'USA Today' gives 'Money' a revamp

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Will a revamp of USA Today’s "Money" section pay off in dollars?

The Gannett Co. newspaper on Dec. 1 unveiled several new wrinkles in its "Money" section. The changes are intended, in part, to attract more b-to-b marketers, who have a high opinion of the publication once mocked as "McPaper" and its power as an advertising vehicle.

"We found [in proprietary research] that many C-level executives see it as a must-read and use it for a high-level skim to get news from around the world," said Teresa Poggenpohl, partner-director of advertising and brand management at Accenture, which regularly runs spreads and full-page ads in the newspaper.

The changes to the "Money" section include a column by Ron Insana, anchor of CNBC’s "Street Signs." The monthly column, "Talking Business with Ron Insana," has a question-and-answer format. The debut column, which ran Dec. 1, featured an interview with Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric Co.

Insana’s column will alternate with three other features, which together USA Today terms the "Executive Suite." "Today’s Entrepreneur," which profiles a small-business entrepreneur, debuted Dec. 8 with a story about Peter Veldman, president of Tire Rack. Rounding out "Executive Suite" will be "Advice from the Top," in which top executives will offer business tips, and "Today’s CEO Profile," which will feature human interest stories about prominent CEOs.

Quarterly reports planned

Additionally, USA Today plans to offer special quarterly reports on technology and investments in the "Money" section.

The technology reports will examine how a company has used information technology to streamline its business. The investment reports will decipher corporate financial reports to help investors make better decisions. The reports will begin appearing in the first quarter of 2004, said Jacki Kelley, USA Today’s senior VP-advertising.

B-to-b marketers such as Microsoft Corp., Dell, Accenture and Sprint PCS advertise in USA Today—often in the "Money" section but also in news and sports—to reach a business audience. Overall, ad pages in the newspaper through the third quarter of this year totaled 3,338, down slightly from 3,431 ad pages in the first three quarters of 2002, according to figures supplied by USA Today. Despite the dip in pages, Gannett reported that ad revenue increased 2% year to date, compared with the year-earlier period.

The newspaper has the largest print average paid daily circulation in the country, with a total of 2.2 million, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations statement for the 26 weeks ended Sept. 28. But it is not the large audience that attracts b-to-b advertisers; it is the newspaper’s core business executive readership.

From its founding in 1982, USA Today was intended to gain readership among people on the road. "They reach so many business travelers," said Caroline Riby, media director at Roberts Communications. USA Today’s Kelley agreed, with a caveat: "At any given time a lot of our readers are on the road, but a higher percentage of our readers are not on the road."

The newspaper also has a reputation as an economical national buy. "It’s their reach and efficiency that makes them very attractive," said Tyler Schaeffer, senior VP-director of media brand planning at Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, whose client Samsung has used the newspaper for both consumer and b-to-b ads. USA Today, for instance, charges $231,700 for a color spread, according to its 2003 national run of press rate card. The Wall Street Journal charges nearly the same ($215,584.20) for a single color page, according to the non-contract rates for its U.S. edition.

"USA Today is a more general-interest pub [with mostly transient single-copy circulation], whereas the Journal’s whole mission is providing the most vital business news and info [to an audience of long-term subscribers]," Scott Schulman, senior VP-sales and marketing at the Journal, wrote in response to e-mailed questions. "Our reach, influence and reputation among top management and business decision-makers is much greater than USA Today’s."

Study shows C-level reach

But Accenture, which also runs ads in the Journal and The New York Times, has USA Today in the mix because Accenture’s proprietary research, which consisted of in-depth interviews with top executives, showed that the newspaper reached C-level executives, the consultancy’s chief target.

"What we found very compelling—and contrary to our belief—is that a lot of elite senior executives liked the short writing style [of USA Today]," Poggenpohl said. "The to-the-point writing style enabled them to be more efficient and have a quick read. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t read other things, but that we found they like the quick read of what’s happening in the world was very eye-opening for us."

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