Despite a slight downturn in the real-estate business, Florida still boasts a healthy and diverse PR industry.
Tourism and real estate may remain the traditional anchors of the Florida economy, but PR pros say the growing diversity in the state, both in population and industry, ensures plenty of client prospects. From public affairs issues in Tallahassee to law practices in Miami, PR firms have plenty of in-state opportunities, not to mention all the national and international business that Florida-based practitioners say they can serve as well as a Northeast or West Coast agency.
"The majority of our clients have no connection to Florida whatsoever," stresses Carrie Zimmerman, head of Tallahassee-based The Zimmerman Agency. She adds that one hot area of growth for her firm is luxury goods, such as private jets and sunglasses and disposable goods.
Dr. Jay Rayburn, head of Florida State University's PR and advertising programs, says the number of agencies in the state has grown significantly since he came to FSU 23 years ago. Back then, there might have been one or two agencies in Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa Bay, and half a dozen in Miami. Now, the state boasts hundreds, if individual consultants - the fastest-growing area of PR in the state - are included, Rayburn says.
Reflecting, and perhaps leading, the growth of diversity in the US and the impact that trend has on communications, Florida agencies don't just simply need to hire Spanish speakers; they need multicultural employees who know how to communicate with a population used to switching between Anglo and Hispanic cultures. Dana Clay, president of Miami-based Everett Clay Associates, says she's the only Anglo American at the firm.
"I haven't hired anyone who isn't not just bilingual, but bicultural, in probably 15 years," says Clay. "If you can't adapt to what the local culture is, you won't be able to stay in business."
Among the nationwide agencies with satellite offices in the state, Burson-Marsteller in Miami serves a mix of clients, in the state, regionally, and nationally, including Ikea, which Burson is assisting in its Southeast US expansion. Competition for the most qualified employees is stiff anywhere, but Burson MD Amy Federman says the city has a good pool of talent to draw from - both Florida natives and people moving to the state.
Miami's connection to the multifaceted Hispanic culture of Latin America is one reason so many law firms are based in the city. Maria Gonzalez, business development specialist at law firm Hunton & Williams, says PR firms are essential for the legal industry to establish and reinforce law firms' brands within the local media market and get the word out to South American markets.
"A lot of South Florida firms... even though they have a large in-house staff of business development marketing folks, still obtain a PR firm to assist them in the same thing I'm doing," Gonzalez says.
The state is coping with a number of economic issues related to a $1 billion budget deficit, as well as property insurance woes that stem from the stormy, hurricane-wracked nature of the state. Ballooning property-tax assessments are dragging down a real-estate market already damaged by an overleveraged mortgage industry.
But real estate remains a key driver in the Florida economy. Shawn Reilly, VP of marketing for Core Communities, says his company's development in Port St. Lucie has certainly suffered from a drop in residential buying, though the commercial side of real estate remains strong.
However, no matter the state of the market, he uses PR and other communications tactics to keep prospective buyers interested.
"We're always trying to create that dynamic, the aura that it's a great place to live, to make it attractive so you bring people in," Reilly says. "So I use every means to get the word out, through the normal PR, through media partnerships in the local market with newspapers and TV stations to get them to buy into the promotion, and so on."
Roger Pynn, president of Maitland-based Curley & Pynn, notes that other hot industries in the state include high tech, energy, healthcare, and education.
Media melting pot
Florida's diverse population is not surprisingly reflected in the state's media outlets, which increasingly rely on bilingual reporters. In Miami, the NBC station and Univision share an office and may send one reporter to cover an event for both stations, notes Clay.
In addition, media outlets seek to offer as much multimedia and online content as possible. Christine Barney, CEO of Coral Gables-based rbb Public Relations, notes that a print reporter may post a video report online and a slideshow of photos, along with a traditional print piece. For PR pros, this makes interaction with journalists a bit more complex.
Pynn wonders if newspapers in the state aren't due for continued consolidation. The Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times target roughly the same population, for example. Blogs are also numerous, and Pynn says this focus on online content reminds him of a dog chasing its tail.
"They're driving readers to the Internet, and that destroys their circulation," he says.
Print publications in the state that are doing well include luxury magazines focused on retail and real estate in various markets, such as Tampa or Orlando, with growing, wealthy populations. In addition, Clay notes that while clients want new media as part of their communications outreach, they continue to want traditional coverage.
"Client expectations haven't diminished in proportion to the circulation of the newspapers," she says.
Curley & Pynn
Everett Clay Associates
Hill & Knowlton/Samcor
The Jeffrey Group
Moore Consulting Group
Pierson Grant Public Relations
rbb Public Relations
Ron Sachs Communications
The Zimmerman Agency
Fortune 500 companies
Company Rev. ($bn)
Publix Super Markets 22
Tech Data 21
FPL Group 16
Office Depot 15
World Fuel Services 11
Fidelity National Financial 9
Winn-Dixie Stores 8
Ryder System 6
Darden Restaurants 6
OSI Restaurant Partners 4
WellCare Health Plans 4