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‘As the sun rises in the Florida Keys, so do we’

A new Tourist Development Council ad campaign begins Monday to tell potential visitors that much of the Florida Keys are open. Key West’s Duval Inn makes the same point.
A new Tourist Development Council ad campaign begins Monday to tell potential visitors that much of the Florida Keys are open. Key West’s Duval Inn makes the same point. Keynoter

A $1 million advertising campaign authorized Wednesday aims to persuade visitors to return to Florida Keys areas that escaped the worst of Hurricane Irma.

The new television, radio, digital and print campaign will roll out Monday after the Monroe County Commission unanimously endorsed the Tourist Development Council response to Hurricane Irma during a special meeting in Key West.

Category 4 Hurricane Irma, the worst storm to hit the Keys in 57 years, generated “a lot of really bad media coverage, some legitimate and some not legitimate” that could be “devastating” to the Keys tourism-based economy, said John Underwood of Tinsley Advertising, the TDC’s primary marketing firm.

Underwood described the primary theme of the storm-response campaign: “The Florida Keys are good, really good. We are open and resilient.”

“As the sun rises in the Florida Keys, so do we,” reads an ad scheduled to appear in USA Today next weekend.

Ads would “communicate that we are open, but also be sensitive to districts hurt more than than others,” Underwood said.

“We will not put out messages that the Keys were completely unscathed or dwell on the tragic aspects of the event,” Tinsley executive Dorn Martell told commissioners. “We will put a positive spin on the resilience of the community, our connection to the natural world and our spirit of optimism.”

Commissioner Heather Carruthers said the campaign is essential to support local workers who need paychecks to stay in Monroe County.

“We are losing people already and if people don’t start putting money in their pockets, we’ll lose even more of our workforce,” Carruthers said. “Share the message — you can’t knock us down.”

After a two-week push in the Keys’ primary national and state markets, the second phase of the campaign will “reinforce” the message that Keys are open “without reminding potential visitors about Irma,” Underwood said.

“It’s not old news to us but it is to others out there,” he said. “We want to protect the upcoming season. The season is coming and we want to maintain our market share.”

Money for the campaign comes from a $4.1 million reserve fund created to respond to major events like hurricanes, said newly retired TDC director Harold Wheeler, volunteering his “first day as an unpaid consultant.” His replacement is longtime TDC sales executive Stacey Mitchell.

Some advertising outlets donated space to the Keys effort, Underwood said.

A separate $1 million from the TDC reserve fund will go toward local capital-improvement projects for eligible organizations. Applications could be available this week, board Chairwoman Rita Irwin said, “to provide some quick relief to get everybody open.”

“We want to get out communities back online so tourists can enjoy everything the Keys has to offer,” Irwin said.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

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