Gannett is using a high-profile national event -- President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration in two weeks -- to try out the nascent ContentOne initiative it hopes has big advertising and newspaper sales potential, according to a memo I've obtained.
The rollout starts tomorrow. It's being led by Chief Digital Officer Chris Saridakis (left), plus other top Corporate executives in the news, advertising and circulation departments. The idea, which CEO Craig Dubow unveiled last month at a Wall Street conference: Leverage the company's 85 newspaper websites by rolling them up into a single monster site that can be sold to national and local advertisers.
The memo offers a rare inside look at how Gannett is organizing a new marketing initiative -- right down to hawking coffee mugs featuring front pages -- as the top newspaper publisher races the clock against further declines in its revenue base.
ContentOne's debut comes in two major components, the memo says:
Special inauguration website
It will carry national advertising, plus news stories and other editorial content mostly generated by USA Today. Individual local newspapers are to add the website to their own, and make it look like theirs by adding brand names, plus local advertising, news and information. The site goes live starting tomorrow, the memo says.
Corporate will link the sites together in a global network that it's now offering to national advertisers, according to the memo: "This site will be sold to advertisers based on the potential for more than 50 million uniques.'' That's an ambitious target; Gannett's combined unique visitors across all its properties in September was just half that number: 25.4 million, according to the third-quarter earnings statement.
Standalone print section
An eight-page broadsheet section produced by Corporate for insertion in newspapers Sunday, Jan. 18 -- two days before the ceremony at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Corporate is scheduled to deliver this "turn-key" section to papers on Jan. 13 -- a week from tomorrow.
The section can be published in its entirety, or in individual pieces. "For newspapers running the entire section," the memo says, "there will be space available for four, (4), horizontal half page ads on pages 2, 3, 6 and 7. The back page will also be available as either a full page or horizontal half page."
Corporate's news department, under newly named Vice President Kate Marymont (left), is suggesting stories and other ideas local papers can pursue for the section. They include student essay contests, and "good old mugs and quotes" in people-on-the-street vignettes. Plus, "be sure to get all sides: Just as we balance our journalism, we need to balance our outreach to readers. Remember, whatever you do, to include people who didn't vote for Obama and who retain skepticism. This may require special outreach."
Advertisers: Be part of 'national solution'
For advertising sales, Obama's inauguration "represents an opportunity for advertisers to become part of history and to brand themselves as a company looking to the future,'' the memo says.
The memo continues: "The mistake would be to target advertisers based on perceived political leanings. Rather, you should look to marketers who have a stake in showing that they are part of the national solution to the challenges facing America. Examples could include financial institutions who want to show their fiscal responsibility or medical facilities highlighting their commitment to the community. In either case the message would be one about moving and growing into a changing future."
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[Image: Obama as Time magazine's 2008 person of the year]