How Does the Tourist Development Council Market Spring Break?

By: Cameron Taylor Email
By: Cameron Taylor Email

PANAMA CITY BEACH - Wild party images of spring break recently put Panama City Beach in a negative national spotlight, but who is responsible for bringing the party crowd, and all that comes with it, to the beach?

Some are questioning if the Tourist Development Council marketing dollars are partly responsible.

When it comes to marketing spring break in Panama City Beach, local tourism officials have always said they don't spend much on advertising to bring college students here.

In fact, they say out of their $6 million advertising and public relations budget, only $100,000 is spent on spring break, but NewsChannel 7 took a closer look at just how that money is being spent and what kind of advertising $100,000 can buy.

Images of spring break out of control in Panama City Beach, have left local leaders with a dilemma. A recent Fox report tells of sex, drugs, and alcohol all out in the open on Panama City Beach.

Local leaders are now feeling the pressure to change the image of spring break. It's an image they say they didn't create.

"We're focused on promoting Panama City as a family beach destination on a year round basis," said Dan Rowe, Bay County Tourist Development Council Executive Director.

A closer look at the numbers shows a little money can go a long way in bringing this image to the beach. The TDC spends money advertising the spring break capital of the world through a cooperative marketing agreement with Collegiate Marketing Group.

That company is in charge of www.pcbeachspringbreak.com, which clearly displays girls in bikinis, alcohol, and the partying culture. In fact, you can find links to businesses, clubs, and places to stay and offers like 30 plus hours of free beer.

Bay County TDC officials say they didn't design the website, but they did spend $50,000 apiece with Google and Facebook advertising the site.

"In the month of march when you're targeting college kids, you need to talk in the way college kids will find is defining fun on their terms. Just like we do in the summer time with families, the type of fun changes throughout the year," said Rowe.

Now there's a call for this kind of advertising, however small in the budget, to come to an end.

Sheriff Frank McKeithen recently said he wants all advertising dollars to be used to tell college students about the trouble they'll get into if they break the law. Many say the spring break party image is preventing families from spending time and money here.

"If it wasn't for family, we wouldn't be coming because of the parties and the things that go on here. That's not what my family is about," said Dana Haner, a tourist.

Others say the Fox News reports went too far and didn't paint an accurate picture.

"People, yeah, they have a couple beers and they relax and they want to play some music and dance, but it's not like some crazy sex fest. It's not like that," said Joseph Smith, a Panama City Beach resident.

In the end, it appears the negative national media attention might actually lead to significant change.

"I kind of think that our marketing efforts, as far as the TDC will be really focused on new rules, regulations, and ordinances. I think a lot of us probably needed something like the fox report as the impetus," said Buddy Wilkes, TDC Chairman.

Now the question is what that impetus will lead to and if the TDC will continue to fund secondary marketing campaigns that advertise Panama City Beach as the party capital of spring break.

NewsChannel 7 did reach out to Collegiate Marketing Group asking them about the images and advertising of spring break on their website. They say it's supposed to show college aged students enjoying Panama City Beach.

You can see a complete breakdown of the TDC's marketing budget for spring break in the attached documents.


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