Spring Break on Panama City Beach has always, always, been a very tough board to balance. In past years, no matter how brilliant the public relations strategies, no matter how well-targeted the advertising and no matter how many overall arrests, no Spring Break season has ever been considered the smoothest of our four tourist seasons. In fact, although SB is without question PCB’s biggest economic boost, it remains the most polarizing topic throughout our great town; some love it, some hate it, some make money from it, others lose cash by the bucket loads. But what can be said is that 2010 was arguably one of the best years to date. Hotels had record numbers, businesses boomed and the number of major incidents declined considerably. So what was the big difference? How was 2010 more balanced than years past?
To make a successful Spring Break, three things have to be balanced evenly: Spring Break Public Relations, Spring Break Promotions and In-destination Management; you have to get the word out, control the messaging and manage the area to the best of your ability. SB 2010 did this exceptionally well. The biggest difference was that in 2010 the TDC and CVB did not use its budget to promote Spring Break, from an advertising standpoint, and put its efforts toward handling the PR and adding extra bulk to in-destination management of the season; putting a larger police force on the streets, giving business owners Spring Break workshops and changing the rules on when and where big events could be held. This was coupled with (perhaps even motivated into action) the Spring Break Co-op: a collaboration of local business owners with the Collegiate Marketing Group to promote spring break. By getting the local business owners involved, and allocating budgeted money evenly, for the most part, all the spring break bases were covered and the city developed a nice blueprint for handling spring break moving forward. That was, until the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
On Tuesday, December 14, The Collegiate Marketing Group approached the TDC and CVB requesting funds to help with the marketing and advertising efforts. “We want to make sure students know we are open for business, alive and well and free of oil.” Said, Shannon Posavad, representing CMG. After accumulating over $80,0000 from co-op members, CMG requested specifically $50,000 from the board to help marketing and advertising campaigns. His request, even with board members seeing the need to “get the message out”, was declined. Without that contribution, it seems, the balance that was attained last year may tilt at a critical juncture in the future of Spring Break.
Whether you believe it or not, most the country still regards our area to be covered in oil. Spring Break provides an opportunity to change that belief. Every single person, student or family, that comes to Panama City Beach during spring break will become a billboard for the reality of the area; that we are open for business and oil free. Now would be the time to try and encourage as many individuals as possible to come to Panama City Beach. The more people, the more billboards. With the Southwest effect starting to kick in as well as Southwest boosting marketing and advertising efforts, 2011 is the pivotal year where the balance will either shift or find its equilibrium. Now more than ever, Panama City Beach has to get Spring Break right. Even Lou Hammond, president of the TDC’s PR agency agreed, “We have to get this perfect.”
But with “Zero” dollars being allocated to Spring Break advertising and declining the requests of CMG for additional funds to help overcome oil spill misconceptions, 2011 Spring Break, already headed for make or break situation, could be tilting towards break. The efforts and successes of 2010 need to be supported by greater efforts in 2011. Whether you love or hate Spring Break, it cannot be denied that Panama City Beach is a better place than it was last year, with more to do, more to see, cleaner and more beautiful than ever. In 2011, Spring Breakers will become to voice of PCB’s rejuvenation. And right now, we need that voice to be as loud as possible.