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Orange County's High-Tech Boom Lures 'Big Guns' of Public Relations

March 24, 1985|BRUCE HOROVITZ | Times Staff Writer

When executives at one local high-technology firm decided to hunt up business in Europe, they didn't make so much as one transatlantic phone call.

Instead, they phoned across town to Burson-Marsteller, the nation's largest public relations agency, which recently opened a branch office in Orange County. The agency contacted its European offices, which not only translated the client's message into a handful of foreign languages but distributed it to the foreign press.

A few years ago, Orange County companies had to look to Los Angeles or New York for such services because most local public relations companies were relatively small operations or simply offshoots of larger advertising agencies. But big-time public relations firms have finally started coming to Orange County; in fact, within the past 18 months, two of the industry's giants have opened branch offices here.

Six months ago, Burson-Marsteller, with 1984 revenues of $84 million, opened an Orange County office. Regis McKenna Inc., regarded as a top public relations firm in the high-tech field, paved the way a year earlier when it opened a local branch.

Although their offices are small--each with about half a dozen employees--both agencies were attracted by the county's high-technology industry, with the number of companies and their need for public relations help growing rapidly; there are an estimated 1,300 electronics firms alone in Orange County. Burson-Marsteller has snatched high-tech clients such as ITT Cannon Electric in Fountain Valley and three local divisions of Rockwell International Corp., and Regis McKenna has signed up such customers as CalComp and UC Irvine's biotechnology department.

Experts estimate the public relations market in Orange County at $3.5 million to $5 million annually. About 20 public relations agencies--big and small--are headquartered here. Industry executives predict that a stream of large, national public relations firms will continue to open branch offices here.

Some say the number of agencies of all sizes here could double within the next five years; with the high-technology market still growing, executives say there appears to be enough business for everyone, and the big and small shops can both survive.

One small public relations firm in Santa Ana, the Allen Group, lost one of its larger accounts, Cipher Data Products, to Regis McKenna. But Donald B. Allen, president of the company bearing his name, said his firm already is picking up clients who are dissatisfied with big-name agencies, which often lack the personal touch that some companies want.

Plenty of Business to Go Around

"There is so much service needed in this county that there is plenty of business to go around," he said. Allen Group's annual revenues are twice what they were just one year ago, Allen said.

Steve Chadima, general manager of Regis McKenna's Costa Mesa office, said, "It's a clear statement about the Orange County market when two of the largest firms in the country choose to put offices here." The company, which is headquartered in Palo Alto, posted 1984 revenues of $9.5 million. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the company's major clients include Apple Computer Inc. and computer chip maker Intel Corp.

Robert A. Kornecki, vice president and general manager of Burson-Marsteller's offices in Santa Clara and Irvine, said the Irvine office posted revenues of more than $300,000 during the last four months of 1984 and he expects annual revenues to quadruple by the end of this year. Although the company opened here last year with just one client, it now has 16.

Besides high-tech, Burson-Marsteller has set up a health care division in Orange County, which includes clients such as Caremark, which just changed its name from Home Health Care of America, and American Edwards Laboratories. The agency also plans to seek out banking and real estate clients, according to Linda Credit, who oversees its local health care division.

Executives from Burson-Marsteller and Regis McKenna said extensive marketing surveys of Orange County preceded their decisions to open branches here. The county's high-tech companies are likely to continue to lure major public relations firms. Said Burson-Marsteller's Credit, "The (high-tech) companies are just beginning to recognize the importance of public relations as a marketing tool."

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