In the Thick of It: Florida’s PR Professionals Take the BP Oil Spill Head-On

Written By: Lauren Antista, MS – Communications Coordinator, Florida Psychological Association

June 17, the day of the FPRA’s Capital Chapter monthly membership meeting, marked the 59th day since the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana and the 49th day since the spill’s aftermath began to impact Florida’s coastlines and economy.   The meeting brought together a panel of several big-name Florida PR pros.  The panelists discussed the ongoing BP oil spill and how many members of Florida’s public relations community have addressed the devastation.

Panelists included:
– Chris Thompson, CEO of VISIT Florida, the official tourism marketing corporation of Florida;

– Carol B. Dover, FMP President/Chief Executive Officer of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA), the trade association representing Florida’s hospitality industry;

– Nancy Blum-Heintz, Communications Director of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP); and

– Joanne McNeely, Chief of the Seafood and Aquaculture Bureau of Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Chris Thompson noted that, from the onset, VISIT Florida was challenged with trying to separate the myths and rumors surrounding the oil spill from the reality of the situation.  VISIT Florida ran several TV ads intended to keep down the panic and to clarify that much of Florida’s coastline and beaches were still beautiful and open for business.  Thompson pointed out that by visiting Florida Live on the VISIT Florida website, concerned citizens could get real-time updates and video via live webcams from all over the state.

An immediate concern for the panelists and their organizations was the economic impact of the spill on northwest Florida’s economy, since the region’s tourism income is incurred primarily between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Carol Dover stressed that the FRLA has made every effort to work on behalf of its members on the forefront of the oil spill disaster, representing and protecting its interests. This included a steady stream of Oil Spill Updates on the FRLA website to keep its members up to date.

“This is their do-or-die season,” Carol Dover of the FRLA noted.  “We’ve had to stay focused on their viability.”

Since the spill’s effect has been felt statewide, another area of major concern has been Florida’s seafood industry.  Joanna McNeely, Bureau Chief of Seafood and Aquaculture emphasized that their current message is that Florida’s seafood is still “safe, abundant and available.” McNeely referred FPRA members to the Seafood and Aquaculture website (  Consumers can follow gulf regulatory and monitoring activities, see where the seafood is harvested and find out where it is being sold.  Webcams set up dockside allow consumers to see firsthand that the seafood is fresh and safe to eat.  Identifying blue stickers will also be appearing on packaging in stores like Publix, which identify that seafood as “Florida Gulf Safe.”

“Florida has a great foundation of agencies working together,” Nancy Blum of Florida DEP stated.  “It is really and truly a team effort.”

Blum anticipated that the spill might not be brought to conclusion until late summer, but that DEP has rigorously striven to bring together the latest, most accurate information on the DEP website, a one-stop shop for oil spill resources.  DEP also set up a hotline at (888) 337-3569 to give people answers from live experts.

The general consensus was hopeful.  Florida is, and will continue to be, open for business.