Wednesday, November 28, 2012

USAT | Will this marketing design sell advertising?

[Screenshot of episode featuring Gannett's top brand]

I must be one of the few Americans who've never seen an episode of highly-rated Project Runway, the Lifetime channel show where contestants compete for cash and prizes by designing clothing.

But now I've made the leap over to the dark side, having just viewed this season's Episode Four, co-sponsored by USA Today, "one of the nation's leading news organizations," host Joanna Coles helpfully explains.

In this episode (video here), contestants were asked to create something inspired by a photo supplied by one of their fans -- a challenge that allowed USAT to promote its emphasis on visuals with the struggling daily's redesign launched in September.

"At USA Today,'' marketing chief Sandra Micek says on camera, "we pioneered visual story telling and info graphics. We continue to be at the forefront of clear and concise visually driven story telling journalism."

(That's quite a mouthful of buzz phrases, and I suspect many viewers don't understand what they all mean. But perhaps this is aimed at the advertising industry.)

In any case, the episode's winner was promised a photograph and what Micek called an "editorial piece" in the paper.

Will this sort of product placement help the paper sell more ads, while also fueling rack sales and digital traffic?

Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.


  1. As opposed to what? This blog?

    The episode was fun and did nothing to hurt the brand, and probably raised consciousness among viewers who haven't considered reading it for awhile.

    If Susan Page can opine about politics there is no reason USA Today, which covers many things. can't go on TV about fashion, too.

    And the contestants were so over the top that USA Today was barely a factor.

    The former marketing employees will have a field day with this needless kick-Marketing topi (a typical Jim who-me? move), but it is empty noise. The show and the product placement was fine.

  2. If you go to the Project Runway site there is no mention of USA TODAY. No logo, no competition. What kind of co-promotion is that where the brand isn't even mentioned? I guess a big oversight in the negotiation. Could be part of why the reviews for Micek and Banikarim weren't so hot.

  3. 1:52 Page "opines"? That's rather a slap at one of the paper's better-known reporters.

    And if USAT was "barely a factor," then how was this a success?

  4. If I don't see one episode promoting USAT's colored balls, I'm going to be sorely disappointed.

    Some balls are held for marketing, and some for fancy dress - It's my belief that our big balls should be held every night.

  5. Sandra is awfully pretty.

  6. Can someone please explain how USAT is pioneering new visual story telling? I check the website daily, but other than bigger photos, I'm not feeling it.

    (I should add that ordinary photos published bigger are simply bigger ordinary photos. And that's not an improvement.)

  7. Yet another embarrassing moment from a marketing department that grows more meaningless everyday. And the comparison to Susan Page is just stupid. Comparing a respected journalist to our marketing head is like comparing Socrates to Elmo.

  8. So we don't even get cross promotion on their web site? So much for cross platform integration. No long as we get camera time for Sandra.

  9. Personally, i dont care hsow much self promotion and cross promotion and even newsroom promotions occur.

    I just want to see some positive results on the bottom line from the business side and better, more sophisticated journalism from the newsroom.

  10. As we predicted, Jim sets the table for the haters, and out they come.

    This was a harmless, fun, positive thing.

    Jim, of course, on the one hand posts about his many "friends" at USA TODAY and then in the next breath sets his friends up like a kicking tee.

    Of the many MANY problems at USA TODAY, this TV thing, and the marketing department as a whole, is hardly worth the time they get at the blog.

    I used to work with Jim and he was insular and withdrawn then. He seems to be lashing out now in a wild unfocused way.

    The marketing thing is posted because he had a photo of a good-looking woman that people will click on -- the kind of news judgment he would complain at USA TODAY about.

    There is so much intelligent discussion about a new print product, a new website to discuss. Any "media critic'' worth his salt would write about 100 things before they'd drag out Project Runway as a scoop.

    Jim Hopkins doesn't deserve the infantile attacks that are made here. But on this one, he deserves disdain for, as usual, aiming so low.

    . Bottom line

  11. 4:15 nailed it.

