Chief Digital Officer David Payne: Gannett Breaks New Ground by Revamping USA Today’s Digital Platform (VIDEO)

David Payne: SVP & CDO at Gannett Co. Inc.

David Payne: SVP & CDO at Gannett Co. Inc.

“Innovation only happens if you are pissed off…it has to be driven by a passion for fixing something.”

That’s the view of David Payne, SVP and Chief Digital Officer at Gannett Company, explaining what spurred him to take on the risk of completely revamping USA Today’s digital presence.

Payne talked about that overhaul, as well as a range of issues facing the digital media industry, as a keynote speaker at the inaugural Chief Digital Officer Summit at Thomson Reuters World headquarters in New York City in February 2013.

A one-on-one conversation was moderated between Payne and Riley McDonough, former SVP/GM Americas, Consumer Publishing, Thomson Reuters.

What we did, Payne said, “was scary for a lot of people.” But after determining that the current business models for digital journalism were simply not sustainable, his approach was to “get serious about this and do something differently.”

So what precisely did Payne do?

The entire digital platform was completely overhauled. “Over the last 18 months,” Payne explained, “we moved all of Gannett from seven ad servers to one; moved USA Today and all of Gannett to one home-grown content management system; built one video production center in Atlanta; centralized video and leveraged the rights; and built one set of databases supporting the website.”

Riley McDonough: Thomson Reuters and David Payne: Gannett Co. Inc.

Riley McDonough: Thomson Reuters and David Payne: Gannett Co. Inc.

He played a video to demonstrate what the new USA Today site looks like, and the audience could see a user clicking and flipping through the newspaper’s section pages, from left to right. Each page displayed a large and compelling picture, along with rows of boxes of images and videos that could be selected and viewed. Native advertisements were presented directly on the same canvas of pages.

That strategy of embedding advertising as part of the content is a key reason “we are at the cutting edge,” said Payne.

In the past, he explained, the way digital media advertising worked was “We deliver a page, put a box on it, and ask people to click on it.” And the reader clicks “once, maybe twice” out of a thousand times. But now “1,000 out of 1,000” people see that advertisement “baked into the context.”

Furthermore, because readers don’t want to click on an ad and be taken somewhere else, the new platform allows the visitor to remain right within the content page.

Yet is it possible to measure the results of this huge initiative?

Yes. Over the last three months, Payne said, the effective CPM rate doubled.

McDonough wondered whether Gannett’s success could be replicated in smaller and medium-size media operations.

David Payne: Gannett Co. Inc., CDO Summit 2013

David Payne: Gannett Co. Inc., CDO Summit 2013

Payne acknowledged that Gannett was in a fortunate position. To pull this off, it had to find top developers, and have them available in-house.

Furthermore, although “everyone is a digital media company now, since companies like Staples, HBO, and GE are all building out sites, they have a problem— how to attract visitors?”

USA Today, Payne said, has millions of people coming to its site frequently throughout the day.

Payne also spoke about several broader issues facing the media industry: how newspapers can continue to serve local interests; the role of citizen journalism; and selling custom vs. traditional ads.

He also addressed the still-contentious matter of free as opposed to fee access.

“The calibration between free and fee,” Payne said, “has not yet gotten to the exact right place.” At present, Payne said, “It’s a mess.” The problem is that consumers don’t really understand the tradeoff. So, he added, we’re “looking for more creative solutions where the consumer makes a clear trade, saying, ‘I want that’ and ‘I’ll give that.’

“If we can do this in a transparent way,” Payne told the audience, “it will be really, really interesting. This is a work-in-progress!”

– by Robert Berkman, exclusively for the CDO Club

Riley McDonough and David Payne, CDO Summit 2013

Riley McDonough and David Payne, CDO Summit 2013

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The second annual Chief Digital Officer Summit will be held on April 22–23, 2014, at Time Warner’s Conference Center, located at One Time Warner Center in New York, N.Y.

Tickets to the next CDO Summit are available now. The 2013 Chief Digital Officer Summit SOLD OUT of tickets, weeks before the summit date, so be sure to reserve your place now.

Keynotes and Featured Speakers

Rachel S. Haot

Chief Digital Officer
State of New York

Sree Sreenivasan

Chief Digital Officer
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Perry Hewitt

Chief Digital Officer
Harvard University

Ken Kragen

Producer
We Are The World
Hands Across America

More Speakers

LisaChoiOwens_74
“Great conference, David Mathison! The topics were relevant, the panelists and speakers top notch, the setting was intimate, and the connections were truly valuable for any senior executive in the digital space. Thanks for pulling it together. I really look forward to attending next year.”
Lisa Choi Owens
SVP/GM
Scripps Networks

23bd37b
“The Chief Digital Officer Summit was engaging as much as it was informative. Bringing these incredible leaders together in one place and for one day speaks to David Mathison’s extensive network, his ability to understand the needs of his clients, and to be ahead of the curve in this important space. It was a great use of my time, and I learned more than I ever thought I would. Great networking as well!”
Sandy Soto
VP Executive Talent Acquisition
HSNi

margaret-molloy
“The Chief Digital Officer Summit was outstanding. Why? Candid panels with top players in the digital community. Splendid break-time conversations. And, savvy facilitation, Mathison Style.”
Margaret Molloy
Chief Marketing Officer
Velocidi

amanda-jones-orengo
“The Chief Digital Officer Summit was a very relevant topic for today’s times. I was impressed by the caliber and diversity of the panel speakers, all of whom had something unique and valuable to offer. A great opportunity to learn from the best.”
Amanda Jones-Orengo
Director
Towers Watson

More Endorsements

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  • Robert Stack

    Fascinating to see how newspapers and magazines are revamping their digital platform to insure they are relevant in the delivery of content to the readers they serve.

  • Elizabeth Bryan

    Truly amazing and innovative. Kudos to David Payne for getting mad enough to make huge change. That is the HEART of what needs to happen with many of our world issues and we should all be taking David’s cue.

    • Robert Berkman

      Thanks for the note Elizabeth. I got the sense that a lot of his colleagues in the audience were inspired by the risk he took–and they let him know that they admired him for taking those bold steps.