MARKET FOCUS FLORIDA: PR shines in Florida market - To what extent is the Sunshine State a hothouse for PR? And is it still the gateway to Latin America? Jeff Zbar reports

Though not known as a hub of Corporate America, Florida has its share of businesses based in the Sunshine State. Tropicana is in Bradenton; Burger King, Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruises are in Miami; and theme parks Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Busch Gardens are in Orlando.

Though not known as a hub of Corporate America, Florida has its share of businesses based in the Sunshine State. Tropicana is in Bradenton; Burger King, Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruises are in Miami; and theme parks Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Busch Gardens are in Orlando.

Though not known as a hub of Corporate America, Florida has its

share of businesses based in the Sunshine State. Tropicana is in

Bradenton; Burger King, Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruises are in

Miami; and theme parks Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Busch

Gardens are in Orlando.

They all add to a healthy corporate environment.

These corporations focus on event or product PR, depending on their


Disney and Universal are busy marketing the new attractions at their


As competition has heated up in that market and as each park has ramped

up its size, they have gotten heavily into familiarization tours, mass

mailings and other marketing communications efforts.

Since 1984, Lori Booker, CEO and founder of Carlman Booker Reis PR, has

been entrenched in Orlando, the state’s mecca of theme parks and


Booker says that one reason Florida is a great place to do PR is that

its economy is always relatively robust. ’Our economy is not recession

proof, just recession resistant,’ she says. ’We are the first to feel an

upswing in a market and the last to feel a downturn.’

Still, Florida can be a fickle place when it comes to PR. Players’

fortunes are tied to bustling if potentially tenuous sectors, like

tourism, technology and Latin America.

Florida’s largest industry, tourism, can be decimated by negative


In August 1992, for example, Hurricane Andrew flattened southern Miami,

leaving tourists and travel agents erroneously believing that vacation

locales were out of service. Then, in a 12 month span from 1992 through

1993, nine foreign tourists were murdered, sending the state’s sunny

image into a tailspin.

It took more than two years for that image to recover. The state’s PR

and marketing/ad divisions worked closely to perform damage control.

They ran ads in major newspapers and conducted familiarization trips to

both regions not touched at all, as well as those only marginally

affected, like Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

The PR agencies in Florida tend to focus on tourism and hospitality,

entertainment, Latin America, hi-tech, real estate and general PR. Even

traditionally buttoned-down professions like law, medicine and

accounting have tapped into PR, providing another lucrative niche for PR

pros. These lawyers, doctors and accountants don’t like to tout that

they are seeking publicity, but their firms do aggressively pitch ideas

to the local and national media. ’Some of Florida’s market growth is

coming from industries that once shied from the spotlight,’ says Julie

Silver, president of Boardroom Communications, a Plantation-based


Giants like Burson-Marsteller, Edelman Worldwide, Fleishman-Hillard and

Hill & Knowlton have forged a place for themselves in the local market -

not just as adjuncts to national offices but as shops charged with

developing their own revenue streams. These megafirms are targeting a

number of areas, especially Latin America and hi-tech.

Independent scene

Still, they have not made much headway into the local market. Florida

Trend magazine’s Book of Lists notes that only four national shops rank

in its top 20 Florida firms. ’This is indicative that Florida has only

recently become a burgeoning business and corporate headquarter market,’

Booker says. ’The independent firms are the strength of Florida.’

South Florida’s PR business is heavily influenced by its Hispanic

population (52% in Miami-Dade County). In addition, Miami has long been

recognized as a gateway to Latin America. More than two dozen national

PR firms and ad agencies have their Latin American offices along

downtown Miami’s Brickell Avenue, a glitzy stretch of urban asphalt.

’Because of its place as an international crossroads, Miami is a good

place to have bodies,’ says Mike Gibaldi, SAE with Business Wire and

president of the Miami PRSA chapter.

Looking southward

Edelman Worldwide burst into South Florida in April 1998, buying up

local mainstay Maizner & Franklin. In hoisting principal Janet Maizner

to GM and SVP, the firm got an experienced player who’s plugged into the

local scene. Edelman positioned the shop as a Florida-based contender

for the Latin American market. In its first year, Edelman’s Miami office

did dollars 1.5 million in business.

Even local shops are looking south. After 20 years spent serving

English-speaking clients, (Fort Lauderdale) is eyeing Latin

work as a way to boost business, says president Gary Bitner. Already

this year, billings are up 10% from the dollars 2.3 million it did in

1998, he claims.

