Using images of sand sculptures in magazine ads, business boosters are marketing Florida to the nation and the world as not just a sun-and-fun tourist destination but as an economic super state.
Now they want the Legislature to chip in $20 million to expand the marketing campaign to include TV ads in major U.S. and foreign cities. The idea is to brand Florida as a high-tech business haven with low taxes: “the only state to master the sun and the Cloud.”
Florida has long spent big bucks promoting its tourism, with state spending reaching $75 million this year through Visit Florida, a nonprofit partnership. Market Florida would be the first state-funded promotional campaign designed to entice businesses to set up shop in the Sunshine State and generate good-paying jobs.
“Our research told us we need to play on what people already know about Florida — the sun, the sand — to teach them what they don’t know,” said Melissa Medley, chief marketing officer for Enterprise Florida, a public/private partnership spearheading the $20 million proposal.
So the marketers, using $1.1 million of private contributions, came up with ads depicting elaborate sand sculptures projecting images that reflect Florida’s workforce and growing industries — laptops, helicopters, rockets, jets and trucks. An aerospace engineer and a spaceman. A businesswoman toting a briefcase. A shipyard and a medical lab.
“If you’re looking for the #1 talent pipeline in the nation, look no further than Florida,” one ad says.
Another proclaims: “Florida already has the resources you need on the ground. And yet very little to weigh you down — including low corporate taxes, 0 percent personal income tax and an extremely pro-business regulatory environment.”
The campaign includes a marketing video of a beach lounger swiping a tablet that displays Florida bragging points: gateway to Latin America, No. 2 in the nation for aviation and aerospace (behind California), the 21st largest economy in the world.
Enterprise Florida wants to use state money to expand this campaign to reach executives in places such as New York, Chicago, Washington, Atlanta and Dallas as well as foreign markets in Europe, Britain, China, Japan, Mexico and Brazil.
The Florida boosters hope to catch up to other states that spend many millions to promote themselves. According to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, New York spends a whopping $140 million for business marketing, California $50 million, Connecticut $27 million, Michigan $25 million and Texas $21 million.
“Texans are well renowned for bragging about their state,” said David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber. “I happen to be a sixth-generation Floridian. I think it’s time for Florida to start bragging about what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve built down here.
“We’ve got one of the great tax climates in the country, not to mention our weather. We were good about building this world-class business climate, but we’re not so good about telling our story and bragging about it.”
But the boosters have yet to make the sale to the Legislature.
Gov. Rick Scott included $5 million for the marketing campaign in his proposed budget. It fits with the governor’s attempts to lure businesses to Florida, most recently during a swing through California this month, where he touted his state’s low taxes and limited regulations.
The Florida Senate put $5 million into its preliminary budget. The state House has yet to earmark anything for the marketing campaign.
Enterprise Florida still hopes to secure substantial funding before the Legislature adjourns, but it’s not clear when they will occur. A budget dispute could prolong the session or force lawmakers to return for a special session to resolve money matters.
“What’s most important to us is that whatever amount that is approved is recurring so we don’t end up with a one-time shot,” Medley said. “You need to be able to promote your message in an ongoing fashion over time. I would almost rather get $5 million recurring each year than get $20 million once.”
Enterprise Florida made a similar attempt two years ago, which faltered amid the budget crunch in the waning days of the session.
Some critics at the time objected to the marketing campaign’s use of a man’s necktie to form the letter “i” in the word “Florida” in promotional materials, raising the specter of gender bias. That concern seems to have eased.
“I think it would probably be very expensive for them to change that [necktie image]. So I think we should make the best of it and just keep moving forward to educate people thinking about coming here,” said Pamela Rogan, owner of a marketing and communications firm in Orlando and president of the local chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.
“When I first moved here, I was nervous about what the business climate would be, because you automatically think of tourism,” she said. “So the fact that they are promoting business in Florida is wonderful. Possibly corporations will think twice about coming here.”