it is beginning to shed its inferiority complex and swim in a league of its own.

PR and advertising agencies in San Diego have seen a tremendous growth in interest, accompanied by a greater respect for the industry in the last few years.

San Diego is getting over being the little guy and “its credibility isn’t as tainted as it was a few years ago,” according to Jacqueline Townsend, CEO and chairwoman of The Townsend Agency, No. 3 on both the San Diego Business Journal’s List of Largest Advertising Agencies and Largest Public Relations Agencies.

The Business Journal’s List of Largest Advertising Agencies and Largest Public Relations Agencies were ranked by CPA-attested gross income for fiscal 1999.

In the last year, agencies have witnessed an extreme amount of volume in business requests, particularly in the areas of telecommunications, wireless communications, biotech research and business-to-business as a result of the growing interest in the city’s high-tech arena.

The Townsend Agency has benefited from the impact.

“(Business) interest is up four times since a couple of years ago,” Townsend said. “San Diego is unique in that as a community, we talk to each other. (As competitors) we can work together and find out what works and what doesn’t.

“We get access to the movers and shakers that you couldn’t get in New York.”

And what seems to be working for advertising and PR agencies is market research.

Jim Tindaro, president of AM Advertising, No. 6 on The List, refers to it as deep vertical intelligence , knowing the industry and clients inside out, talking to consumers and generating responses.

“The days of the generalists are kind of over,” Tindaro said. “There is less salesmanship in the business than ever and more intellect.”

Market research allows advertisers to go beyond the quantitative delivery of the highest numbers of consumers, to focusing on qualitative delivery: What kind of people are interested and why? Agencies such as AM Advertising are researching everything from what the consumer wants to what the client is going to wear to sell the product.

“The agency of today has to be able to reformulate itself,” Tindaro said. “In areas of specialization to really do the job for the clients you have to have a very deep understanding of their industry and their business.”

As the market becomes finely targeted, agencies are looking for new innovative ways to engage the public. The change in the content of media has presented an interesting trend, Tindaro said.

The decline in mass media has prompted agencies to revert back to longer forms of advertising with the infomercial. The trend of agencies producing their own shows, as was done in the 1940s and ’50s by Procter & Gamble Co., is resurfacing.

Advertisers and agencies are producing their own shows, at the same time packaging and promoting their clients and the show as one entity, something Tindaro is looking into on a local market level.

The focus on market research has caused No. 10 on The List of Largest Public Relations Agencies, Katz & Associates, that specializes in community relations and public affairs, to change its approach to public policy, said founder and President Sara M. Katz.

“We are very conscious of the change in preferred methodology and tailor our approach and type of communication to suit it,” Katz said.

Katz & Associates has involved itself in a more strategic, integrated relationship with its clientele. Instituting more onsite staff placement at clients’ headquarters such as the city of San Diego’s Water and Waste Authority Department and more in-depth research on public consensus on community issues.

There is also a higher demand for “fine- tuned expertise,” according to Gail Stoorza-Gill, chairwoman of Stoorza Communications, No. 1 on The List of Largest Public Relations Agencies. Particularly in areas of law and education, it allows potential employees to bring wider perspectives to the table, Stoorza-Gill said.

The overall trend for PR and advertising agencies appears to be keeping up with the constantly changing media and consumer. But for Stoorza-Gill, the more challenges, the more opportunities to grow, and as she puts it, “it just gets more exciting every day.”

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