USA Today focuses on understanding its audience and brand

By Shelley Seale


Austin, Texas, United States


Maribel Perez Wadsworth, president of the USA Today Network, spoke at the INMA World Congress of News Media about one of the biggest cultural changes currently underway at USA Today — which is a focus on understanding its audience at a deep level and being really committed to serving their needs. This is coupled with also understanding who USA Today is, as a brand.

“What’s our brand equity?” Wadsworth said. “What do people really turn to us for? Because in a very crowded media landscape, it really only makes sense to play to your strengths with your audience.”

Wadsworth tells her team members that their path to success resides at that intersection of who they are as a company and who they serve. To that end, the company has worked hard for the team to be smarter about who they serve, as well as to deeply understand the strengths that USA Today brings.

“Access to the kind of data and research behind those audiences — the things they come to us for, what they care about — and making sure that we put that data in the hands of our journalists has been really important and really transformative,” Wadsworth said.

USA Today created analytical tools that allow every person in every newsroom to have access to the data about the content they are creating, to know what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t work.

“That’s the greatest opportunity to understand what do I stop doing in order to focus on what’s going to be more impactful? Those dashboards that our journalists see every single day, they don’t only see their own information, they see how all of their peers are performing as well.”

This fuels a healthy sense of competition, she said, with no one wanting to be at the bottom of that dashboard.

“They’re certainly competitive, but they also want the work they do to have impact, to connect with audiences. And so having that information is incredibly empowering to them.”

The biggest concern that keeps Wadsworth up at night is speed — is the team moving fast enough?

“I think we are very focused on the right things, and I think we’re focused on truly narrowing our focus and doing fewer things better. The problem that I have is are we doing all that we’re doing fast enough? Is it enough, at any given moment? I try so hard to keep us from this place of incrementalism. If it’s not going to be meaningful and we know that pretty quickly, then we should not do it. We should stop doing it so we can focus on where we can drive more impact, and move more quickly there.”

USA Today is better at pivoting from things that don’t work as well than they used to be, Wadsworth said, but she still doesn’t know if that will ever be fast enough.

About Shelley Seale

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