[copperpress-advertserve-ad-reload zone="3"]
 November 19, 1999

PR firms find niche locally, nationally

Considering Boulder County’s explosive growth in high-tech, natural products and tourism, it’s probably no surprise that many of Boulder’s public relations firms focus on these three industries. Like smart businesses everywhere, these PR firms are cashing in on age-old business advice: Follow the money.

Boulder native John Metzger learned the art of public relations while he was at Boulder’s Carl Thompson Associates, one of Boulder’s oldest PR firms. Metzger left Carl Thompson in 1986 to begin a freelance career and founded Metzger Associates in 1991. Today, his business is the Rocky Mountain region’s largest high-tech public relations firm with more than 20 employees.

“Revenues have gone up 30 to 40 percent every year,” Metzger said. “Our projected revenue for 1999 is $1.7 million.”

A former high-tech magazine editor, Metzger took his passion for computers and technology and capitalized on the influx of high-tech firms to the Boulder area. “The high-tech industry is changing the world and the way people live,” Metzger says. “And it’s getting harder and harder to follow. Ten years ago, maybe 50,000 people were interested in high-tech news ¾ today there are millions.”

Metzger’s customers range from start-ups and local companies such as Exabyte Corp. to international companies like MCI Worldcom. “E-mail and the Internet allow you to work anywhere you want these days, and we have the people, the know-how and the fire-power to get the job done for less money than larger PR firms on the coasts charge.”

That freedom to work anywhere has allowed Metzger to keep his business in Boulder. “Boulder is still a small town — perhaps like Silicon Valley was 20 years ago but with a better work/lifestyle ratio,” he says. “I can walk out the front door of my office and go fly-fishing in Boulder Creek, kayaking, mountain bike riding or rock climbing during my lunch break.”

Lifestyle is what brought native Susan Holden-Walsh of Holden-McClure back to Boulder eight years ago. She gave up the big salary and high stress of being an account supervisor at Cohn & Wolfe, a Fortune 500 public relations firm in New York City.

Instead of international accounts like Colgate toothpaste, today, Holden-Walsh works with a variety of clients with an emphasis on natural products companies such as White Wave Soy Foods, Frontier Natural Products Co-op, Aura Cacia (an aromatherapy company) and Body Bar Systems. Holden-Walsh also represents law firm Holland & Hart LLP.

When you have big-agency experience, says Holden-Walsh, you can offer clients the same quality that large out-of-town agencies can ¾ with a lot more hands-on attention and at about half the price.

“Working in Boulder also allows me to pick up more cause-oriented work such as promoting the Dalai Lama’s visit in 1997, which helps put work in perspective,” she says.

Holden-Walsh frequently partners with Pam Haskell-Stewart of Haskell & Associates, who also learned her trade at an international public relations agency. Haskell-Stewart spent five years as an account executive at Edelman International in Los Angeles. In 1992, she to moved to Boulder and managed to bring one client with her.

Since then, she has expanded her business to include several leaders in the natural products industry such as Brown Cow Farm, Blue Diamond Growers, Cedarlane Natural Foods and the Rella Good Cheese Co. A lifelong endurance athlete, Haskell-Stewart naturally gravitated toward products that promote a healthy lifestyle.

“Working with natural products companies just came together for me,” she says. “Boulder is a hub for the natural foods industry, and there’s so much growth in that industry — the combination couldn’t be more perfect for my business.”

Both Holden-Walsh and Haskell-Stewart were once partners in Boulder’s Fresh Ideas Group: one of the nation’s premier public relations firms for producers of natural and organic products. According to Haskell-Stewart, she and Holden-Walsh tend to work with smaller businesses and local accounts with smaller budgets, whereas the Fresh Ideas Group works with larger, high-profile companies.

The Fresh Ideas Group’s motto — building sustainable relationships for a sustainable future — is pretty much what you would expect from a Boulder PR firm that specializes in promoting organic foods. Since reorganizing the company in August 1998, principals Lisa Bell and Sylvia Tawse have grown Fresh Ideas from six clients to 16. “We’re definitely on a big growth swing. We started with one employee, and now we have six. Our revenues are also up 50 percent over this time last year. Our projected revenues for calendar 1999 are $600,000.”

Fresh Ideas’ client roster reads like a virtual who’s who of major producers of organic and natural foods: Cascadian Farm, Fantastic Foods, Muir Glen Organics, Earthbound Farm, Smuckers Quality Beverages, the Organic Trade Association and many more.

In 1994, Holly Johnson and her husband Perry started Broomfield-based Johnson Communications, which works exclusively with the travel, tourism and hospitality industries. “Because we specialize in a highly defined niche, there’s a zero-learning curve besides the client’s specific needs and goals, so we can come in at fees that are 30 to 50 percent lower than other local firms,” says Holly Johnson.

Johnson Communications’ revenues mirror Colorado’s increase in population and tourism. In 1997, Johnson Communications earned $424,000; that number grew to $603,000 in 1998 and is projected to reach $630,000 by the end of calendar 1999. In five years, Johnson Communications has grown from a one-person shop to a staff of eight, and their client list now exceeds 20.

“Hotels, resorts and restaurants get buried in the day-to-day business, so we become their eyes and ears,” says Johnson. “It’s our job to get the phone ringing.” Johnson tells her clients “If you can’t implement a tracking mechanism for your advertising, marketing and PR budget, then you’re just throwing money away.”

But the results of advertising and marketing are notoriously difficult to measure.

One solution to this problem is to do the public relations work first. Holden-Walsh suggests clients wait on advertising until after the PR. “If something runs in a publication and the client gets a response, then that publication is right for the target market and probably a good place to advertise. For the cost of two or three print ads, you can do five months worth of PR.”

Considering Boulder County’s explosive growth in high-tech, natural products and tourism, it’s probably no surprise that many of Boulder’s public relations firms focus on these three industries. Like smart businesses everywhere, these PR firms are cashing in on age-old business advice: Follow the money.

Boulder native John Metzger learned the art of public relations while he was at Boulder’s Carl Thompson Associates, one of Boulder’s oldest PR firms. Metzger left Carl Thompson in 1986 to begin a freelance career and founded Metzger Associates in 1991. Today, his business is the Rocky Mountain region’s largest high-tech public relations firm with more than…

[copperpress-advertserve-ad-reload zone="3"]

Related Content

[copperpress-advertserve-ad-interstitial zone="30"]