Here’s the full article that appeared in the Tampa Bay Business Journal about the AAF 4th District www.FriendFlorida.org public service campaign.
It’s likely that Tampa Bay area residents know the beaches are oil-free. But people outside the area aren’t so sure.
Now, the American Advertising Federation – Fourth District, the affiliate of the national professional association representing Florida and the Caribbean, is giving the message an extra push. A national understanding of the condition of Tampa Bay area beaches is important not only to pirate ship cruise operators, jet-ski rental companies and the tourism industry, but to the economic health of a region built around the water.
Mike Weber, president of St. Petersburg media production company CMR Studios, is leading the AAF – Fourth District campaign. He was inspired to start the effort after attending the AAF national conference in Orlando in June.
“People I talked to thought that all the Gulf beaches were black with oil,” Weber said.
The campaign will involve television spots, print ads and other media promoting the website www.friendflorida.org, which contains links to social media channels Facebook and YouTube and encourages visitors to “friend” Florida. Each of the 22 AAF-Fourth District’s Florida chapters will produce and distribute advertising directing people to www.friendflorida.org.
The entire campaign, including the media buys, will be on a pro-bono basis, Weber said.
The idea is people will better understand the state of the beaches if they hear it from someone they know.
Timing is right
The campaign is set to help Florida as it stands at a crossroads for tourism marketing.
Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism marketing organization, on July 18 spent the last of the $12 million it received out of BP’s $25 million grant to Florida for tourism advertising.
BP denied Gov. Charlie Crist’s June 30 request for another $50 million for tourism advertising and has yet to officially respond to further appeals for funding.
With funding still stuck in the sand, Visit Florida is trying to figure out its options.
“There’s little chance that without additional funding from BP, or some other sources, we would be able to continue at any level for the next couple of months,” said Visit Florida spokeswoman Kathy Torian.
In the meantime, hotels are taking their own steps to bring in customers and keep the public informed.
Sirata Beach Resort & Conference Center in St. Pete Beach has its “Clean Beach Guarantee” that promises to waive early departure fees, allow a 6 p.m. cancellation on the same day of arrival and assist in finding other accommodations in event of a beachfront oil spill.
Negative perceptions around the country have shortened the booking window and cut into out-of-state group business, said Steve Rosenstock, marketing manager. “Everybody is losing some business because of the oil spill.”
Longboat Key Club & Resort has implemented its own “Clean Beach Guarantee” through the end of September that changed the cancellation policy from seven days prior to arrival to 24 hours.
Public Relations Manager Katherine Songster hopes the plan will increase people’s confidence.
“It’s a significant move on our part,” she said. “We want to make the consumer comfortable.”
While levels of business at the 218-room property are not dramatically different from a year ago, call volumes dropped at the height of negative press, Songster said.
Of particular concern was a call from a Tampa resident concerned about oil on Longboat Key beaches.
“We were all scratching our heads on that one,” Songster said. “It was a bit surprising someone so close to here had that perception.”
VSPC received $1.15 million from BP’s $25 million tourism advertising grant to Florida.
VSPC first increased the frequency of television and radio spots in the Tampa Bay and Orlando markets, which are the two major feeder markets for summer tourism.
VSPC’s efforts also have included “Wide Open” themed print ads with aerial images of clean beaches, a rotator board at Tropicana Field, e-mail blasts and search engine optimization to link the VSPC website to oil-free Web searches.
This week VSPC initiated “Underwater Updates,” short videos of footage from the reef system spanning the length of Pinellas County’s beaches.
The videos appeal to another important segment of area tourism, scuba tourism, VSPC Executive Director D.T. Minich said in a release.
Live Web cam images have been a component of both VSPC and Visit Florida’s efforts to inform the public.
— Margaret Cashill