KNOXVILLE, June 22—Headquartered just a stone’s throw from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Ackermann Public Relations has worked with technology clients since its foundation in 1981, and in recent years it has become a serious player in the tech marketplace, with about one-third of its revenues derived from tech companies. So one might expect that like others with significant technology practices, Ackermann would be suffering this year. But just the opposite is true: Ackermann is on track for 25 percent growth this year and just made its first acquisition, Dallas-based PRTek Public Relations.

Over the past couple of years Ackermann had grown to become the second largest PR firm in the state of Tennessee, with revenues in excess of $5 million. The firm currently has 31 full-time employees and 12 associates in Austin, Dallas, Colorado, Iowa, Georgia and Florida, and recognizes that it needs to expand beyond its local market if it is going to continue to grow.

“We had been trying to do an acquisition in Dallas for the past couple of years,” says agency founder and president Cathy Ackermann, who says she held serious discussions with three agencies before closing the deal with PRTek. Ackermann picked up a Dallas-based client—an investment group—four years ago, and has since worked with other clients in the investment group’s portfolio, giving it about $1 million in fees from its Texas operations.

“PRTek was a good match for us for three reasons. First, its focus on the technology sector will be valuable to our tech clients. Second, we are attuned philosophically: it has senior level people who fit well into the model we have. And third, they were getting to the point where they wanted a partner who already had the business systems in place. We have a very strong productivity and profitability model that is very helpful to smaller firms.”

The agency has targeted the technology sector for the past four or five years, and it has fueled healthy growth. But Ackermann says she likes the fact that the firm remains a generalist, with a client list that includes consumer and business-to-business companies. Clients include Siemens, Informix, LayerOne, Xybridge, ISOA, Alcoa, Crossville Porcelain Stone, Dollywood, iPIX, and Team Health.

One reason for the firm’s success—especially since Tennessee is not considered to be one of the larger technology markets in the nation—is that it has been able to attract clients from Texas and the west coast. The new office will give Ackermann even stronger national credentials.

“We are in growth mode,” says Ackermann. “We are a little unusual in that we are headquartered in a small, out-of-the-way market, and it’s unusual for a market the size of Knoxville to support a firm of our size. Obviously, if we want to grow, we have to be able to attract national-level professionals and national-level clients, and to do that we have to be a certain size. So growth is necessary, unless we want to stay small and localized, and acquisitions are one way to achieve growth. We also have several partnerships and affiliate relationships.”
Ackermann currently works with a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C., and a large advertising agency in Ohio.