The land of fun and sun, splash and tickle, theme parks and beach
resorts has been slapped in the face by the national tourism falloff
following September 11.
As of early October, Florida tourism was down 40% compared to the year
before, according to Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing
company - that roughly translates to a $364 million loss. In a
usual year, 48% of the state's sales tax is raised from tourists. Of
course, 2001 has not been a usual year.
PR agencies across the state, long used to representing hotels, cruise
lines, and attractions, have found themselves in a new marketplace where
many tourist-dependent clients are pulling back their activities. For
example, the Miami Seaquarium had used an outside agency for as long as
PR manager Maritza Arceo can remember. Agency of record Citigate
Communications Miami went out of business in August, and Arceo says she
called off her search for a replacement shortly after the economic
effects of September 11 took hold. She says she doesn't know when she'll
hire another agency.
As with many other regions, diversification is key to survival. Seth
Gordon, managing partner of GDP & Partners, and a longtime Miami PR
fixture, shifted the focus of his agency over a year ago from technology
Once that dried up a few months ago, he decided to get into what he now
laughingly describes as "a stable area like tourism." He says he was in
discussions with several prospective clients when the sector became
Now Gordon is shifting his attention to South Florida's new promise of a
secure industry: real estate. Figures for the industry's economic impact
are hard to come by, but an article in The Miami Herald stated that more
than $5.5 billion in real estate construction loans were made in
2000 in South Florida - $700 million more than in '99.
"Real estate clients are stable," says Gordon, who counts One Miami,
Bermello Ajamil Partners, and Summit Properties as clients. "Once you
become part of an individual project, from the earliest stages where you
announce, you're involved for two, three, four years. You have a
marketing budget, you know what you're doing in advance, and it has a
great deal of predictability to it."
Israel Kreps, president of Kreps/DeMaria/Treister Public Relations,
agrees. In keeping with prior years, he expects real estate to account
for one half of his agency's 2001 revenues of $1.45 million. He
says the excesses of the industry were curtailed by September 11, which
has resulted in a more balanced marketing approach. For example, the
agency had been on an 18-month hiatus with three-year client West Brooke
West Brooke restarted its PR when sales traffic slowed to a normal
Similarly, 14-year client, realtor Esslinger Wooten Maxwell (EWM), has
increased its PR budget since September 11.
"In real estate in particular, perception is reality," says Kreps. "If
enough people say the sky is falling, the sky is falling. Our clients
want to send out clear information."
Andrea Greenberg, chief marketing director of Miami-based development
and marketing real estate company Fortune International, explains that
the clear information Kreps is talking about doesn't come cheap. The
company currently has eight projects, six of which use a PR agency. The
in-house staff of three is also kept busy with events that can cost into
the six digits.
"Luxury lifestyle views - high-rise residential living - remains, and
always will be appealing in this market," says Greenberg. "Because of
that, we want to make a big marketing statement, and that includes
Struggling to stay in the sunshine
South Florida has seen some high-profile comings and goings of late.
After five years as a Weber Shandwick Worldwide affiliate, Weber RBB has
returned to independent status, but as a WSW partner. And back in March,
New York-based Harrison & Shriftman opened a Miami office, while both
Hill & Knowlton and the aforementioned Citigate shuttered their South
Florida outposts, contributing to the area's lack of mega-agency muscle
and the subsequent proliferation of independents and boutiques.
Most firms in this region perform some level of Spanish-language
communications due to the region's large Hispanic population and its
proximity to Latin America. But in the central part of the state,
there's a different story: Agencies are struggling even more than their
Frank Stansberry, a PR professor at the University of Central Florida in
Orlando, says that there really is no other industry but tourism in that
"The PR market here is slowly drying up," he says. "I don't think I've
ever seen a problem of this magnitude industry-wide. Agencies that do
projects and short-term work are seeing those budgets being cut back to
nothing. They're hard-pressed to pay their overhead."
The big kahuna in town is Disney World. The theme park is Orlando's
number-one employer, with 55,000 workers, according to the Economic
Development Council of Mid-Florida (EDCMF) - a lifeline for the region's
PR industry, you might think. But spokesman Rick Sylvain says Disney
does not use a local agency.
One industry that is seeing a climb in business is defense, but
Orlando's contractors do not use outside agencies at all. The three
Orlando facilities of Lockheed Martin are home to 6,500 employees, but
Lockheed, which was recently awarded a military procurement contract
worth $19 billion, according to the Orlando Sentinel, employs 15
PR staffers. And Carlton Caldwell, the company's information systems
communications director, says that security concerns prevent Lockheed
from hiring a local agency. "When you're in the defense industry," says
Caldwell, "outside people can't have access to your facilities and
Looking beyond the peninsula
Agencies hopeful for the future are being forced to look outside Central
Florida for clients, and often outside of the state altogether.
Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown, one of the region's larger agencies, was
until recently completely reliant on travel and tourism. "We've
obviously had to do some adjusting," says SVP of PR Rod Caborn. The
agency has moved into promotions and events to drum up business for
clients, virtually all of whom are outside the state.
In North Florida, Carrie Zimmerman, president of Tallahassee-based The
Zimmerman Agency, makes the case for tourism PR, which comprises 80% of
the agency's revenues. She says clients including airline caterer Sky
Chefs, hotel management company Six Continents, and Diner's Club have
all bumped up PR budgets by 30% since September 11. According to
Zimmerman, the agency is doing continual consumer and business travel
polls, and is helping clients develop cobranding initiatives to
stimulate traveler interest. She cites an Emerald Coast partnership with
Crayola as an example.
"Linking the travel industry with something that's not in travel adds a
level of security and credibility," says Zimmerman, "and the Emerald
Coast is a very family- and children-oriented destination. To me, this
is an exciting time for PR; it gives us an opportunity as an industry to
show the true value PR can bring to a brand and to increasing revenues
when people really need it."
However, in Jacksonville, one of the few parts of Florida where the
tourism drop-off has had little affect on PR, Del Galloway, COO and EVP
of the PR arm of Husk Jennings Advertising, says his agency still found
the need to reach outside the US for clients. Last year, 10% of the
agency's clients were international. This year, they will account for up
to 40%. The reason is the slowdown in the once-strong telecoms
"Increasingly, offshore organizations want to do business in the US,"
says Galloway. "We, by design, have been deliberate in talking to those
folks." The agency counts among its clients a Belgium-based manufacturer
of soy foods and a German trade show and special-events company.
"There's an initial bump in expense as you're establishing the
relationship, but through the beauty of technology, you can do a lot
electronically," says Galloway.
But, as in the south, some agencies in North Florida say real estate is
the best bet for the state once defined by 1920s land scams. Gail
Stansberry-Ziffer, VP of PR for three-person Ziffer Marketing &
Communication Consultants in Tallahassee, represents the St. Joe
Company, the largest private landowner in Florida. She says that
managing a small firm with just 24 clients means she will only invest
time in certain, surefire industries.
"We haven't had any cutback whatsoever since September 11," says
Stansberry-Ziffer, who counts law firms and real-estate interests among
"Three to four years ago, we made a real effort to get away from
industries that would be susceptible to economic downturns. So far,
we've been really successful at that."
FLORIDA PR AGENCIES
Rank Firm Name Revenue Increase Staff Location
2000 (dollars) (%)
1 Burson-Marsteller 7,983,000 48 67 Miami
2 Weber Shandwick
Worldwide 4,861,303 13 51 Miami
3 Fleishman-Hillard 4,625,000 33 36 Miami
4 The Jeffrey Group 3,250,000 76 26 Miami
5 Thorp & Company 2,611,819 79 22 Coral Gables
6 Pantin/JGR/ Public
Relations 2,510,263 193 18 Miami
7 Porter Novelli Intl 2,471,000 170 24 Ft. Lauderdale
8 The Nixon Group 2,425,758 29 26 Miami
9 Edelman 2,395,830 24 18 Miami
10 TransMedia Group 1,200,000 -20 12 Boca Raton
11 O'Connell & Goldberg 1,181,000 23 15 Hollywood
12 Public Communications 963,352 -41 9 Tampa
13 Everett Clay Associates 732,192 10 N/A Miami
14 Cramer-Krasselt 610,000 8 6 Orlando
15 The Nixon Group 585,083 162 6 Tallahassee
16 BSMG Worldwide 504,018 16 4 Florida
17 GCI Group/APCO Assoc 370,082 N/A 3 Jacksonville
18 Ziffer Marketing
& Comms 284,394 103 4 Tallahassee
19 Nann Miller Enterprises 100,000 43 2 Singer Island
Source: Council of PR Firms Auditing: No audit was required for
inclusion in the rankings. The CEO/CFO/principal was required to sign a
statement verifying the accuracy of the data and agreeing to possible
participation in a random audit. Disclaimer: While every effort has been
made to ensure the accuracy of these figures, PRWeek cannot accept
liability for, nor make financial guarantees based upon the information
in this chart.