Stuart Newman has been at the helm of one of Miami’s longest-running public relations agencies for 70 years, but he could have been in the industry longer — if it weren’t for one regret.
The memory of it hangs by his desk: Two primary colored circus posters depicting horses, elephants and clowns.
At 15 and living in Fort Lauderdale, Newman was invited to tag along with Russell Bros. Circus’ “advance man” Francis Kitzman, who was in charge of traveling ahead of the Wisconsin-based circus to promote the show. A dream summer for any 15-year-old in 1937, touring the Midwest and earning $3 or $4 a week, Newman said.
“I was about to do it but some girl kept me back,” he said. The relationship never came to fruition.
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Girls have always had an influence in his life, he concedes.
It was a girl who gave him the Russell Bros. Circus posters that now hang by his desk — second wife Sandy — as a reminder that if an opportunity comes his way, he shouldn’t hold back.
At 93, Newman has had time to make good on other opportunities. After an early stint in journalism, he founded Miami-based tourism public relations firm NewmanPR in 1946, creating long-lasting relationships with clients, most stretching at least a decade. His agency managed PR for the Fontainebleau and the Eden Roc when they opened in the mid-1950s. Carnival Cruise Line has been a client for 27 years. The idea for the Florida Keys’ tongue-in-cheek secession name, the Conch Republic, originated with NewmanPR.
Then in 1989, Newman got his circus redemption: He arranged a carnival-themed party — what else? — to welcome Carnival’s then-largest ship, the Carnival Fantasy, to the Port of Miami. The ship inauguration included cotton candy, Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, clowns and 11,000 attendees.
Carnival chairman Micky Arison called it “Stuart’s carnival.”
In seven decades, Newman has taken a front seat to the winding circus of Miami’s tourism industry, watching the landscape’s metamorphosis. He remains as founder and chief executive of NewmanPR along with son Andy, who is the agency’s vice president.
Newman spoke to the Miami Herald at his office on South Dixie Highway about his years in the industry, his greatest accomplishments and his bucket list. His mother lived to be 101; At 93 and sprightly, he expects to make it there, too.
Q. Was there a moment in your life, or a collection of moments, that really established your love of media? How did you get started in the business and what really hooked you about it?
A. In 1937, in Fort Lauderdale as a high school third-string football tackle wannabe, I was more than willing to comply with the coach’s request to compile daily practice notes for the Fort Lauderdale Daily News (now Sun Sentinel). This led to writing complete sports stories. When I received my first byline, I discovered a career. After the first few months, the sports editor — he also covered city hall and courthouse beats — said: “You’re doing a great job for me kid, so I’ll pay you.” He did: $1 for [covering all of] football season and another for baseball season. Subsequently at the University of Florida I wrote a weekly column for the Daily News for which I eventually was paid 5 cents per column inch. In 1942, it won the St. Petersburg Times trophy for UF’s best column for a Florida daily paper. Later I had full-time summer jobs in 1941 and 1942 as reporter and substitute for the vacationing sports editor.
Q. You were in the U.S. Army Air Force as well. How did that experience, which is vastly different from the world of public relations, translate into who you are and what you’ve done since leaving service?
A. My experience as a World War II bombardier and navigator reinforced my conviction that we have limited control over our own destiny. Certainly flying 35 missions with nine other aviators underscored the vital need for teamwork and clear communications in an environment where misunderstanding could be fatal. The lesson in my professional career has carried over to making prompt decisions and delegating to the right associates for implementation.
Q. Why did you decide to start a public relations firm in Miami and how did you help get it off the ground?
A. Certainly, not because of any longtime plans. Even after spending the final six months of my military career as public relations officer at Coral Gables’ Biltmore Air Force Rehabilitation and Convalescent Hospital (now The Biltmore hotel), I had considered pursuing a master’s degree in journalism at Northwestern when I learned of a Miami Beach hotel seeking a public relations director. Actually, the owner told me, he wanted an agency. Walking along Collins Avenue, I encountered a UF fraternity brother who also had been in journalism prior to Army service. When told about my interview he said, “Why don’t we start a public relations agency?” Ten days later, in late January 1946, our firm — Public Relations Associates — was up and crawling. The hotel, then the Ritz Plaza and now the SLS South Beach, became our first client. The first post-war Greater Miami phone directory listed less than 10 PR firms including our agency.
Q. Who were some of your most memorable clients? Which clients have you had the longest?
A. The Florida Keys & Key West tourism council for more than 35 years has provided hundreds of memories of dedicated destination, business and governmental leaders with whom we have closely worked to enhance visitor flow to the island chain. These, and many unforgettable characters and experiences, have generated hundreds of memorable tales. Representing Carnival Cruise Line, a client for almost 27 years, also has resulted in scores of memorable instances as well as positioning NewmanPR among preeminent cruise industry firms.
Q. You tell the story of taking a trained bear into the Miami Herald office many years ago. How did that work out and are there other tales of representing tourism in Miami that stand out?
A. Arranging an “interview” at the Herald for Rosie the dancing bear, who was performing at the Miami Beach Travel and Sports show [in 1957], paved the way for a next-day photo of the bear at a typewriter in the paper’s newsroom. The publicity resulted in a surge of attendance during remaining days of the show.
