Division A - Public Relations Programs
Category 2 - Public Service
Beaches of South Walton: Beach Safety Awareness Campaign & Seemore the Safety Crab
Kriss Titus, Loretta Shaffer, Tracy Louthain, APR

Award of Distinction

Research/Situation Analysis: The 26-mile stretch of sugar-white beaches and emerald-green waters of Beaches of South Walton in the Florida Panhandle is a playground for millions of visitors and residents each year. A series of nine drownings due to rip currents in Walton County over Memorial Day Weekend 2003 prompted action. Over the last three years, the Beaches of South Walton TDC spearheaded a beach safety campaign targeting beach goers to educate the public about beach safety and the flag warning system. Formal primary research conducted by the Florida Department of Health revealed that 69 percent of respondents knew the correct flag color that was flying, and 31 percent of respondents would enter the gulf even if a red flag was flying. Nearly 60 percent of all respondents did not properly describe how to escape from a rip current. In 2006, lifeguards were implemented at six regional beach accesses.

Objectives: To ensure visitors and residents enjoying the beach during swimming months, mid-March through September, are educated on beach safety and the importance of obeying the flag warning system.
Implementation: Our strategy was education and prevention. The campaign included the following tactics:

Evaluation: There were no rip current related drownings in 2006. Visitors and residents commented that the flag warning system was more apparent this year, including Trudy McPhail, a visitor from Fishers, Ind., who said we have done a great job making people aware of the risk.
Budget: The WCTDC had a total marketing budget of $155,000 for collateral, ads and promotional items and $460,000 for lifeguards. With approx. 2.5 million visitors, this investment equates to 24 cents per visitor.