Articles

Marketing Class to Create a Shark Awareness Public Service Campaign for the FWC

By Keith Morelli

Students listening to lecture

TAMPA (September 13, 2021) -- Ever since “Jaws” splashed across the big screen in 1975, sharks in general have gotten some pretty bad press. Beachgoers stopped wading in surf that came up past their knees and many just plain stopped going into the water at all.

What sharks need is an image makeover, something that highlights their redeeming qualities over gnashing teeth, the benefits of their place in the ecosystem over soulless black eyes approaching in murky water.

Enter a Muma College of Business undergraduate marketing/communications management class, which recently got the go-ahead from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to research and develop a statewide messaging communications campaign for the 27 species of sharks native to Florida’s waters. Amanda Nalley, the marketing chief for salt water marine fisheries for the Tallahassee-based state agency met (virtually) with the class last week to answer questions about expectations.

“Sharks are a very complex issue for us,” she told the class. “Sharks are an apex predator and when there are lots of sharks around, that’s a sign of a healthy ecosystem. They keep the system healthy by culling out unhealthy fish. They are a very charismatic species.”

Objectives of the campaign include driving awareness of Florida sharks with a positive portrayal, empowering residents and visitors to feel they’re the heart of the solution for the shark’s future, and informing people that shark fishing is popular in Florida and legal from the beach or the boat, if properly licensed.

The message the state wants to get across, she said, is meant for three groups of people. Those who love nature and sharks, and that may include fishermen; those who live near the water and may cross paths now and again with sharks, and anglers who fish for sharks from boats and the shoreline.

“They all are stakeholders,” Nalley said.

“Right now, she said, “the shark population is doing pretty good in Florida. That’s not the case in other parts of the world.”

Some misconceptions that arise is that shark fishing is illegal. It is not, she said. People can fish from shore for sharks, though there are some beachgoers who challenge them from time to time, mistakenly thinking angling for sharks is illegal.

“Shark fishing from the shore is a hot topic for us,” she said, “and we now are taking measures to educate people about this.”

That is part of the message she wants the class to consider in creating pitches. 

“The objectives cover awareness of the shark’s importance to the Florida ecosystem, changing the image and perception of the shark, encouraging conservation and humane treatment among Florida residents and visitors and educating anglers and beach-goers about shark sportfishing, which is legal from shore or off-shore,” said Carol Osborne, marketing instructor who teaches the class.

Osborne said the experience will involve the students in work that is for a statewide campaign and not the usual private sector brand promotion.

“Sharks also is a ‘cool brand’ as the state tries to push sharks as one of Florida’s charismatic species,” she said. “It’s a cause but not one with a political stigma, unless the shark is related to donkeys or elephants, but I don’t think so.”

In a marketing brief written by Osborne and presented to the class last week, she wrote that in Florida, the most immediate threat to sharks comes from humans.

“Residents and visitors and people running corporations pose a constant threat to sharks from pollution, unsafe boating, red tide and other man-made environmental disasters like oil spills,” she wrote. “However, the focus ahead of next spring’s tourist season and summer’s boating is on the abuse and cruelty, and the mishandling and misunderstanding of sharks.”

She cited recent incidents in which boaters were fined for abusing and killing sharks.

“Prevalent misunderstanding (lack of education, knowledge, compassion) of the shark and its natural part of the Florida (and world’s ecosystem) leads to abuse,” she wrote. “The problem being, with the poor image of the shark as a biter, killer, predator which [is a result of] people’s lack of awareness, knowledge, fishing know-how and especially, a dearth or human compassion.”

The marketing class is made up of about 140 students from three campuses, who will be broken into 27 teams to conduct research and come up with a marketing campaign. Osborne said the best campaigns will be pitched to the FWC at the end of November.

The best ideas created by the students will be part of a message will be sent out on multiple FWC social media  platforms, through emails to stakeholders and the media in the spring, Nalley said. It could end up on conservation podcasts and maybe radio and in airport advertising campaigns throughout the state.

“We want something from you that we are not thinking about,” Nalley said, “something we aren’t already doing.”