NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The new Arizona immigration law is battering local business and forcing marketers in industries such as tourism, education, sports and even iced tea into crisis-communications mode.
The controversial move enacted last month allows law-enforcement officials in the state to determine the immigration status of a person "where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States." Many have decried the law as racist and said it smacks of racial profiling, leading to a considerable nationwide backlash against local businesses, not the least of which is Arizona's $12 billion tourism industry.
"Our message has been, regardless of how you feel about the law, don't punish the 200,000 tourism associates working in this state who are trying to feed their family," said Kristen Jarnagin, VP-communications for the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association.
Ms. Jarnagin said Arizona has lost $6 million to $10 million in convention business in the last week alone -- among them the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which canceled a conference scheduled for later this fall in Scottsdale. Alpha Pi Alpha, the nation's oldest black fraternity, said it is moving its July convention out of Phoenix and into Las Vegas.
"In our business, conventions book two, three, four years out," she said. "A lot of politicians here are saying it will be a short-term issue, but this is a clear indication that it's affecting business three years down the line."
Ms. Jarnagin noted that the Hotel & Lodging Association is not a marketing organization and doesn't have a marketing budget. It is more a lobbying group, but she said that because the issue is so divisive, most of the state's convention and tourism bureaus have been reluctant to take a stand either way, leaving her group as the unofficial spokesperson for the state's tourism industry.
In addition to doing countless media interviews, she went with the next best route to speak to consumers: social media. The Hotel & Lodging Association started a Facebook page, "Don't Boycott AZ Tourism," in which it notes that "AZ's tourism industry was not consulted or considered in SB1070. Tourism employs the state's most diverse and global workforce. Boycotting WON'T change the minds of those who drafted the legislation but will only hurt the innocent employees."
The page has more than 2,200 fans already, not to mention some spirited debate in the comments area. It remains to be seen if the efforts will help, as many other states and cities are already lining up against Arizona. The cities of San Francisco, West Hollywood, Calif., and St. Paul, Minn., have all banned official travel to the state of Arizona. The Denver public school district has done the same.
University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton, in a campus-wide e-mail to students and faculty, noted, "We have already begun to feel an impact from SB1070. The families of a number of out-of-state students (to date all of them honors students) have told us that they are changing their plans and will be sending their children to universities in other states. This should sadden anyone who cares about attracting the best and brightest students to Arizona."
Several Arizona-based businesses have also taken a pro-active public relations approach. Cold Stone Creamery sent out a release and put a message up on its website saying, "We are aware that people are considering boycotting Arizona-based businesses in regard to the Arizona immigration bill. What many Americans might be surprised to know is that Cold Stone Creamery's stores are franchises. This means a boycott of Cold Stone Creamery is mostly burdening small-business owners in local communities across the country. It is our hope that customers in turn continue to visit their local Cold Stone Creamery stores, which employ staff of various ages and races. A boycott of our franchises only further impacts the people living and working in communities across America."
Even Arizona Beverage Co. was forced to weigh in on the debate -- even though the beverage is brewed in Brooklyn, N.Y. On its website, the company said it was aware of "misinformation about Arizona Beverages," and noted the company "proudly traces its origins back to New York ... for the last 16 years our headquarters have remained on Long Island, where we continue to sell and distribute Arizona Iced Teas and beverages."
One group that hasn't made a statement despite being under considerable fire is Major League Baseball. Not only is Arizona state home to the Arizona Diamondbacks, but 14 other clubs conduct spring training there every year. The league awarded the 2011 All-Star Game to the Diamondbacks and the city of Phoenix.
Many are calling on MLB to pull the All-Star Game out of the state, much as the National Football League did in 1991 when it rescinded its decision to hold Super Bowl XXVII in Tempe when the state of Arizona refused to approve a holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The state approved the holiday the following year.
A spokesman for MLB said the league had no comment at this time.
The National Basketball Association's Phoenix Suns will be making a statement of their own tonight on Cinco de Mayo, when the team wears jerseys that read "Los Suns" across the front for their playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs.