More Than a Stepping Stone – the Mid-Size City Becomes a PR Career Destination

Pittsburgh Skyline

Image used under Creative Commons license

This post originally appeared on the PRSA Pittsburgh blog.

Take a look at the social media feeds for the media in any mid-size city around the country and you’ll see a ton of listicles, articles, and hype videos talking up their hometown. Thanks to the seemingly endless demand for new content, hometown pride is stronger than ever before. And based on my newsfeed, Pittsburghers seem to love their lists more than most.

Despite their love for the ‘Burgh, many young PR and marketing pros unfortunately still look at the city as a second-tier stepping stone. That to really have a PR career, they have to move to New York or Chicago or LA. However, as I wrote back in February and Shannon Baker wrote in May, it’s well past time for the PR and marketing pros here to change the conversation around our beloved city and show the country that we’re more than a stepping stone to somewhere else.

That’s why I got so excited when I saw Josh Brewster’s PRWeek article about Kansas City in July. I saw a lot of Pittsburgh (and Cleveland and Charlotte and Nashville, etc.) in Josh’s article. I reached out to Josh recently to get his take on the evolution of the mid-size city and how other cities can learn from what Kansas City has done to retain their top PR talent.

Steve: In your PRWeek article, you mention that “the city has rallied to keep Millennials and Generation Xers in Kansas City.” Can you expand on that at all? What is the city doing to try to keep those individuals there in KC?

Josh: It’s been amazingly simple, really. As a community, we’ve come together to make this happen. And it’s not like there have been community task forces, or anything choreographed like that. It’s been grassroots, real stuff that young people and the young-at-heart can latch on to and support. The most outward facing examples are events geared toward Millenials and Gen-Xers, like the Fiery Stick Open (http://fierystick.com/). It’s a day long event in the heart of Downtown KC that features awesome music (Girl Talk), hole-in-one golf contest for $1 million dollars, good beer, bocce ball, great food…who doesn’t love that? It’s not too corporate. There are other examples too. Like the “Midnight Underground Circus” (https://midnightundergroundcircus.splashthat.com). It is funded by corporate sponsorships (the same companies that need young talent to stay here), but it keeps a grassroots vibe. Surprise concerts, funky live entertainment…all the good things in life.

And all of it is geared toward catering to the next generation…to remind them they are in the right place. Right here in KC.

Steve: Pittsburgh had a bit of a “lost generation” of people who grew up in the 80s and early 90s who fled the city (myself included) for better jobs and more opportunities elsewhere. These people are now starting to boomerang back to the city and have really started to make an impact here. Does KC have a similar “boomerang generation” and if so, how are they working with the Millennials and Gen Xers?

Josh: Oh man, we are speaking the same language here. Ditto for us in KC. I was born and raised in Kansas City.  I went to college in St. Louis, and returned home a year after I graduated. But so many of my friends (and others in general) headed to Chicago, Denver, stayed in St. Louis, moved out to LA, New York…all the usual suspects. Slowly but surely they are coming back. And you know what? They aren’t shy when they return. They are getting involved, and we are welcoming them back with open arms.

And it’s not just about geographical decisions. It’s a pride standpoint too. Some folks have lived here forever, and are now beginning to jump on the KC bandwagon. And that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s all the growth we’ve experienced downtown. Maybe it’s the Royals (hell yes). Something has lit a fire in everybody’s belly to take it up a notch. And we love it.

Steve: Beyond the lower cost of living, how has your firm and other KC firms made that mid-size city attractive to talent who may have their sights set on one of those big cities? How do you get a talented 25 year-old to turn down the opportunities in The Loop in Chicago for The Loop in KC?  

Josh: I’d be lying if I said I had a perfect solution to this. But we are trying our hardest to find and keep the very best here in KC…and specifically at our agency. We don’t always win that battle, but we make it a priority. Our angle is centered on “Impact.” In Kansas City, you can make an impact. We’re not Mayberry or anything like that. We are healthy-sized metro area – 2.75 million people. But there is something about this place that makes it feel much smaller.

We tout the philanthropic community as an incredible opportunity. It is such a welcoming opportunity, and Millenials absolutely love to have the chance to make a difference in the community…outside the office. In our opinion, it’s more difficult to break into that world in a super large metro.

We also focus on the size of our company – it’s midsized (like KC on a macro level). We have 55 folks working here. We’re all entrepreneurial, and we all have an extra gear to deliver for our clients. There’s a chance to blaze your own path in our company, and as a young up-and-comer in the Kansas City community. That’s a nice position to be in. So we sell that pretty hard.

Steve: You’ve lived in KC for a long time now and seen a lot of changes in the city and in the industry out there. What advice do you have to cities like Pittsburgh that are in the midst of a similar renaissance?  

Josh: I love this question. My advice is simple: Don’t apologize for being proud of your home city. We’re all in the same boat, whether it’s Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Austin, Nashville. We all have a sense of pride. In Kansas City, we’ve come together to make the most of that pride. Whether it’s the “KC” hats everybody wears, to the Charlie Hustle t-shirts (look them up, they are awesome) we all have, it’s a constant reminder that we are part of something awesome.

It’s that collective spirit that helps us build a new convention hotel in downtown, explore a new airport, build a world-class performing arts center, sell out Kauffman Stadium for Royals games, rejuvenate historic entertainment districts…all that good stuff.

So, the short answer is: Embrace that collective spirit, and create something awesome that a new generation can enjoy and experience.

Steve: For a client looking for a new PR or marketing agency, what are the benefits to looking outside the big cities for their next agency relationship?

Josh: I don’t think it matters where your agency is located. What matters is if they understand your key audience, the competitive landscape you are facing, and are willing to hustle on your behalf until the needle is moved. So many brands – big and small – default to big-city agencies. But I can honestly say, some of the best PR and Ad work is created in cities like Kansas City, Omaha, Pittsburgh and Nashville. They work hard, leave their ego at the door, and deliver for their clients.

We’d love to hear from other PR pros in mid-size cities across the country as well. What’s the PR scene like in Indianapolis? Columbus? Chattanooga? Get in touch and let’s talk about how we can improve apply our PR brains to change the perception of these cities among the generation that’s about to enter the workforce.

Josh Brewster is a Vice President at Trozzolo Communications Group based in Kansas City, Missouri. For more on Trozzolo, visit their website at http://www.trozzolo.com/

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About sradick

I’m Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh.

Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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