Company: PPI Group and Porthole Cruise Magazine
Location: 6261 NW Sixth Way, Suite 100, Fort Lauderdale
Service: PPI Group produces marketing collateral and video content creation for the cruise industry in addition to Porthole Cruise Magazine, a consumer publication for the cruise industry.
Years in business: 29 years
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Management team: CEO Bill Panoff, COO Audrey Balibers-Panoff, CFO Jose I. Martin
Revenues: Porthole Cruise Magazine comprises 10 percent of the company’s total revenue. The remaining 90 percent is made through custom publishing, video and shopping programs.
Milestones: This year, PPI Group is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its flagship publication, Porthole Cruise Magazine. Next year will also mark the 30th anniversary of the company, which was founded in 1987.
Bill Panoff, PPI Group’s CEO, first became involved in the cruise industry in 1980 as a magician performing aboard cruise ships. From there, Panoff then worked as a cruise director for Carnival Cruise Line. In 1987, he left his job as a cruise director to found PPI Group. The company began by producing marketing and promotional materials for cruise lines, as well as print and digital consumer publications.
“I saw that there was a void in terms of publications that spoke about cruising for the consumer — something that would advise guests on what to do on the ship, what to do at the ports, and so on,” Panoff said.
In 1996, Panoff founded the company’s flagship publication, Porthole Cruise Magazine, a biweekly print and digital consumer magazine, typically running 80-100 pages, that features articles on travel tips, industry profiles and cruise reviews. The most recent July issue included a review of the ms Koningsdam, a recent addition to Holland America Line’s cruise fleet.
As of its 20th anniversary this year, Porthole is one of the largest magazine of its kind: According to Panoff, the publication has a circulation of 115,000 through subscription and single-copy sales.
Impact: PPI Group, since its founding in 1987, has been able to distinguish itself through its longevity alongside the tremendous growth in the cruise industry. Since 1990, the total number of worldwide cruise passengers has increased at an average of 6.55 percent a year — from just under 3.8 million in 1990 to 23 million in 2016, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.
Now, 20 years after its founding, the magazine is a well-established consumer and lifestyle magazine made specifically for the cruise industry. Consumers can buy the magazine aboard cruise ships and in airports, gift shops, supermarkets and newsstand retailers across the country. Digital and print subscriptions are offered as well.
“Porthole now is read by cruisers on Silver Seas, Holland America, Seabourn — anyone who wants to know anything about cruising reads the magazine,” Panoff said.
Over the years, the Fort Lauderdale company has employed many South Floridians, many of whom used to work in the cruise industry. “I grew this company from nothing, and now we’re 50 employees strong, many of whom have been here for upwards of 20 years. As the cruise industry grows, we’re going to continue growing with it,” Panoff said.
Keys to success: Each of the specialized publications PPI Group produces for the cruise industry is specific to the cruise ship and its route. Hiring new employees who have a knowledge of the cruise industry, Panoff said, has been a key to producing its detailed content. The use of freelance writers has also been crucial to Porthole Cruise Magazine’s content production, according to William Jordan, PPI Group’s senior vice president of sales and marketing.
“We use freelance writers from all over the world who have unrivaled knowledge of their specific area. Most of our work is done by freelancers, tightly supervised by our supervisors,” Jordan said.
Keeping up with the growth of the cruise industry has been a challenge for PPI Group as well as a key factor in its success.
“Every year, there are two or three new ships coming out, and they look to us to produce the magazines,” Panoff said. “It’s hard to keep up with the demand, but it’s the kind of problem you want to have. We’ve kept up with it over the years, and so the cruise industry keeps coming to us first.”
Strategy for next steps: Into the future, PPI Group’s mission is to continue its expansion into multimedia production. The company produces in-room video content for the cruise industry that provides information to cruise-goers about shopping and points of interest in the ports visited by each cruise ship. Panoff said PPI will continue to expand into video department along with its other multimedia productions.
“We’re expanding our video production department drastically. Video has become a very important element to consumers over the years. Our goal is to continue expanding our multimedia products, as well as our print products, into the hotel and airline industry,” Panoff said.
On the marketing front, Panoff and PPI Group want to capture more of the online audience using social media and online strategies.
“We’re always exploring new technologies to apply to this business, especially new online strategies in social media to reach the consumer. Anything to that makes it easier for cruise guests to find out what to do in the ports of call — that’s our expertise,” Panoff said.