The ubiquitous Florida InfoGuide is glossy, full-color, 64-page magazine blending local advertising – reams of it – with area facts, figures, trivia and locator maps. It’s in more than 450 Pinellas locations, from the bay to the gulf.
The name is a tad misleading; editor and publisher Bob Marcus was at one point going to franchise the pub throughout Florida, but at the end of the day, it seemed like too much work.
Besides, the St. Petersburg resident is a one-man operation, and he kind of likes it that way.
Marcus explains the name like this: “As a kid growing up in Chicago, the word Florida was magical. ‘We’re taking a vacation to Florida!’
“And every time you go into a hotel, you pick up all the free stuff that’s there. You back to your room on the beach and you look at it. If I’d go on vacation to, say Charleston, I’d open the thing up and it would be ad, ad, ad, ad, oh here’s a map, ad, ad, ad. Wherever I go to, I want to learn about the area. That’s how I came up with the InfoGuide part – because then people would take it home as a souvenir.”
Published quarterly, the Florida InfoGuide includes all sorts of handy info to guide the bay area tourist. The October-January issue, which will be available until the new one appears in a couple of weeks, includes guides to area shorebirds, shark’s teeth and sand dollars, along with event calendars and a directory of key community addresses and emergency numbers.
They’re mixed in among the ads. That’s Bob Marcus’ formula for success, and it’s worked for close to 18 years now. His BMS Publishing prints 65,000 copies of every issue.
Marcus left Illinois for the sunny shores of Florida in 1981. A radio advertising rep who broadened his horizons in the Sunshine State, he became second-in-command and solitary ad man for the Beach Visitor, one of the premier local freebies of the era. “The advertising,” Marcus says, “was dirt cheap. I said to my friend, ‘How can you not sell this? It’s so easy to sell!’ And he said he wasn’t a people person, like me. ‘I can’t do what you do.’”
Under his watch, it expanded from 24 to 76 pages.
Marcus ventured out on his own a decade and change later, first with a black and white publication he called the Welcome Directory, specific to real estate and property management companies. This was the forerunner of the Florida InfoGuide, combining advertising with interesting (and some essential) local information.
For his first company pitch, he recalls. “I walked in with nothing except a white sheet of paper, and I said ‘Look, trust me, it’s going to have birds, palm trees and seashells!’ I had nothing on the pages. I didn’t have business cards. I didn’t have contracts. I put the first one together, and luckily it took off.”
There were a couple of tough years. “I’ve always operated on the 4 P’s: Patience, Perseverance, Persistence and Patty. Doing anything to survive, for Patty, and for myself.”
(That would be Patricia Masi, Marcus’ girlfriend, his spark, his muse … and his proofreader.)
“I was delivering pizza for Papa John’s,” he adds, “so I guess it was five P’s.”
He was a DJ at 98 Rock, which he grew bored with (“Tomorrow’s weather, partly cloudy with a chance of showers. And here’s Led Zeppelin”). He was a DJ at WFLZ, a cruise director for Empress, a standup comic, a baseball play-by-play announcer. “All those things were to get me through, so I could do what I wanted to do full-time.”
Marcus, the only full-time Florida InfoGuide staffer (although Patty handles the editorial content), is a member of the Bay Area Concierge Association, SKAL, Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce, St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and Tampa Bay Gulf Beaches Chamber of Commerce.
The guide is available – for free, of course – at motels, hotels, property management companies, business and sundry tourist attractions.
There’s no way to ascertain actual numbers, but Marcus is confident that his is the “Number One tourist publication in the area.” He says as much on the Florida InfoGuide website.
“I get people calling me every year from out of state, and even out of the country. Once, a guy calls me from England for the latest issue. Canadians call. During the season, I must get a dozen calls per week from someone saying ‘Hey, I’m going to be in St. Pete …”
Don’t ask him to mail you a copy, however. “I try not to,” he explains. “I’ll say ‘Go online to look at it … or if you’re really desperate, call the Chamber. They’ll mail it for you.’”
BMS’ latest project is another free glossy, Just Menus, published twice a year, and exactly what the name suggests. Restaurants pay Marcus to publish and distribute their menus.
“Everybody that checks into a hotel, the first question they always ask is: Where’s a good restaurant?’” he says. “Well, they get tired of saying ‘Well, what do you like?’ “How much do you want to spend? Blah blah blah.’ “
So far, he says, so good. “We’ve done two issues so far; the next one comes out in March. We’ll see what happens.”