BAM! Florida Tourism Group Banking On Emeril's Star Power

Jan 11, 2013

Credit Cooking Channel

A new TV show hosted by one of the biggest celebrity chefs should bring tourists to the Sunshine State. At least that’s what Florida’s official tourism marketing company is hoping, as it’s financing the show “Emeril’s Florida.”

Florida tourism promoter VISIT FLORIDA is hoping to kick it up a few notches with the help one of the world’s most recognizable chefs.

Emeril Lagasse, who recently moved to northwest Florida, is the star of the new show “Emeril’s Florida.” It debuted on the nationally broadcast Cooking Channel this month. The network says it has 14 million viewers and is quickly gaining more.

This season’s 13 half-hour episodes will take Emeril to cities from the Keys to Pensacola. And it’s all in the name of supporting Florida’s No. 1 industry, tourism.

VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO Will Seccombe said, “People spend a lot of money on going out to restaurants when they’re on vacation, and this gives us just a really neat way to highlight that in, just a really unique format that you can’t convey in a 30-second ad or a print ad or an Internet ad.”

He said, the show is part of a strategy of working compelling storytelling into marketing efforts.  

“‘Emeril’s Florida’ is a great example of that story telling on steroids,” he said.

VISIT FLORIDA is a public-private partnership. It gets money from the state of Florida, and it gets matching funds from local tourism boards and other businesses partners throughout the state.

The company has invested $750,000 to be the presenting sponsor of “Emeril’s Florida” and could put in up to $1.5 million. Seccombe said, it’s a big investment, but Emeril is a big star. He says, he saw the star power first hand during a shoot in Tallahassee.

He said, “And it’s not just to moms and women, it was one of the most surprising things to me was that a couple of big old burly, bearded guys were walking down and were like, ‘That’s Emeril Lagasse! No way!’ So, he appeals obviously to a lot of different niches. And, again helping us, allowing us, as a state, to promote some things that we might not necessarily be known for.”

Some episodes focus on the cattle industry, Florida agriculture and fishing. Mostly, it’s about restaurants and bars, like one that Emeril frequents in Santa Rosa Beach, called Stinky’s Fish Camp.

Stinky’s co-owner and chef, Brannon Janca, said, “He eats here probably about once a month, and normally he eats here on Sunday brunch. And normally, he likes the boudin and tamales, so he’s a really big fan of our restaurant.”

Janca said, he expects to see a 10-to-15 percent bump in business after his episode of “Emeril’s Florida” airs. It happened when the six-year-old restaurant was featured in USA Today, and he said, that business boost has lasted for about two years.

“This will definitely mean for Stinky’s is we will be extremely busy after the episode is aired,” he said.

It isn’t the first time VISIT FLORIDA has sponsored a TV show. “Bass 2 Billfish” on the NBC Sports Outdoors network was another of its projects. And, Seccombe said, VISIT FLORIDA measures its success by television ratings, web traffic and social media buzz.

For “Emeril’s Florida,” so far, so good, he said.

“It’s going to be a fun show,” he said, “And I was Tweeting it all Sunday. I was hash-tagging, ‘#EmerilsFlorida,’ and it was all over the place. So, he had a lot of fans.”

“Emeril’s Florida” airs Sunday mornings at 10:30 eastern time on the Cooking Channel.