    And imagine if Marketing had turned down project Runway. Haters would post that "look how stupid they are, turning down a show with all those viewers!"

    It's always lose/lose at the blog. For intelligent conversation that makes a difference, visit Romenesko or any dozens of media critics who actually make a difference. This blog just makes childish I-didn't-succeed-and-now-I'm-getting-back-at-them noise.

  12. 1:52 here. "Opine'' was not meant as a slap. If it read that way, let me be clear.

    I think USA TODAY covers many things -- politics, sports, celebrity, tech, fashion, crime, autos. There is nothing wrong with having an on-air presence with any of those subjects.

    As for cutting edge visuals, I read that the TODAY show reproduced in a giant on-air set the front page's Fiscal Cliff illustration a few weeks ago. With lots of praise. Just one example.

  13. Well, that makes sense. It has to be the "haters" right? But, then can someone finally answer this question:

    What has this marketing team done to elevate this brand, including increasing circulation and ad revenue?

    We're still waiting...

  14. 4:15 and 4:33 are right, except for one thing:

    "Jim Hopkins doesn't deserve the infantile attacks that are made here."

    He does. He encourages an environment of slams, with few to no facts used as support. He deserves everything he gets and more.

  15. Does any one know if USAT paid for this placement or if Sandra and Maryam made this happen through their connections at NBC? Project Runway runs on Bravo which is owned by NBC.

  16. This was a harmless, fun, positive thing.

    If the marketing department wants that, they should try karaoke.

    The rest of us whose livelihoods depend on a profitable, strong product lineup across the corporation that the public and advertisers want?

    We'd appreciate a little less fun, harmless bullshit and a lot more hard hitting, useful promotion that gets people to buy.

    Telling women watching Lifetime that we run big pictures? If we gave up newsprint dollars for digital dimes, what in marketing did we give up to get pennies like that?

  17. Let's call this for what it is: a massive amount of self-promotion by our CMO. She couldn't give a rats ass if it elevates the brand. It;s much more important that it elevates herself.

  18. I'm kind of surprised she didn't tell them USAT is for the "busy, time-pressed, business traveler."

  19. Yes, I think this particular synergy did elevate the brand and potentially drive some revenue our way. I'm glad they did it.

    And whoever above said it was harmless fun is correct.

  20. 4:15 I agree with a fair amount of what you wrote. But I didn't choose the Micek photo because she's good looking and I thought it would draw clicks. I simply wanted an illustration that said USAT.

  21. 4:15 I should add: Isn't it premature to grade USAT's new website and print design?

    It hasn't been three months yet, and the paper only recently disclosed a newsroom staff restructuring.

    Having said that, I'm open to the idea of discussing the changes.

  22. She's hot. But I don't know if I would go so far as to call her click-worthy.

    That's certainly not why this thread is drawing comments.

    The reason is that it has to do with MB or Marketing. And those seem to draw the most attention.

    And that's just good business by the man running the Blog.

    Plain and simple, 4:15.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  23. That's rich, 7:24. You make a non-argument, supported with nothing factual, then tack on some kissing up to Hopkins and finally some sort of snotty conclusion that implies you actually proved something.

    You did summarize this place in a nutshell.

  24. One more "executive" G A N N E T T could do without!

  25. Boinkable!
    Is she within reach too?

  26. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  27. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  28. One more review by Liane Bonin Starr of this "marketing" fiasco:

    But trot off they do, and Joanna introduces the designers to Sandra Micek, SVP Marketing, USA Today. She has a painfully frozen smile. The theme of this week's challenge? Every picture tells a story! Wow, that's fresh! And they have to choose one fan's Tweeted picture to inspire a fabulous outfit! Sandra wants them to think of a headline for their look. I really want someone to pick "War brutality continues in Syria" or "Economic recovery unlikely in Greece." That would be one heck of an outfit!

    The winner gets an editorial in USA Today. Everyone's so excited to be featured in an article that will be read by the people who aren't smart enough to read a real newspaper or who happen to be staying at a Best Western!

