Monday, January 05, 2009

Corporate takes ContentOne for first big test drive

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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Obama as Time magazine's
2008 person of the year]


  1. So the McDonaldsification of Gannett's newspapers takes a big step forward.

  2. Will the information center employees deploy to the nearest flag pole at 0-10 hours to salute something---anything?

  3. Time magazine lays off a few people last year.

  4. I had much higher hopes for Kate Marymont. If this is the sort of stuff she's going to do, we might've been better off sticking with Currie.

  5. I may have accidentally deleted a comment that said (I'm paraphrasing) that this effort did not reflect well on new News Department Vice President Kate Marymont, and that if there was more of this, the department might just as well have kept Phil Currie.

    ContentOne needs to be given a chance. It's one of the first new ideas with promise that I've seen in more than a year of blogging about Gannett. Plus, keep in mind: ContentOne apparently got hatched only in the third quarter; Corporate is throwing together this sucker on the fly. (And, possibly, with Tara Connell running the show on the Q.T.)

    Finally, Kate Marymont's involvement is a plus in my book -- if she is the same editor I recall working with in Little Rock.

  6. Actually, ContentOne may have been hatched as late as the fourth quarter.

  7. Funny how the company is putting out special sections on the Messiah. This story has been so overblown by the current liberally biased media.

    If the election went the other way this left wing company would be print sections that the world is now ending.

  8. Nothing wrong with using the inauguration to bring in some revenue. What was missing here was the idea that the "platforms" should cover the news. Essay contests and historical references aren't news. Whatever corporate will generate will be stale and stripped of zip. Everybody else will be scrambling to fill out the memo checklist of non-news.

  9. Wow, student essays! Mugs and quotes! Highly original thinking f or an imploding news operation.

  10. Jim, many of us remember Kate Marymont's days as a solid journalist in previous jobs. We're hoping to see some evidence of it in her new job. This list of "story ideas" for the ContentOne insert/wrapper isn't what we're hoping for. But maybe, with time, the old Kate will shine through.

  11. What's so great and innovative about putting out special inauguration sections? I seem to recall working on one eight years ago, and all the newspapers look at this event as a way of gathering extra money. Trouble is they don't usually carry many ads, largely because Macy's and other retailers get little milage out of them. They don't draw customers. So you normally get some "good wishes" ads from well-financed advertisers, but there are precious few of them out there today. This is a truly dumb idea. Yes, and count me as a skeptic.

  12. I like all great ideas provided to the Marketing and Circulation folks.
    They've provided great ideas to implement, I'm sure, except that the marketing and circ staffs all have been laid off and there's no one to put any of those great ideas into action.

  13. I find it amusing that Kate (with whom I worked in Wilmington) said that it "may require special outreach" to find people who didn't vote for Obama and remain skeptical. Can it really be that hard? Gosh, only 58,343,671 Americans voted for McCain.

  14. These special sections are going to drain depeted newsrooms of writers and editors, plus stretch the remaining sales staffs to distraction. I agree it will be an unmitigated disaster, but the Crystal Towers will never admit how much money is lost on this atrocious idea. It's a real money-loser, and it's a pain to work on putting it together.

  15. Jim,

    ContentOne has been in the pipeline since at least June 2008, when I participated in some early meetings.

    But it's still moving pretty fast for Gannett, which typically moves at Glacier pace...

  16. So how is corporate going to manipulate Content One to spy on readers?

  17. Oh goodie! A special section...and 8 more pages of suck.

  18. Yay, prefab filler pages (that won't match our styles or design standards, btw). Just what we need to make the paper feel substantial.

  19. So the local papers will take the content now made available to them, stick it in their respective papers and sites and call it,,, I don't know. For local papers shouldn't this be called ContentNone?

  20. Meanwhile, the real local news about important stuff like city, state and school budgets, crime, corruption and all will get ignored. That's what makes readers furious.

  21. Jim, while plans for this special section probably are being put together on the fly, as you say, the idea of selling the entire national set of GCI sites dates back at least to the creation of the one-size-fits-all Web design.

    I see the value in selling the national brand, although given the mucked-up way the online conversion was handled, I fear the results could fall far short of the idea's potential.

    However, I do have faith that there are local news staffs who will find a way to use this opportunity to provide good, solid, meaningful reporting that goes beyond essay contests and mugs-and-quotes.

  22. I don't know know about the aggregated web site - will have to wait and see on that one. But the concept of a single section delivered to all papers with space for local ads and content is hardly new. Newspapers have been doing this within regional groups for decades -- starting with efforts in the NJ Group in the late 90s.

    Is this just the first step to centralization of all news content, the conversion of independent newspapers to a massive network of bureaus that feeds one web site, a handful of print products?

  23. Joe said: Sounds like a test drive orchestrated by the Crash Dummies. There's nothing "local" or "community" for any daily or nondaily to use as an attraction for advertisers or readers. More erosion of mainline revenue.


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