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HART board member questions agency’s advertising with 83 Degrees

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Last week, The Tampa Tribune’s Chris O’Donnell reported on how six public agencies in the Tampa Bay area have contracted to pay out more than $200,000 to online magazine 83 Degrees for news and feature stories.

The story concentrated on how such sponsored content can be considered problematic if the publisher does not explicitly reveal that such stories are being paid for by a certain entity.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) spent $8,000 this year on those stories, and board member Karen Jaroch on Monday questioned an agency staffer on whether that had been a worthy use of taxpayer dollars.

Steve Rosenstock, Sr., manager, marketing and communications with HART, said that when the agency began its “HART Takes You There” campaign back in April, it was aiming at three different groups to target, and one of them was “influencers.” (The other two were current drivers and commuters.) Readers of 83 degrees were deemed to fit into the “influences read” category, though he didn’t elaborate.

HART then worked with both 83 Degrees and the ABC/Scripps digital network to advertise, starting in the spring. In terms of bang for the buck, however, 83 Degrees wasn’t so profitable for HART. The breakdown in terms of cost-per-click was $4.74 for ABC, and $90 for 83 Degrees.

“This is a very, very cost-per-click program you have going with 83 Degrees,” HART board member Kathleen Shanahan said disapprovingly. “I would say you’re not getting your reach for that cost.”

HART CEO Katharine Eagan agreed, and said that a decision had already been made not to continue the campaign with 83 Degrees moving forward.

Shanahan also expressed surprise when Rosenstock said that 40 percent of HART riders don’t own a smartphone or iPad, making it somewhat more challenging to transition to digital advertising. “Because every article you read, 87-95 percent of the population in America has some sort of smartphone?” she asked.

According to the Pew Research Center, 64 percent of Americans own a smartphone, while 90 percent own a cellphone of some sort.

The discussion then revolved around what HART is doing with its advertising dollars. Eagan said she would provide an update on what the transit agency has included in its 2016 marketing budget at an upcoming meeting, as well as a review of  the past three years.

Along with HART, other public agencies that have paid for content in 83 Degrees include the Tampa Housing Authority, Hillsborough Community College, USF Health in Tampa, USFSP, and the cities of Clearwater and Largo.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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