Governor, Legislators Get Visit Florida’s Top Three Officials Fired on Same Day: One wonders who would want to take a $120,000-a-year job to head up an agency, Visit Florida, and its $78 million budget after what has happened to Will Seccombe, who was ousted last week from his position as president and CEO of the public-private sector organization over an expired $1 million dollar contract with a globally known rapper whose video on behalf of the state has generated 10.9 million YouTube views of a flashy performance celebrating the state’s beaches.
Seccombe had to submit his resignation last Friday after he was asked for it by Florida Gov. Rick Scott in the midst of a controversy—primarily over the $1 million contract it had with Armando Christian Pérez, better known as Pitbull, a Miami-born-and-reared rapper (he still lives there) who has more than 23 million followers on Twitter alone. During the tenure of his contract with Florida, Pitbull posted two Tweets each month touting the state’s destinations and attractions. These, in turned, prompted hundreds of thousands of queries/leads from Pitbull’s international followers.
For overseas travelers, Florida is the second most-visited U.S. state—New York is first—with one out of every four overseas travelers visiting the state.
Overseas Travelers to the USA
Top Ten States Visited
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, National Travel and Tourism Office
The concern that grew into rage on the part of state legislators over the Pitbull contract developed because Visit Florida maintained that it could not release the contract details because it contained proprietary information and details regarding Pitbull’s production company. Following the decision of Visit Florida not to make the contract public, state legislators filed suit. This prompted Pitbull to release the contract himself—via his Twitter account.
Some legislators also questioned the “Florida values” that were conveyed by Pitbull in the centerpiece video—“Sexy Beaches”—that is used to promote the state to potential visitors. You can view the complete version of the video here: Pitbull – Sexy Beaches ft. Chloe Angelides
Critics of Visit Florida also took the agency to task for its ongoing sponsorship deals with the London-based Fulham Football Club, a professional soccer teams that is London’s oldest. Orlando itself has a major league soccer team and is also the site of soccer training camps that are popular British visitors and an IMSA (The International Motor Sports Association) racing team. IMSA is the top racing body sanctioning body, is based in Daytona Beach, which feeds racing fans into the Orlando area.
For “spending hawk” legislators, the million-dollar contract with Pitbull and the sponsorship of recreational activities with no immediately apparent value to the revenue side of the ledger gave them a field day for laying into Visit Florida. A sampler:
—State Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, told the Tallahassee Democrat that the $1 million Pitbull contract was a blatant misuse of tax dollars that could have been better spent on law enforcement salaries. “If you read the contract, two times to tweet something for $1 million?” Eagle said. “Think of the better ways we could have spent that money, like think about how many more law enforcement officers we could have on the streets.”
—”There are plenty of ways we could better spend that money, things like schools that never seem to get enough,” said Rep. Evan Jenne , D-Dana Beach, said. “Why are we going to hand that money to somebody who won’t even tell us how they’re going to spend it?”
Seccombe was not the only victim of this episode. Before he resigned, he had to terminate two senior agency officials—Vangie Fields, chief financial and operating officer; and Chief Marketing Officer Paul Phipps—who had the misfortune to be associated with the Pitbull contract and the organization’s refusal to make it public. Earlier in the day on which the three agency leaders were let go, state legislators had eliminated funding for the jobs of Phipps and Fields.
What Next? The controversy-turned frenzy was such that it required that three people, not just one, be thrown under the bus. Over the past weekend, e-mail conversations within the tour and travel industry expressed disbelief and shock over the situation. In the discussions that we had, or monitored, regarding this episode, two ironies emerged:
First, while asking the Visit Florida board to fire Seccombe (Because the organization is a public-private sector entry, Gov. Rick Scott had to ask William Talbert, president and CEO of the Greater Miami CVB and chairman of the Visit Florida board, to do the asking), Scott praised the accomplishments of the agency under Seccombe’s four-year tenure.
Second, everyone agrees: Who would take such a job for $120,000 a year—a sum that is less than the salary of scores of leaders of CVBs and DMOs throughout the U.S. with lesser budgets and programs affecting smaller constituencies? Perhaps the budget-conscious Florida legislature will crowdsource the funding for the positions left vacant by the departures of Seccombe, Fields and Phipps.
A copy of Scott’s letter to Talbert follows: