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Sexy Beaches And Falling Fish

Weird stuff goes out of its way to happen in Florida.

There was the time a man boarded a flight from Fort Lauderdale to Phoenix wearing only lingerie, or when a Naples teacher was struck in the head by a falling mackerel (possibly dropped by a passing osprey). In fact, the weirdness of Florida is so well-known that it has provided nearly four years of material for “Florida Man,” a humorous Twitter account chronicling the exploits of the “World’s Worst Superhero” by compiling the headlines of such stories.

Living in my adopted home state demands a good sense of humor. And also a good sense of self-preservation.

We can add Will Seccombe to the long list of those who, one way or another, have fallen victim to Florida’s unique brand of tomfoolery.

Until last week, Seccombe was the CEO of Visit Florida, the state-funded enterprise that seeks to promote Florida’s crucial tourism industry. Gov. Rick Scott is a big booster of that industry. Scott demanded – and received – Seccombe’s resignation over a controversial promotion featuring Miami rapper Pitbull.

This might have happened anywhere if the promotion had been a flop, or if Seccombe had violated his contracts or damaged the state’s image. But that wasn’t the case. Seccombe honored his agency’s contract with Pitbull, also known (by almost nobody outside his family) as Armando Christian Perez. The promotion itself seems to be doing very well, and the state’s tourism industry overall is setting records. Last year Florida became the first state to record more than 100 million visits in a year; the first half of 2016 outpaced last year’s results. Where else but Florida could that sort of performance get someone like Seccombe fired?

In hindsight, Seccombe made two mistakes. One was agreeing with Pitbull’s lawyers that terms of their contract would be classified as a “trade secret” and shielded from public disclosure. This choice handed ammunition to critics in the Florida Legislature who believe that, in return for state funding, they ought to have the right to micromanage the promotions Visit Florida purchases. Artists call this “creative control.” The problem is, Tallahassee’s politicians really don’t qualify as artists. Their idea of tourism promotion in the 21st century would be to take out color ads in the New York Times Sunday travel section. Seccombe and his staff are more forward-thinking. But by denying access to the terms of the deal, Seccombe left himself and his agency vulnerable to these naysayers.

Seccombe’s second mistake was the nature of Pitbull’s promotion itself. Last summer the rapper released a music video to accompany his 2014 track “Sexy Beaches.” In it he cavorts in the sand and surf with a half-dozen young, attractive women clad in swimwear. The swimwear is actually fairly modest, at least by South Beach standards, but the images and lyrics won’t leave anyone with the idea that the main goal of a Florida beach vacation is spiritual enlightenment.

But interspersed with the scenes involving Pitbull and his companions are many attractive shots of some of the state’s beautiful beaches and its iconic hotels, like the Fontainebleau on Miami Beach and the Don CeSar on St. Petersburg Beach. There were even some shots of my neighborhood in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

The four-minute video has received nearly 11 million views on YouTube, and many more on other platforms. So if the price was reasonable, Visit Florida certainly could make a strong case that this sort of promotion reaches an audience that does not read the New York Times travel section.

Reasonable is, of course, a matter of opinion. After some controversy, and after the Florida House of Representatives filed a lawsuit, Pitbull released the contract – revealing that his one-year deal with Visit Florida paid him $1 million. In addition to the video, the deal called for the entertainer to shoot a 10- to 15-second introduction to a separate Visit Florida promotional video; participate in six package travel promotion sweepstakes; and promote the state at least twice monthly for a year on his social media accounts.

The Miami Herald sniffed that the deal was too generous, describing its terms as “startling.” The paper cited a promotion Taylor Swift reportedly did for New York’s tourism agency – for free. I happen to know from other contexts that Swift is a generous and charitable individual, which is admirable, but she also knows perfectly well how to assert herself in business matters when she thinks the situation warrants. Show business is, after all, a business, and the deal Pitbull entered into with Florida was business rather than charity.

Seccombe asserts that Florida is receiving $9 in value for every dollar it paid Pitbull. I don’t know how the research he cited calculated that figure, but overall, I think the agency’s arrangement with Pitbull is reasonable. I would even think so even if his video didn’t include pictures of my neighborhood.

Seccombe apparently plans to stay on at Visit Florida to help arrange a transition. Even if he is booted out immediately, I’m not too worried for him. Based on his track record, he ought to have no trouble landing another gig – possibly in a company or a state a little less idiosyncratic than Florida.

Besides, I can’t worry too much about the deposed head of Visit Florida. I’m busy trying to protect myself from the hazards of falling fish.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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