Osborne grows PR company into state's 3rd largest

November 03, 2003|HERB BROCK

In just a few weeks, Centre College will find out if its bid to be a site for a presidential debate in 2004 has been successful. But the folks at Old Centre aren't the only people wondering how the Commission on Presidential Debates will make that decision.

There are some people on Old Vine in Lexington who also are very interested.

When Centre hosted the 2002 vice-presidential debate, Centre's communications office was action central during the months leading up to the event, trying to keep media around the nation and the world, Centre's alumni and the general public informed of every aspect of the debate. They needed help, and the Preston-Osborne Group public relations, marketing and advertising company at 450 Old Vine St. was hired to handle a big share of it.

Two people at Preston-Osborne already had accumulated a lot of first-hand knowledge about their client.

Phil Osborne, president and owner of the firm, was a longtime Danville resident (he recently moved to Lexington). And the account executive he assigned to the project, Mary Quinn Kerbaugh Ramer, is not only a Danville native but a recent graduate of Centre.


"It was a very busy and exciting time for Centre and the whole community, and it was the same for us," said Osborne. "We really try to get to know all of our clients and want to get to the point where we not just work for them but work with them, as part of the same team. In the case of Centre, we had a client we knew very well, cared about a lot and really wanted to help them succeed. It was a great experience assisting the communications people at Centre with the debate."

Osborne's list of clients includes several from the Danville area. They include the Perryville Enhancement Project, the Perryville Re-Enactment, McDowell Health, Millennium Park and local storm water projects as a subcontractor to the engineer.

All told, Preston-Osborne currently has 54 clients in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The firm has 15 employees, including one administrator, four researchers and 10 account executives. Assisting the employees are several college interns, and many of them have been from Danville.

A lot has changed since Osborne joined the firm. A 1979 graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, he came to what was then called The Preston Group in 1985 as a senior account executive, following eight years in broadcast journalism in Lexington.

From 1980-88, he first was an engineer at WLEX-TV, then held a position with WLAP radio and finally was assignment editor back at WLEX-TV. He was promoted to vice president of Preston-Osborne in 1989, then president in 1995. He bought the firm from its founder and longtime owner and president, Tommy Preston, in 1997.

The changes at Preston-Osborne, some of which he witnessed, others he effected, center on three main areas: The firm's size, services and mission.

"When I came here, we had a grand total of five employees," said Osborne. "And most of our business was handling political campaigns and other politically-related business. Then, about 90 percent of our business was political. Now, it's more like 10 percent."

The company's focus on politics reflected the interests of Preston, who was active in the Democratic Party. Osborne has even considered running for elected office as a Democrat. He still has several politicians and political organizations as clients and handled a half dozen campaigns last year. There are now about as many Republicans as Democrats among his clients.

Firm has grown much more diversified

But Osborne's firm has grown much more diversified in recent years.

"In our case, diversification has involved branching out from politics and politicians into other, different client pools, such as health care, utilities, associations, environmental organizations and programs, and other areas," said Osborne.

"Also, diversification has meant offering more services," he said. "We're no longer strictly a public relations company which mainly handles media relations, press releases and other publicity for people or organizations. We still do that, but we do a lot more. We do advertising, marketing, sales, consulting and demographic research, and we offer a host of creative services.

"I wanted to grow the firm by providing additional services and more variety in services," he said. "I wanted to expand our client base not just in numbers of clients but in the kinds of clients. By offering a variety of services, we could attract a varied client base."

The first step almost always involves doing a lot of homework on the client.

"The very first thing we do is research on the company itself," he said. "We want to know as much as we can about it, and that involves talking to a client's executives and staff and to their customers, as well. We talk to everyone from CEOs to middle and lower managers and to the people who are buying the product or service.

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