Tampa Paper Nixes Ads Mentioning Competitor

By: Lucia Moses

It’s hard to imagine any paper saying “No” to an advertiser in this economy. But that’s exactly what The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune has done recently rather than run ads containing the name of its competitor across Tampa Bay, the St. Petersburg Times. And this issue has potential to arise more and more as newspaper sponsorships with outside partners grow increasingly common across the country.

In competitive markets, it is not unusual for papers to refuse to run their competitor’s name. In the Tampa area, however, both papers carried each other’s logos for years, and the St. Pete Times still does. But the Times has now retaliated by stipulating in contracts with its future marketing partners that they not advertise Times-sponsored events in the Tribune.

Paul Tash, Times president and editor, charged, “I guess this is the kind of chicken—- stunt you pull when you’re losing circulation.”

The Tribune makes no apologies for its policy. “We don’t run promotions for competing media. That’s reasonably common,” said President and Publisher Steven M. Weaver, who added that it’s been that way for at least a year.

That stance, however, has cost the Tribune even as the paper is still smarting from the recession, with ad revenue down 5.5% in the first three months of the year. Some Times marketing partners have indeed pulled their ads in recent months rather than remove the paper’s name.

Ruth Eckerd Hall, a performing-arts center in Clearwater, said it yanked what would have amounted to $50,000 in advertising this year. Lex Poppens, director of marketing and communications, said he told Tribune reps, “I was really annoyed I would be put in a battle between the two papers in town.” The Mahaffey Theater in St. Pete canceled an estimated $30,000 to $50,000 worth of ads in the Tribune this year, according to Sarah Woosley, its marketing coordinator. And Boating Expositions Inc. in Tampa could have as much as $40,000 to spend in the Tribune this year — but now those dollars may go elsewhere.

“It is foolish from a marketing standpoint to ignore a paper [the Tribune] that has 270,000 home-delivered papers,” said Dale Robbins, general manager of Boating Expositions. “But if the arrangement is strong enough with the other partner, then sometimes tough decisions have to be made.”

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