Pandemic marketing 101: Tampa communications director shares national headline-grabbing strategy

Ashley Bauman
The city's response has drawn state and national headlines.

The city of Tampa has stood as an example in the state and nation for how to best respond to the novel coronavirus and the varying challenges it brings.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has made several national media appearances touting the city’s response and its success with flattening the curve.

As a Democrat, national media figures have often looked to her to criticize Gov. Ron DeSantis for his delayed approach to slowing the spread, but her reactions have been measured and careful, never once taking the bait to bash a partisan rival.

Instead, the city has led the way on policy, likely forcing the county’s hand on issuing a local stay-at-home order by issuing its own when the county initially punted.

And through all of that, the city has also focused on keeping residents positive, even as many found solace in their boredom and fear for their financial security.

Whether it was robust social media outreach or nightly driveway dance parties, the city’s communication’s team was behind the scenes trying to make the best of a difficult situation

We spoke with Castor’s Director of Communications, Ashley Bauman, who has led the city’s crisis communications response, about how to navigate these unprecedented times.

What is the city’s marketing goal during the crisis?

Our overarching goal has been to simply keep our residents informed. There is a lot of information out there, regionally and nationally; we work hard to communicate vital information to our residents in the most efficient, consumable ways. From parents to small business owners to college students, our community has a wide variety of niches that all consume information in different ways.

We are also focused on making our messages accessible to all, whether that be by providing multilingual content, ensuring we have captions on all videos, or using multiple channels of communication, we want to ensure critical safety information is reaching every resident in our community.

Like all communicators and marketers, we constantly put ourselves in the shoes of our residents, which guides us on how and where we can best communicate. We want our messages to be both informative and engaging to capture the attention of as many people as possible. This has directly inspired our use of digital, guerrilla advertising, traditional PR, influencer marketing, celebrity endorsements, community partnerships, and more.

Why is keeping up the city’s national image important, even as the city doesn’t want visitors?

Tampa was, is, and always will be a city on the rise. It’s no humble brag when we say we believe Tampa is the greatest city in the world. Our community’s strength and resilience has shone brightly through these difficult times. From donating food to our first responders to jogging through neighborhoods in unicorn costumes, the world deserves to know how inspiring and strong our residents are.

We are living in unprecedented times. We may not be able to have visitors for now, but we want to ensure that Tampa is always top-of-mind as a number one destination. Whether it’s to stay, work or play in Tampa, we will be ready to welcome everyone back with open arms once it’s safe for both our residents and visitors.

Where/how do you get your ideas?

What memes or challenges are blowing up right now? What apps are our residents using? How can we adapt a trend to get our message across in an entertaining, effective way?  

For example, Gen Z is actively utilizing TikTok to connect with each other and the world. We saw this as a perfect way to educate and engage our younger residents on COVID-19 safety in a way they would appreciate.

Not only do we need to identify these trends, it’s equally important to be able to act quickly. The same Instagram Story game or TikTok challenge may not be trending next week or even tomorrow, so we need to both be aware of what is resonating with audiences and quickly act on it in a way that is unique to our message.

Who is the team?

Communicating to our residents takes our entire team, whether it’s neighborhood & community affairs, mobility, economic opportunity, revenue & finance or parks & rec, our small but mighty City staff works around the clock to inform our residents with the most up to date information.  From leading calls with pastors, painting positive and informative social distancing messaging, hosting Real Talk on ‘Rona webinars, to Nightly Dance parties, our staff truly has come together to help spread a message of stay calm, stay safe, stay kind, and stay home.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


  • D. Snively

    May 5, 2020 at 12:11 am

    I’m not sure if you sucked Ashley’s d*ck hard enough in this story. Your one-sided views glorifying the City of Tampa’s REactions, not actions, is staggering.

  • Andrew Mayer

    May 7, 2020 at 10:14 am

    As your article states, “We are living in unprecedented times.” That being said, “social distancing” has been described as an essential method of reducing COVID19 infections. To improve the public’s ability to social distance, please consider the following idea:
    Grocery Stores are packed as people try to find everyday necessities. Sometimes they are so crowded it’s impossible to practice “social distancing”, or find necessary every day needs. Performing “social distancing” is terribly important in order to restrict COVID-19 infections. So, I had the following idea that would accomplish 2 important improvements:
    Allow people with last names beginning with A through H to shop only on Mondays and Thursdays, allow people with last names beginning with I through P to shop only on Tuesdays and Fridays, and finally, allow people with last names beginning with Q through Z to shop only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Even simpler, allow people whose last names begin with A through M to shop on even number days, and those whose last name begin with M through Z shop on odd number days. This will cut the number of people in stores by 1/2, and allow people to more easily practice “social distancing,” and they should more easily find items they need. We can dramatically reduce the risk of contracting Coronavirus cases by practicing “social distancing”. Please consider/initiate this plan.
    I’ve sent the plan to Rick Scott, Marco Rubio and Ron DeSantis; however, I’ve had no response from any of these politicians. I’ve also sent the concept to Publix and Winn-Dixie, but both stores said they were only required to follow CDC guidelines and weren’t interested. Unfortunately, I have the impression they (all the above) are not serious about improving our situation through social distancing. They refuse to act responsibly. So, I’m very discouraged. This idea has been used successfully in Maryland and Washington.

Comments are closed.


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