Five Miami Beach hotels partnered with then Eastern Airlines, several South Florida attractions and ground operators once staged a mini-circus targeting travel agents throughout North America. Our client, Greyhound’s local conglomerate of airport shuttle, sightseeing buses, limousines and rental cars, asked us to coordinate. We created “Greyhound’s Sideshow of Holiday Transportation” to familiarize some 2,100 travel agents with South Florida products. By promising exposure for the attraction, I persuaded Lion Country Safari in Palm Beach County to provide an elephant as highlight for Greyhound’s exhibit. The pachyderm proved to be the day’s main attraction, reaping the lion’s share of attention for the client.
Q. You’ve had a front-row seat to Miami’s growing tourism industry. What was it like when you first started working here and how has it evolved since?
A. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, horse and dog racing were major tourism attractions and employers of PR practitioners, most of whom were publicists and press agents. There was little live theater and I cannot recall any museums. The major annual event was the Orange Bowl weekend. Today, world-class events have changed the landscape, with the resulting need for globally knowledgeable PR professionals and advertising agencies to create and spread messaging, whether in mainstream or social media. As the business community grew, so did the Greater Miami public relations’ profession, with the result that major corporations, who previously were represented by New York-based agencies, realized they could obtain national and international representation at home.
Q. Which public relations projects are you most proud of? How did they help you become a well-known name in this community?
A. Top of the list arguably was our role in providing the concept of a mock “secession” to Florida Keys and Key West government and business leaders after the U.S. Border Patrol suddenly established a checkpoint at the top of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway near Florida City, almost shutting down tourism flow to the island chain. The “secession” idea inspired Key West leaders to come up with and establish the “Conch Republic.” It was the “The Conch that Roared” and the widespread coverage it created not only got the checkpoint dismantled, it also provided worldwide attention for the Keys and Key West. And more than 30 years later, “secession” is celebrated each year at the Conch Republic Anniversary Celebration. The concept and its success in invoking humor in converting near-economic disaster to an opportunity still has “poster child” status in PR forums of crisis news management.
For Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Fantasy, the agency was responsible for one of the first live-at-sea television broadcasts on the CBS Morning Show. The agency’s role in planning for, and implementing, media coverage for (at the time) the largest cruise ship, the Carnival Destiny, as well as the even earlier introduction of Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign of the Seas also created record print and broadcast coverage. The latter, so much coverage that then-Herald Travel Editor Jay Clarke devoted an entire Sunday column to the agency’s role in planning and executing an introduction to capture media attention to the event. For Yellow Rent-A-Car, later to become Greyhound Rent-A-Car, we suggested and helped develop the first-ever unlimited free mileage program, now an industry standard.
Q. What was an obstacle that was particularly difficult to overcome?
A. The main obstacle in the PR business hasn’t changed in 70 years. It is convincing clients — and potential clients — of the value of public relations and the importance of having a professional public relations program in place, both for ongoing marketing support and in the event of a crisis.
Q. Where do you see public relations and the Miami tourism industry developing in the future?
A. Miami always has been and always will be a tourism mecca. Consider the numerous events which draw visitors from around the world: Art Basel, Miami International Boat Show, Calle Ocho as well the several large annual music festivals, sport fishing, shopping, great restaurants and the nonstop nightlife of Miami Beach and other visitor-appealing districts throughout Greater Miami.
The challenge is to develop a comprehensive tourism message for Miami and South Florida. We have major sports events as well as existing cultural attractions in the performing arts center, the new art museum and upcoming science museum and some developing ethnic attractions, such as the Haiti Cultural Center, that make Miami a more well-rounded destination than just beaches and partying. The goal is for the entire tourism industry, government as well as private, to communicate that point.
Q. What’s still on your bucket list?
A. Professionally I would like to broaden our almost total tourism client portfolio to include a major airline. In the past we have represented such Latin American carriers as Viasa, Avensa and Lanica and provided project PR for Pan American. Personally, although I have visited more than 85 countries, Antarctica still tops my travel bucket list.
Job title: Founder and chief executive of NewmanPR.
Experience: Newman enlisted with the Army Air Corps in 1942, flying 35 combat missions on a Flying Fortress bomber in Europe before crashing in a Belgian farm and being rescued by a British sergeant — named Newman. He has been at the head of NewmanPR since founding it in 1946, also serving as chapter president of Public Relations Society of America and vice president of American Public Relations Society, among others.
Also: A Marco Polo member of the Society American Travel Writers, a lifetime member of the Society of Professional Journalists (of which he was a co-founder and past president of the Miami chapter), University of Florida President’s Council member, distinguished alumni of the University of Florida, member of the Air Force Association and World War II 381st Bomb Group Memorial Association, and donor to the University of Miami’s Sylvester Cancer Center.
Education: Studied journalism, political science and English at the University of Florida.
Personal: Married to second wife Sandy Sharp Newman, a nurse, for 22 years. Newman has two children: Cathy, a former editor and author for National Geographic; and Andy, vice president of NewmanPR. He has three grandsons.
About NewmanPR: NewmanPR was founded in 1946 and primarily represents clients from the tourism industry. The agency offers a variety of services, including news photography, graphic design, video production and crisis management. It has represented many longtime clients, such as Carnival Cruise Line and the Florida Keys Tourism Council. About 73 percent of the agency’s clients have been with NewmanPR for at least a decade.