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Visit St. Pete-Clearwater partners with HSN to turn shoppers into tourists

HSN hosts Debbie Denmon and Valerie Stup during a promotional video on Clearwater Beach as part of the network's partnership with Visit St. Pete-Clearwater. (HSN/Visit St. Pete-Clearwater)
Published Jun. 26, 2018

Valerie Stup's toes are in the sand at Clearwater Beach. Guy Yovan is spotting dolphins near John's Pass. Sarah Anderson is touring the Dali Museum.

Usually HSN's shoppers only see their favorite network hosts inside the studio selling handbags, cookware and beauty supplies. But in the 24-hour shopping network's latest campaign, the hosts instead venture out to show off the St. Petersburg company's backyard. The video promos are part of a first-of-its-kind partnership with Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, Pinellas County's tourism and marketing arm.

The promotion, running all of July, is a tag-team approach that markets the area to HSN shoppers, giving them a chance to win one of 31 free trips to the area.

"We were looking to do something new and different and we really wanted to hold hands with a Pinellas-based firm," said David Downing, the president of the tourism organization. "And not just anyone — someone with the reach, brand loyalty and marketing power HSN has."

The visit Pinellas campaign coincides with HSN's 41st birthday next month; the trips will be awarded every day in July.

More tourism news: Pinellas and Hillsborough bring in $13 million in bed taxes during peak travel month

"It just make sense," HSN marketing manager Lauren Stander said. "Our customers love our network, love our hosts. Why not invite them to visit our hometown?"

While HSN is handling the sweepstakes entries through its online gaming platform — users who play games while streaming HSN can cash in "tickets" for trip entries — the county tourism group is covering the airfare costs for the winners.

The costs are part of the county agency's $12.5 million marketing budget, Downing said.

HSN's base customer is a woman in her 40s — that's also the same customer who most often makes vacationing decisions for the family, Downing said.

"A lot of customers didn't know what coast St. Pete was on or where exactly it was located," Stander said. "They watch us every day, but they don't know what's here and what their hosts are doing in HSN's backyard."

It's also a time for HSN's St. Pete campus — which employes 2,700 — to share its hometown.

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Just under a year ago, HSN was purchased by its direct competitor, QVC, in a $2.6 billion dealer. Since the merger, the umbrella company that oversees both shopping networks — Qurate Retail Group — has acquired eight companies total, growing into a retail powerhouse.

HSN's sales slumped about 10 percent in its most recent quarter under Qurate, but during a conference with shareholders in May CEO Mike George said he was confident in the group's ability to turn things around.

Birthday month at HSN usually pulls in shoppers, Stander said, because it means specials and deals. Even those who don't win the sweepstakes will be able to access local hotel discounts. Mailers advertising Tampa Bay will go out in 1.5 million HSN packages.

Annually, Downing said, Pinellas County gets about $10.5 billion worth of economic impact from tourists.

"It's an incredibly competitive space," Downing said. "And it doesn't stop at beaches in Florida."

Downing says his teams works to win over travelers in Latin America, the United Kingdom and China. To stay ahead, he said, he and his team have to stay creative in their strategies.

"We've done promotions with Uber, with a variety of different companies, but this one really feels different because they're right down the street," he said.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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