Time magazine piece won't have impact, leaders say
By Risa Polansky
In the Nov. 27 issue of Time magazine, Tim Padgett informed a 28-million worldwide readership that "There's Trouble — Lots of it — in Paradise."
Miami is no stranger to smear coverage on that scale — the community's difficulties have been aired before, and in the same venue.
Almost 25 years ago to the day, Time deemed Miami a "Paradise Lost" in a cover story pegging the area as a hub for violence, drug trafficking and homeless refugees.
Now, according to the magazine, the issues are not so much crime and poverty but traffic, housing costs and insurance premium increases.
The story says on average annually since 2000, 20,000 more residents have moved from the county than have moved here from elsewhere in the US.
It calls Miami the "least affordable metropolitan area in the US," with a $372,000 median house price and one of America's lowest household median incomes, $33,000.
Mr. Padgett also reports that insurance premiums have risen up to 1,000% since 2000 for some business and homeowners.
Miami rose from the ashes of worldwide publicity of its troubling issues once, and those who oversee Miami's business climate and function as keepers of the area's image say it will be done again.
They do not dispute the existence of the issues raised in the story, pointing to local efforts to combat the problems and similar issues in other metropolitan areas, and say they foresee few effects and little need for damage control.
"No, I don't expect it to have any impact at all, other than to sell magazines for Time, and I don't think it will even do that, quite frankly," said Frank Nero, president and CEO of the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade County's economic development arm responsible for cultivating and promoting the area as a destination for business.
Since the issue hit newsstands and the magazine's Web site last week, he said, "I haven't had one call. I have had no company call us."
Despite Time magazine's nation and worldwide reach, the story should have "hardly any" effect, agreed Seth Gordon, 30-year public relations veteran and managing partner of marketing, public affairs and communications firm Gordon Reyes & Co.
"Life would have been better if it hadn't been written, but I don't think it's going to have any terrible impact," he said. "The preponderance of messages in media all over the world are very positive. This was an exception."
One issue when it comes to running interference on bad press, and moreover, generating unprompted, positive coverage of the area, Mr. Gordon said, is the community's lack of a "proactive" public relations entity.
"The truth is, we don't have anywhere in the city or county a proactive PR capacity," he said. "We don't have any effort on a proactive basis to decide what it is we want the world to know about us. There's no clear consensus as to who should do that, so it doesn't get done."
He said promotional efforts on the part of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau deal solely with tourism — which is up more than 2% from last year in the third quarter of 2006, according to Smith Travel Research — and "there's a different set of things relevant to potential residents or investors or business owners."
However, the Beacon Council does operate a Miami-Dade Marketing Initiative of print, radio, television and online ads promoting the county as a place for business that "generated more than 35 million impressions by utilizing strategic partnerships with premier media outlets," according to the council's 2006 annual report.
With an international economic development and tourism marketing firm, the Beacon Council implemented a campaign garnering exposure to "more than 1.4 million individuals worldwide and a value of approximately $1 million in overall impact," the annual report stated.
The organization also produced brochures promoting the area's educational opportunities and life sciences industry.
The Beacon Council is now handling 100 prospective businesses — the most in six years —interested in expanding or relocating to Miami, Mr. Nero said.
"We're not reactive to articles like this," he said. "Our job is to talk about the positive aspects of doing business in Miami, and if those weren't valid, businesses would not continue to come here."
He said the issues raised in the Time story exist, but they also exist in most metropolitan areas worldwide, not solely Miami.
"It has some validity, but nothing any other city of our size isn't dealing with," Mr. Nero said.
Barry Johnson, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, made the same point and said much is being done to combat these issues — something Mr. Padgett failed to mention in his story, he said.
"It was a very disappointing and disturbing article to be in a publication with the reputation of Time. It certainly reminded everyone about the very unfortunate article 25 years ago — it was shaky and surprising, quite frankly. The writer emphasized as much negativity as he possibly could," Mr. Johnson said. "He spoke about some of the challenges we as a community face but did not take into account how a lot of issues are being resolved. The chamber is actively engaged in work to focus on the transportation issue, on affordable housing."
The chamber has committees on both transportation and infrastructure and workforce housing, both of which recently hosted summits to discuss solutions to the issues.
The article does reference, in quoting Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, the county's half penny sales tax to support public transit and $3-billion bond issue for infrastructure improvements, two efforts Mr. Nero cited. The Beacon Council chief also pointed out that Miami has the lowest unemployment rate it has had in 30 years, leads the state in job growth, and the state leads the nation.
As the Beacon Council's only formal response to the story, Mr. Nero said, Angel Medina Jr., council chairman and Miami-Dade County president of Regions Bank, will send a letter to the editor of Time accentuating these and other efforts to improve quality of life in Miami-Dade County.
"Miami-Dade County is now regarded as the Gateway to the Americas. About 1,000 multinationals have operations in Miami-Dade County. Miami International Airport has more flights to Latin America and the Caribbean than any other US airport. The Port of Miami is among the top 10 container ports in the United States. Miami-Dade County is also ranked as the fifth telecom hub in the world. The Network Access Point of the Americas was the first purpose-built, carrier-neutral NAP and is the only facility of its kind specifically designed to link Latin America with the rest of the world," the letter reads. "The result of Miami-Dade County's transformation is that, as part of South Florida, it has led the State of Florida in the creation of new jobs. New jobs are created in a variety of industries, including tourism, professional services, wholesale trade, information technology, and health care and life sciences."