Special Reports

New commercials to tout Florida's clean beaches

BRADENTON — Tourism officials in Manatee and Sarasota counties are taking a backseat in directing a $25 million tourism advertising campaign aimed to positively promote Florida’s beaches in the wake of the Gulf oil spill.

For now, local convention and visitor bureau leaders say it’s in the state’s best interest to let Visit Florida take ownership of the marketing strategy.

“I think what all the CVBs are in support of is letting Visit Florida craft a message for the state and for the areas that are directly affected,” said Jessica Grace, marketing and public relations director for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Right now, what’s most important is getting out the word that no area is directly affected.”

BP gave the state $25 million for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism arm, and local tourist development councils to launch a marketing campaign stating Florida’s beaches haven’t been impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Initially, Visit Florida said its marketing approach would be regionalized messages.

Will Seccombe, chief marketing officer for Visit Florida, told the Bradenton Herald on May 11 “it is very important for the messages to be localized. Everyone will have their voice heard.”

That thinking, however, has since shifted after state senators and chief financial officer Alex Sink criticized a $2.5 million emergency response campaign Visit Florida released in 15 of Florida’s summer drive markets.

State officials said the ads Visit Florida was asked to get out quickly before receiving BP’s $25 million did little to help northwest Florida battle the effects of the oil spill.

Now, Visit Florida has TV ads it is ready to release stressing the Panhandle is free of oil.

“The first phase of advertisements is intended to help the folks in Northwest Florida the most,” said Kathy Torian, communications manager for Visit Florida. “We’re hovering around $7 million for the first phase, but we believe there will be money going to individual counties in Northwest Florida.”

Visit Florida has sent new television advertisements promoting the Sunshine State to television stations in the Southeast to begin airing next week. Torian said the ads have new footage that was shot last week and will focus on Northwest Florida sites.

Visit Florida’s television ads will be 30 seconds, and have been created so that they can be cut to 20 seconds; coastal counties can add on a 10-second message about their beaches.

Virginia Haley, president of the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau, said her staff submitted a 10-second TV ad for Visit Florida to use in its new advertising.

“We’ve got a gorgeous shot of Siesta Key that says, ‘Wish you were here,’” Haley said.

Haley, too, said the $25 million marketing campaign should be in Visit Florida’s control.

“To me they are the only ones who should get the money,” Haley said. “We think it’s very important to have a unified message for the state of Florida.”

Torian, however, said it is up to Crist on whether Visit Florida will get all $25 million and have leadership of the marketing campaign, or whether some of the money will be allocated to individual counties.

On Friday, Torian was still waiting to hear Crist’s decision on that matter but it appears some money may be given to coastal counties in Northwest Florida.

Ivey Sterling, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said Crist was assessing that decision Friday afternoon.

“In addition to the state of Florida’s marketing campaign, Gov. Crist has requested that local tourist development councils in the coastal counties of Northwest Florida submit local marketing plans,” Sterling said via e-mail. “We just received their plans and are expediting a response.”

Manatee tourism officials will assess how to spend any money it may receive upon notification of any funding possibilities.

“We would have to assess the situation when that time comes,” Grace said. “We would definitely use every penny and would work with the TDC to best determine what outlets and avenues we could use to spend that money. But we will have to address that when the time comes. Right now it’s a ‘what if’.”