Latin America, however, is not for the weak-willed. In 1994, the Latin

American economy tanked, and even today, it can be iffy. ’I won’t deny I

was biting my fingernails in January when the Brazilian currency was

devalued,’ admits Jeffrey Sharlach, president and CEO of The Jeffrey

Group, a Miami Beach firm that only serves companies doing business in

Latin America.Still, Sharlach will generate dollars 2.3 million in

income this year, up from dollars 1.9 million in 1998.

F-H’s Miami office sliced a significant amount of its staff in 1998 when

the Latin American economy lost steam (resulting in a 22% drop in income

from 1997 to 1998 ). But F-H ramped back up when the situation turned

around, says Rissig Licha, senior partner and MD for Latin America. This

year, the firm expects its Florida operation to beat 1998’s dollars 2.7

million in revenue.

Technology is also a thriving sector. Hi-tech and Internet

communications locally have shifted from consumer work to

business-to-business, practitioners say.

And technology itself is facilitating another trend. With the advent of

e-mail, cell phones and other communications, more firms find themselves

across the table in bids with statewide, Southeast US or national


Pierson Grant Communications, a Fort Lauderdale shop historically

focused on local work, is now bidding on work statewide, says principal

Jane Grant.

And Tallahassee-based The Zimmerman Agency focuses on national clients

such as Citicorp and Marriot, says president and partner Carrie


PR execs say the need for talented creative firms and astute crisis and

corporate communicators is growing.

Hollywood-based O’Connell & Goldberg has found that clients like Sprint

PCS and the Coffee Beanery are demanding creative communications to cut

through the clutter. ’There’s a lot more competition now and ways for

consumers to get their information,’ says Barbara Goldberg, EVP and


Staffing woes

If one part of Florida’s PR industry lags, it’s hiring and staffing.

Finding skilled workers is difficult, executives lament, and luring

experienced staff from such powerhouses as Carnival or Disney often

isn’t an option because those companies pay so well. Yet, Florida is

known for having lower salary levels than other major markets - and the

warm winters sometimes aren’t enough to lure top talent south.

Hiring will remain an issue as firms ramp up communications efforts.

But the hiring woes only indicate how bullish the Florida PR market


Walking on sunshine: the top 10 Florida PR agencies

Rank      Company                           Income                Change

97   98                                       1998         1997        %

1    1    Weber PR Worldwide             3,994,835    3,845,180        4

2    3    Wragg & Casas PR               2,954,344    3,045,000       -3

3    4    The Zimmerman Agency           2,714,964    2,111,834       29

4    2    Fleishman-Hillard              2,657,000    3,422,000      -22

5    5    The Jeffrey Group              1,597,688    1,281,765       25

6    N/A  Public Communications*         1,569,411          N/A      N/A

7    10   Edelman PR                     1,415,871            0      N/A

8    6    Tucker/Hall                    1,294,707    1,193,615        8

9    7    Thorp. & Co.                   1,054,169      801,575       32

10   8    O’Connell & Goldberg             844,392      744,728       13

TOTAL                                   20,097,381   16,445,697

Rank    Company                     US income   FL %    US income    FL%

97  98                                   1998   1998         1997   1997

1   1   Weber PR Worldwide         57,866,543      7   49,020,178      8

2   3   Wragg & Casas PR            2,954,344    100    3,045,000    100

3   4   The Zimmerman Agency        2,714,964    100    2,111,834    100

4   2   Fleishman-Hillard         136,272,000      2  115,193,000      3

5   5   The Jeffrey Group           1,597,688    100    1,281,765    100

6   N/A Public Communications*      5,699,252     28    4,136,357    N/A

7   10  Edelman PR                101,868,218      1   86,833,594      0

8   6   Tucker/Hall                 1,294,707    100    1,193,615    100

9   7   Thorp. & Co.                1,054,169    100      801,575    100

10  8   O’Connell & Goldberg          844,392    100      744,728    100

Rank      Company                     Location

97   98

1    1    Weber PR Worldwide          Miami

2    3    Wragg & Casas PR            Miami

3    4    The Zimmerman Agency        Tallahassee

4    2    Fleishman-Hillard           Miami

5    5    The Jeffrey Group           Miami Beach

6    N/A  Public Communications*      Tampa

7    10   Edelman PR                  Miami

8    6    Tucker/Hall                 Tampa

9    7    Thorp. & Co.                Coral Gables

10   8    O’Connell & Goldberg        Hollywood

Figures supplied by PRWeek Top 200

*Figures supplied by Council of Public Relations Firms

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in