Tampa Bay Partnership redefines area's brand [Tampa Tribune, Fla.]
(Tampa Tribune (FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 03--TAMPA -- A problem dogging tourism and economic development leaders for years is how to brand and market the Tampa Bay area.
It lacks Miami's swagger and Orlando's world-famous attractions, but most agree it's a wonderful place to live.
Maybe it's no surprise, then, that a key business group charged with marketing the region to the world is taking stock of its own identity and purpose.
The Tampa Bay Partnership sent a notice to its members and the media last week announcing that it has moved employees into several new positions and has decided to sharpen its focus to three key issues for the year: marketing the region, baseball and transit.
It made the decision after getting input from its membership, some of whom felt the group had strayed from its original purpose to market the area.
"I applaud them on making the tough decisions to narrow their focus," said Bill Carlson of the Tucker/Hall public relations firm, who criticized the group in April for failing to make enough impact on local issues. "It was the right thing to do. Their future success will depend on their ability to have bold and effective leadership."
The Tampa Bay Partnership was born 20 years ago, mainly to attract companies and a talented workforce to the region. Its membership includes some of the area's biggest corporate players, including BayCare Health System, TECO Energy, Bright House Networks and Sykes Enterprises.
Members pay an annual fee ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.
Over the years, it expanded its scope. It considered urban sprawl and the health of Bay area's residents. It pushed for light- and high-speed rail. It held summits on smart land planning, gathering hundreds of people to chart future growth by putting yellow Legos on future residential areas and red Legos for job clusters.
As marketing took a back seat, some of the private businesses and governments that contribute thousands of dollars to the partnership grew antsy.
John Siefert, executive director of the Citrus County Economic Development Council, watched as light-rail and transportation issues in Tampa dominated the agenda.
"At that point, some people in the organization outside of Hillsborough said, 'Is this what we want to spend money on ' " Siefert said last week.
Stuart Rogel, the partnership's chief executive officer, said tackling quality-of-life issues is part of the overall "model for prosperity" for the Tampa Bay region's economy. He suggested the partnership never stopped marketing the region.
But after meeting with economic development agencies in recent weeks, he heard a clear message that they want marketing to be the partnership's priority.
"We said, 'We're ready to do that,' " Rogel said.
In fact, the portion of the Tampa Bay Partnership's income devoted to marketing the region has dwindled. In recent years, just 8 percent to 15 percent of its revenue has gone toward marketing the region.
That's about to change.
The partnership's longtime marketing and communications vice president, Betty Carlin, left the agency last month. Rogel declined to speak about her departure. Taking over marketing duties is Jessica Aspiras, who had been with the local nonprofit that raised money for the Republican National Convention.
The group also moved others into new roles in investor relations and implementing regional initiatives.
The partnership has identified four industries that hold the most promise for the Bay area: applied medicine and human performance; business, financial and data services; high-tech electronics and instruments; and marine and environmental activities.
It plans to tout those industries to the world, Rogel said. The group also will focus over the next year on transportation issues and finding a solution to the stadium stalemate between the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Petersburg.
"We want to make sure that we need to lead the marketing of the region," he said. "Our mission is to Tampa Bay, so we want to lead that effort."
Some people questioned the partnership's efforts to market the region during the Republican convention last summer. It conducted hours of interviews with local business leaders and streamed it over the Web in a production called "Front Row Tampa Bay."
The production cost $400,000, not counting additional in-kind costs, but only about 5,000 unique visitors viewed the broadcasts during convention week. A couple of thousand more viewed it after the convention, a partnership spokeswoman said.
Chuck Sykes, the partnership's new chairman, has encouraged the group to refocus its attention on marketing the region. He applauded the ambition of "Front Row Tampa Bay," warts and all.
"What I loved about it was it brought a renewed a sense of the partnership marketing the region in some bigger, broader ways," Sykes said. "Tampa's going to be branded through our actions."
(c)2013 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.)
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