Kramer embarks on reshaping 'USA Today'

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When Larry Kramer was editor of the San Francisco Examiner in the 1980s, one of his responsibilities was managing gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, author of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Kramer, president-publisher of Gannett Co.'s USA Today, recently tackled another tough challenge: spearheading the redesigns of the brand's newspaper, website and mobile apps. “Hunter was amazing, and with amazing talent came the challenge of trying to manage talent,” said Kramer, who took charge of USA Today in May. “This place has amazing talent, too, and I have to steer it and move it.” Gannett announced the changes to USA Today in September. Primary among them is a new logo—a large circle in colors corresponding to the publication's news sections. The look and functionality of all of the brand's digital platforms have been updated with bigger images and more graphics. In the six-month period ended March 25, the average weekday circulation of USA Today's print and digital editions was 1.8 million, essentially flat from the year-earlier period, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. In an interview with BtoB, Kramer discussed how the redesigns will affect USA Today's marketing efforts. BtoB: What are your priorities for melding the brand's print, Web and mobile products, and developing new revenue streams? Larry Kramer: We have a lot of plans for that. It's not as simple as just saying we're going to create deeper partnerships. We need to be more involved with our customers—both our readers and our advertising partners—in everything from transactions to engagement. BtoB: How will the redesign help boost the appeal of your print product among advertisers? Kramer: Among other things, we think it will bring in more readers, which helps advertisers. But it's designed, really, to be a much more interactive device, meaning we're programming the whole paper and we're challenging advertisers to be as bold as we are. We're going to offer more interesting positions, the ability to sponsor more areas of the paper and certain types of coverage. And the paper is now much more closely tied to a lot of our digital platforms. So I think the idea of doing multiplatform campaigns will be more appealing. BtoB: The revamped website resembles a tablet version of the newspaper. Will that attract bigger advertising budgets? Kramer: Absolutely. There are a couple things happening there at once. Yes, we're using the horizontal navigation that you're used to in a tablet. More important, we've changed the advertising so that it's much bigger units and (the ad) is always above the fold. ... By recreating the page-turning methodology, it makes it easier to present an advertiser on a full page because a reader doesn't feel trapped, or blocked or angry that something came down and blocked his content BtoB: Do you intend to stick with a free model for your online content, as opposed to other Gannett newspapers that have introduced a metered model? Kramer: For now. Because we have a mass market, there's a considerable amount of display advertising that's out there to support this model. Whenever you're doing something new, it's good to be free because people don't really understand or appreciate how good something is unless they test it. And it's hard to test it if you charge them. In the local case, those papers really own those markets and have content you can't get anywhere else. A lot of our content we have to prove is better than other people's.
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