Tampa Bay Times Capitalizes on GOP Convention -- Nine Months After Name Change

National Stage for Rebranded Newspaper

By Published on .

The Tampa Bay Times has a clock on its homepage counting down the minutes to the start of the Republican Convention. Mitt Romney may have waited a long time for this moment, but so has the Times.

For more than a century, the paper was actually the St. Petersburg Times. But in an environment that has led newspapers such as the New Orleans Times-Picayune to cut back printing to three days a week from seven, the Times' owner nine months ago invested in rebranding and remarketing it. Now as the country focuses on Tampa, the new identity is getting its broader debut.

"We're using the attention on the region to make sure that people are aware of our success," said Bruce Faulmann, VP for sales and marketing at the Tampa Bay Times. The paper will ensure that delegates and other media outlets are fully aware of its presence during their time in Tampa, and not just via the coverage it plans to generate.

Convention delegates arriving at Tampa International Airport, for example, will be greeted with the logo that the paper used for its relaunch in January, visually explaining the transition by putting the new name in the foreground and retaining a faint "St. Petersburg Times" in the background. Though the paper no longer uses the dual logo, it left it up at the airport "for the folks coming to town for the RNC, assuming that they didn't know," Mr. Faulmann said.

As delegates drive to their downtown hotels, they'll catch a glimpse of Times billboards proclaiming that the papers gains "hundreds of subscribers per week." They may hear radio ads with the same message.

And on the off-chance delegates miss all that , the paper will hit them on the head when they reach the convention site, which changed its name to Tampa Bay Times Forum from St. Petersburg Times Forum in January.

Big opportunity
Having its name on the building during a national event is a real opportunity for the paper, which is anticipating plenty of free publicity as a result. "Here in this market right now, you can't go anywhere, you can't watch television, you can't listen to the radio... without mention of the Tampa Bay Times Forum," Mr. Faulmann said.

The Tampa Bay Times has also partnered with Politico for the convention, adding extra reach to its rebranding effort.

The paper's owner, the Poynter Institute, renamed the paper partly to reconcile its brand with the region that it covered, which expanded to include the Tampa area in the 1980s. "The nameplate didn't reflect what we had become," Mr. Faulmann said.

Executives also hoped that the more regional name would allow the paper to grow its readership in Tampa, where the St. Petersburg moniker may have misled or put off residents. They cite the Tampa Bay Rays by way of comparison -- the baseball team that plays in St. Petersburg but identifies with the larger community.

The paper's website is counting down to the (now-delayed) convention.
The paper's website is counting down to the (now-delayed) convention.

And then there was the Republican National Convention coming up in Tampa. The paper stood to gain more recognition if its name aligned with the host city.

"We were clearly motivated," said Mr. Faulmann. "We knew the RNC was coming to town and the building that the event would be held in bared our name. It was a motivation to have the work completed well in advance of the RNC."

You can't buy the publicity that the Tampa Bay Times will get from the convention, said Peter Schorsch, executive editor of Saint Petersblog. He was highly critical of the name change when it was announced and still says that the change was one of the saddest days in his civic life.

Still, he admits that the timing was perfect. "If it was 2013 and no one is paying attention," Mr. Schorsch said, "no one would have noticed."

Times vs. Tribune
The St. Petersburg Times had actually used the Tampa Bay Times name on a free daily newspaper in 2004. But a legal battle with the smaller Tampa Tribune, which called the name too close to its own Tampa Times, led to a five-year moratorium preventing the St. Petersburg Times from using the Tampa Bay Times name on anything else.

The moratorium ended on Oct. 31, 2011. The next day, the Times announced its intention to change its name. Shortly afterward it introduced a rebranding campaign -- under the tagline "New name. Same great newspaper." -- meant to capitalize on the recognition the paper won from the Pulitzer committee and elsewhere under the St. Petersburg banner.

Paid circulation for the weekday and Sunday editions of the Tampa Bay Times seems to have increased since the change. Year-over-year comparisons don't exist yet, but average weekday circulation increased 7.2% between the paper's report with the Audit Bureau of Circulations last fall and its report this spring. Sunday circulation rose 24.8%.

The Times argues that the numbers reflect readers coming over from the Tribune, which is up for sale after Berkshire Hathaway purchased most of Media General's portfolio but not the Tribune.

But the Tribune's circulation has grown as well, by nearly 3% on weekdays and 14.8% on Sundays. Its leadership suggested the Times is winning new readers with lower pricing.

"We have no evidence that the name change has had any material effect on our business," said William Barker, president and publisher of the Tampa Tribune. "In fact, we well exceeded our plan in July. If anything has been noticeable, it has been how deeply discounted TBT has taken their introductory pricing."

'Feel a shift'
One Tampa advertiser said the name change was helping the Times win market share. "I feel a shift," said Carol Kaulman, owner of Tampa shoe store Next Step, which has advertised with the Tampa Tribune for 18 years and the Times for two years.

The Times has done everything it can to create that feeling. "If you're in this market, we have billboards everywhere, we have radio, we are very visible," Mr. Faulmann said.

"You hear our journalists on the radio every day, we have our sports guys doing regular shows," he said. "You feel our presence everywhere."

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