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.
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.
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, Bitner.com (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
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
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
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