  29. So you arrogant newsies, STOP BLAMING SANDRA MICEK for this silliness (the woman is incapable of any marketing since Blue Ball Banikarim hired her two years ago).

    No, this great brainstorm belonged to USAT "Style Editor" Alison Maxwell.

    So take that, newsies.

  30. Personally, i wouldnt care if she posed in Modern MILF magazine if it boosts revenue or enhances traffic to the website. Let's give her the benefit of the doubt for now and see what she, Murkco and Mariyam (now known as 3M) bring to the table going forward.

    We are mired knee deep in newsroom retreads and unqualified editors and reporters. Despite their annoying efforts at self promoting, I find the Marketing team a fresh of breath air compared to the windbags that inhabit mich of Crystal Palace.

  31. 4:52, you have actually seen some of the unsophosticated crap we are running, havent you?

  32. I watched the video of the show and thought at first that I was seeing a Saturday Night Life parody (designers named Suede and Ivy! British dominatrix show host!)

    It certainly doesn't target my old fart white guy demographic. But the entire cast seemed genuinely inspired by the prospect of appearing in USA Today. I found that a good thing. I also found nothing unseeming about featuring the winner in USA Today. We run scores of stories about reality show contestants.
    Given the subject manner, I dont think we are crossing much of an ethical line here. And who knows what ad deals Micek could get out of this with Lifetime and other possible TV Networks in the future?

    In the nebulous world of marketing, this isnt all a bad thing.

    Better this than Purpose Walls and On the Road missives from you know who.

  33. Sandra Micek: Would you?

    It’s a question asks, another Gannett entity that also relies on visual story telling.

    So, why not ask it there as it seems only logical to expose more attractive members of USAT’s staff, Deal Chicken’s and others from Gannett’s other struggling ventures that could use broader (no pun intended) brand awareness.

    Considering the values Banikarim displayed with her “balls” memo it’s a bit surprising that hasn't already begun.

  34. 4:52 Your last paragraph is brilliant.

  35. Surprised this thread came nearly a full two weeks after the episode aired.

  36. I'm on the front lines selling this brand everyday. Trust me, this does absolutely nothing for us. Not a damn thing. If anything, it only makes us look more trivial than ever before. Thanks Maryam and Sandra.

  37. Yes, 9:33, I would. In many locations around the Crystal Palace.

  38. USA Today is a joke. More than ever, it appeals to idiots with short attention spans. Its desperation is seen in everything from its balls to its marketing initiatives. I thought USAT was turning the corner about 10-12 years ago when it was making some pretty good hires, but has now reverted to silly gimmicks and cheap labor that once again make it a laughing stock in the journalism community.

    In general, USAT is stocked with either burned out, scared news veterans who are well-versed in kissing ass or young morons who are in the business for all the wrong reasons. With the exception of a core group of people who are true pros and are saddened by the events in recent years, the place is a complete mess. Anyone wanting to practice serious journalism, who has ethics and doesn't think the newsroom to stoop to the lows it has, should stay the heck away from USAT. Once the novelty of the nice building wears off, you'll hate working there...that is, if you have an ounce of integrity, loyalty and talent.

  39. 10:05 - It's probably because nobody watches the show.

  40. 1:06 duly noted. The core group keeps thing running, but just barely. Many needless obstacles, and it seems to be getting worse by the day. You can only take pride in your work and doing the right thing for so long.

    I am tired of covering for the lazy incompetents who do nothing all day, but reap the biggest rewards. If there were an alternative, I would be gone in a hearbeat.

  41. Time to ask the question again:
    What has this marketing team done in the two years they have been here. Just give me 3 things. Actually, I'd be happy with one.

  42. 1. Purpose Walls.
    2. Pricey outside consultants.
    3. On the Road with Banikarim missives.

  43. In the picture, you can see the crease on her throat where her collar was pressing too tightly.

  44. Loved the show. You people act like you are curing cancer. Lighten up

  45. Jim Hopkins doesn't deserve the infantile attacks that are made here.He does. He encourages an environment of slams, with few to no facts used as support. He deserves everything he gets and more.


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.