USA Today Network Ventures uses 3-pronged content approach for events

By Summer Moore


Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA


As media companies continue to experiment and test to grow revenue, live events are becoming a bigger piece of the overall strategy.

When Jason Taylor started what was then called GateHouse Live, the goal was to be another revenue stream for newsrooms. He is a longtime newspaper leader and saw an opportunity to grow this side of the business.

Fast forward five years, and we are now USA Today Network Ventures, the event arm of Gannett, one of the largest newspaper companies in the United States. Our goal is to grow our event audience, and, in turn, grow brand loyalty to USA Today and Gannett newspapers. Communities Choice and the USA Today High School Sports Awards are examples.

Once USA Today Network Ventures defined its audience, it created the content they sought.
Once USA Today Network Ventures defined its audience, it created the content they sought.

Because our efforts all support the media company, we feel a lot of responsibility to do well and support the efforts of our partners in the newsrooms.

A good content strategy is imperative to all parts of our business, from news to marketing to events. I joined Ventures nearly a year ago from the news side of our company. What I’ve learned from more than 10 years in various media companies is that content strategy comes down to three main components:

  • Figuring out who your audience is.
  • Finding out what information they want and need.
  • Listening to feedback from them — directly and with analytics.

1. Figure out your audience

This is a vital first step. It can be done in a multitude of ways, from design thinking to hiring someone to do market research to doing it yourself using a combination of listening and institutional knowledge. I’m sure many other strategies are out there, but these are the ones I’ve seen work well.

At USA Today Network Ventures, we are always researching audiences. Each of our events is targeted to a key demographic based on research and knowledge from our experienced event directors and managers.

For example, our American Influencer Awards (AIA) show is coming up in November. The audience for this show is young, trendy, fanatic, and mainly female. According to our research, they like entertainment and celebrity news. They want to hear from influencers. They want tips and tricks, and they never leave their phones.

Once we were armed with that information, we moved to step two.

2. Use data to figure out what information your audience wants

The audience for AIA is looking for exclusive and inclusive information.

We gather data during the different phases of this programme. First, the public is asked to nominate their favourite influencers in beauty, fitness, fashion, and lifestyle. Next, finalists are decided using the number of nominations each influencer got as well as input from an advisory board. Then finalists go back to the public for a vote.

This year, we saw more than 1 million users to our Web site from outside the United States. We saw heavy traffic from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Colombia. That means we must be thinking about producing content in Spanish.

According to our affinity research, we have people looking for information such as food, apparel, shopping, entertainment news, video content, and reality shows. None of that is particularly surprising, but it’s always a good idea to do a “gut check” with your analytics to make sure you have it right. Ideally, we would also be talking to many of our nominators, voters, and followers one-on-one and in groups. We don’t have the staff for that yet, but it’s in the plan.

We have one full-time content creator (Robyn Neal), and we hired a social media partner to help us as well. Since this is obviously a very social-heavy event, we rely on the social partner to post so we keep engagement consistent.

Neal is truly a gem. She is a terrific on-camera personality, so we decided it was time to start testing.

3. Listening to feedback

We started by reaching out to influencers and asking if they would be interested in an interview with Neal for a story or going live with her on Instagram. The responses flowed in, allowing Neal to create many stories and videos in the last few months. You can find the stories here, and Instagram Lives on the AIA Instagram channel under the IGTV section.

As I mentioned, we are in our first year of hiring for and producing specific content creation for this event, so now it’s all about listening to feedback. Are we providing the right content? The numbers say we are. We have grown our social followers, our newsletter sign-ups, our nominations, and voting numbers significantly this year.

Is that all because of Neal? Of course not. We have an incredible marketing and event team that works around the clock. Many people have contributed to that success. So how do we measure the content?

We look at numbers. Are the numbers on her content growing? What is the best time of day to post? Who are the best influencers to talk to? All of that will be tested and re-tested throughout the year.

Other than the data, however, the feedback we have received directly from our audience is just as important. We have received e-mails from influencers and their agents who are raving about the experience. The comments on our Instagram Lives are overwhelmingly positive, and the numbers stay relatively consistent throughout the video, so viewers are staying to the end, which is a strong sign of engagement.

We will talk directly to as many people as we can through this process to get feedback as well. While we sadly cannot have a live event this year thanks to the ever-evolving pandemic, when we can next year (I hope), we will do a lot of in-person interviews with our influencers and audience to determine our content strategy moving forward.

This three-pronged system can be applied to any content strategy. The key is to define the audience, create a content strategy for them using data and conversations, then test, get feedback, and repeat.

About Summer Moore

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