Tampa PR expert Harry Costello to leave Hill+Knowlton

In 35 years with the firm, Costello was sought after for his advice on handling crises.
Hill + Knowlton Strategies Florida chairman Harry Costello is leaving the firm at the end of June after 35 years. [Courtesy of Harry Costello]
Hill + Knowlton Strategies Florida chairman Harry Costello is leaving the firm at the end of June after 35 years. [Courtesy of Harry Costello]
Published June 11
Updated June 12

TAMPA — After nearly four decades of handling some of Tampa's highest profile public relations challenges, Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Florida chairman Harry Costello told colleagues Tuesday he will leave the firm on June 28.

"It has been quite a ride at H+K, but it is now time to find a new adventure," Costello said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

In his 35 years at Hill+Knowlton, Costello, 71, has taken on a series of evermore responsible jobs: vice president, executive vice president, general manager for Tampa and chairman of Florida operations, which entails overseeing offices in Tampa, Tallahassee and Miami. He said in an interview he doesn't plan to retire, but now seems like a good time to let the next generation of leaders take over.

In 1984, during his first week on the job, Costello had to fly to New York to tell company vice chairman Dick Cheney — the pioneering public relations executive, not the future vice president — that a major client, Beneficial Corp., which developed Harbour Island, had decided to move its account from Cheney to the company's Tampa office. Costello said he was worried, but Cheney thanked him because he despised Beneficial chairman Finn Caspersen.

A graduate of the University of South Florida, where he majored in political science and minored in economics, Costello worked at the now-defunct Tampa Times as a political writer and business editor for three years and was business and financial news editor at the Tampa Tribune for eight years before joining Hill+Knowlton. In 1988, Excel magazine wrote that Costello and another Tribune editor, Roy Bertke, turned out coverage "that was so influential that John Naisbitt, in his best-selling book Megatrends, was compelled to name Tampa as one of a select group of American cities on the rise," the St. Petersburg Times reported at the time.

Outside the newsroom, Costello became a go-to source on crisis management and a wide range of other topics: the rise of professional athletes as highly sought-after brand representatives, Brandon's search for a community identity, Exxon's response to the Valdez oil spill in Alaska and the dynamics of Tampa Bay Buccaneers stadium negotiations, among other things.

In 1990, he said the desire for instant communication would enhance business efficiency but also put companies under a lot of pressure to respond to consumers faster.

In 1991, he served in Saudi Arabia for nearly a year as a reservist helping to coordinate the withdrawal of U.S. troops following the Persian Gulf war. (He retired from the Navy and U.S. Naval Reserve at the rank of commander after 30 years.)

Costello also remained plugged-in enough that colleagues called him "Mr. Lunch." His roster of clients included Lykes Bros., CF Industries, Port Tampa Bay (then known as the Tampa Port Authority), University Community Hospital, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which hoped that hiring him would help it get past a money-laundering scandal that was the basis for the 2016 movie The Infiltrator.

"That's been the fun of the job," he said. "Every phone call was a new adventure and a new challenge."

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Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times