Fighting the Good Fight: Area PR Firms

Author’s note: In what seems like another lifetime to me now, I once, metaphorically speaking, went to war with some of the talented leaders who will be mentioned in this article. And so, to Jim McQueeny, Ron Simoncini, Mike Turner, Bill Murray and Caryl Bixon-Gordon: thanks for the memories.

Our Chamber is blessed with a host of creative members who advance the public affairs and public relations interests of businesses throughout the region and beyond. Their job is complex, creative and dynamic in that they work to enhance the visibility of their clients, to shed a light on their presence in the community and to resolve problems and issues that impede their ability to do business.

Yes, it is they who engage local, regional and state government to pave the way for clients to both increase business and/or to grow their physical facilities as needs require. They are the navigators through the endless tributaries that are the government and the media.

Axiom Communications & the first Bergen Business Expo

One of Ron Simoncini’s, of Axiom Communications in Secaucus, great achievements was in working with Jim Kirkos of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber to secure the Meadowlands as the ideal location in North Jersey for a planned sports and entertainment district that includes a convention center and gaming facilities.

This resulted in the birth of the Meadowlands Liberty Convention & Visitors Bureau (MLCVB).

To support both its and the Chamber’s mission, the Chamber has hosted or participated in numerous events in the past year to align with and secure support from local legislators and business leaders to expand gaming beyond Atlantic City—the most recently being the Bergen County Business Expo which it hosted in June.

Axiom’s event management work included working with the Meadowlands Regional Chamber to secure the Meadowlands Racetrack as the site, getting Bergen County Executive James Tedesco to keynote and bringing in top tier area business leaders who support the Chamber’s vision for the area.

These included presenting sponsor, NAI James E. Hanson, media sponsor, NJBIZ, and event/panel sponsors Hackensack University Health Network (HUMC), Price, Meese, Shulman & D’Arminio, PC, Morgan Stanley, XCEL Federal Credit Union and United Water. In Thyme Catered Events and Personal Touch Caterers pulled out all of the stops in jointly sponsoring a crowded and highly successful networking cocktail reception as well.

Upper Main Street Alliance highlights Hackensack’s redevelopment

Over the past several years The Upper Main Street Alliance and the City of Hackensack have been vamping up efforts to create partnerships and attract developers to the County Seat in order to re-emerge as the urban transit community and culture and arts destination that Hackensack is destined to be.

This year, Ron Simoncini and Axiom Communications joined the Upper Main Street Alliance’s team to help the City attract developers and to help the artists in the area find a voice for their vision. A branding study, highlight video, media updates on redevelopment projects and feature stories in The Record, NJBIZ and the Hackensack Chronicle produced results.

It also provided the marketing support for the city’s placemaking initiative in which it hired the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking, Arts Bergen and The Northern New Jersey Community Foundation to help encourage the already existing arts and cultural community in Hackensack to recognize the vital role that they play in the city’s revitalization.

Burton Trent shines

Michael Turner of Burton Trent, headquartered in Trenton, simply sent me a copy of a banner article in Politifax, the highly respected electronic newsletter on everything to do with New Jersey and its politics. The bold headline read, “Superlatives of the Year”.

All I need do is share the first paragraph of the piece. It read:

“Best Lobbying Effort! There hadn’t been a meaningful reform of the alimony system in, well, forever. That’s because the State Bar Association has opposed change for what should be obvious reasons. Then, a group of alimony payers—men and women alike—hired Michael Turner at Burton Trent, who steered a comprehensive reform measure through the Legislature, where 39 members are lawyers, and got the Governor to sign it. Some of the people who initiated the movement are comparing their lobbyist to Saint Jude, who also worked wonders with lost causes.”

Once you are compared to Saint Jude, no need for further examination or words, written nor spoken, are required. Burton Trent is headquartered in Trenton, NJ.

Beckerman Communications delivers

Tim White of Beckerman Communications, headquartered in Hackensack, shared what the firm has accomplished for three clients: Garden Homes, the Mill Creek Residential Trust and Compassion and Choices.

Garden Homes, a large developer of residential and mixed-use properties in New Jersey, was seeking an amendment approval before the planning board of the Village of Ridgewood. Their plan called for new multifamily residences to be constructed near the heart of Ridgewood. There was strong vocal opposition to the project, but Beckerman turned that around by engineering a local media outreach campaign that mobilized supporters who saw the many benefits of bringing new housing options to Ridgewood. In a 6 – 3 vote just this past June, Ridgewood’s planning board approved and the project is moving forward.

While in the process of obtaining municipal approvals and tax incentive packages from Jersey City to redevelop the former site of the Butler Brothers Warehouse into luxury apartments, Mill Creek Residential Trust (MCRT) was confronted with a dilemma when all progress stalled following the 2013 municipal elections.

They retained Beckerman to work with the new city administration and planning board to obtain required project approvals. Positive media coverage was generated, facilitating meetings with key elected officials and stakeholders and meetings with community groups were organized. As a result of Beckerman’s efforts, the site is now being renovated.

Compassion & Choices, the nation’s largest nonprofit organization, is committed to improving care and expanding choice at the end of life. Beckerman was asked to design and execute a public relations campaign supporting passage of “death with dignity” legislation in New Jersey.

Highly controversial, Beckerman orchestrated a campaign to educate voters and to generate balanced and positive media coverage to help secure a favorable vote in the New Jersey legislature.  After endorsements from eight of New Jersey’s prominent newspapers, positive news coverage and key placements of op-eds and letters to the editor, the New Jersey Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act passed the Assembly last November by a vote of 41-31.

Now before the State Senate, Beckerman continues to work in support of the legislation and it is now working with Compassion and Choices on their efforts in New York and Maine as well.

Caryl Communications on the go and grow

At Caryl Communications, located in Paramus, they are adding staff, promoting staff and continuously expanding their client base. Founded by its president, Caryl Bixon-Gordon, it has grown from a single person operation to become one of New Jersey’s leading public relations organizations.

The firm has established a strong niche in real estate, servicing commercial, residential, multi-family and retail sectors. In addition, technology, legal, financial services and healthcare firms are among Caryl’s many clients as well as hospitality, food services, educational, nonprofit and trade organizations.

The economy appears to have improved in the past six months, according to Bixon-Gordon.

“We have experienced a definite uptick in business with more inquiries, new clients and prospects than any time in the past six years,” she said. “The recession slowed the decision-making process for new business for us and for other companies and industries as well. But that seems to be changing; people are making decisions, which is a great sign.”

Bixon-Gordon noted that the public relations industry is still largely retainer based as ongoing news and activities are integral to successful campaigns.

“However, the last recession has changed what many clients want and what they will spend, so we offer more short-term project campaigns and introductory programs as well as long-term retainer relationships,” she added.

A quick perusal of Caryl Communications website is telling. Within two days of the date of the day I took my look, press releases went out about: Alfred Sanzari Enterprises’ four hour cruise around Manhattan, aboard the luxury yacht, the Lexington, where 50 of New Jersey’s best commercial brokers were entertained; the TITLE Boxing Club’s lease at Summit Plaza in Hackensack; the New Jersey chapter of the National Association of Industrial Office Parks’ (NAIOP) continuing support of the Community Food Bank of NJ; Cushman & Wakefield’s designation as the retail leasing and managing agent for the Plaza at Harmon Meadow in Secaucus; the Mid Atlantic Real Estate Journal’s encouraging forecast at the New Jersey Commercial Real Estate Summit; and Cushman & Wakefield’s positive, mid-year industrial real estate market forecast.

Among their major clients are Inserra Supermarkets (ShopRite), the Allendale Community Center for Senior Living, Levin Management, Alfred Sanzari Enterprises, Cushman & Wakefield and Integrated Business Systems.

MWW is world class

On MWW’s website, a brilliant writer suggests that at the dawn of the information age, we have become “paralyzed by information” and that their job is to cut through the noise and the dissonance. “In order to be heard, you have to be relevant,” they insist. You must “matter more to your employees, matter more to your customers, matter more to your key stakeholders, and most importantly, matter more than your competition.”

They pitch their NetRelevance methodology which measures impact and not just input as models typically do. Think takes, ideas, and a conscious and continuous reading of marketplace and cultural trends contribute to customized, creative, and continually evolving pro-active client campaigns. After all, “No business can stand out if it blends in.”

Headquartered in East Rutherford, NJ, they also have offices in Trenton, New York City, Chicago, Washington D.C., Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles and London. A small representative sampling of clients includes Netflix, Walgreens, Samsung, Tyson, Subaru, Virgin America, Southern Comfort, Edmunds.com, Jack in the Box and Men’s Warehouse.

Led by their public relations executive of the year—so designated again and again and again—Michael Kempner, founder and president, has won just about every honor his industry offers. Internationally acclaimed, he was appointed to the White House Council for Community Solutions by President Obama. Bill Murray, long active in the Meadowlands, is one of his executive vice presidents and the national director of MWW’s 50 State Public Affairs Network.

They have won the Anne Klein Advocacy Award for their “Good Matters” program which supports employee volunteer hours and pro-bono work. In a very big way this past year, MWW contributed to the Community Health Law Project, Spirit Day, Dream Room Makeover, the Center for Food Action and Tool for School.

Two of their more creative and impactful campaigns include last year’s New Jersey “Stronger than the Storm” campaign  and their “Connecting with the LGBT Traveler” campaign. The former—and it is very likely that everyone in New Jersey recognizes “Stronger than the storm”, a collective response to Super Storm Sandy and its devastation—earned MWW the North American Public Relations Campaign of the Year award and went a long way to sustain and grow the state’s $38 billion tourist industry

The former, the Connecting with the LGBT Traveler campaign, appealed to the hospitality, travel and tourism and transportation community to directly market to the ever widening LGBT community. To be successful in this market, brands must ensure that promotional materials are inclusive of all couples in their imagery and language, replacing “bride and groom” for instance with “couple.”  Examples are Amtrak’s “Ride with Pride” initiative and Vegas’s potent “Everyone’s Welcome, Even Straight People” pitch.

16 million Americans identify as LGBT and, pound for pound, they make more money, they have more discretionary income and they use their passports far more often. With marriage equality now the law of the land, the events planners and their partners are going to be very busy.

Complex, creative and dynamic, things are changing at the speed of light and it helps to have a professional along for the adventure—one who can help navigate through the storms and chart a course for success.

By Rich Fritzky, retired President & CEO of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber and founding editor of Meadowlands USA.

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Meadowlands Magazine, the official publication of the Meadowlands Chamber and its affiliate organizations, has proudly served the business community of the Meadowlands region for over 40 years. We are among largest business magazine in New Jersey (second by circulation) and offer prime visibility opportunities for businesses to connect with potential customers.

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