USA Today president and publisher Tom Curley, who relates
how the self-examination process is improving the paper sp.
A MAJOR MARK of a successful newspaper is getting rid of bad managers who produce good results," said Tom Curley, president and publisher of USA Today.
Bad managers who get bad results were dealt with quickly on the national daily, but for years, operations people defended abrasive managers who undermined employee morale while turning in high performances, he recalled in a speech to the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association in Seattle.
"Perhaps this is the biggest change at USA Today," Curley stated. "We've come to understand exactly how much damage a bad manager can do. We've also come to appreciate how many good people can produce good results, so we expect people to do good work and work well, too. We're spending a lot of time learning how to get good results and work better."
This approach has led to the dismissal of a half dozen USA Today managers, who Curley contends, were subverting the paper's values.
"Too many organizations still tolerate these kinds of people," he said. "Our mantra is to replace high-maintenance people with high-impact people who make a difference in the marketplace. Trade enough high-maintenance people for high-impact people and your organization can fly."
The policy, according to Curley, is part of USA Today's effort to define success at a time when newspapers are beset with problems of declining readership, tough competition in the marketplace, sky-high newsprint prices and audience targeting.
Newspapers, he argued, should think of success in terms of the whole company, not just the circulation, news or advertising departments.
Curley said his travels throughout the country have convinced him that few newspapers "have the courage to define success. Most don't understand the significance of the changing issue they are facing. Some are unwilling to or unable to take on their internal turfs. Others already are too weak to generate the resources internally."
After USA Today became profitable, the speaker related, it began a self-examination process, starting with the question: "What would success look like as we turned twenty?"
First, Curley said, the paper hired the ad agency BBDO to study the media marketplace, which included a 5,000-person interview study of the nation's media consumption habits.
One result of the survey was a decision for a major investment in an online service that now has more than 70 employees and a popular site on the World Wide Web, he noted.
Defining success came almost instantly, Curley said, but getting a "buy-in" from all departments took 30 days.
The initial phase of USA Today's success, he continued, was creating a high-quality, state-of-the-art printing distribution network followed by a marketing drive to become profitable.
"The first two phases took us longer than we would have preferred, but everyone in every job knew the destination," Curley said. "We never have a problem with people being on different pages. We only allow one page in our playbook."
Phase three, market leadership, is the most challenging one, the publisher asserted. This, he said, calls for the development of primary readership, "which leads to significant advertising market share in core categories and eventually delivers a healthy return on sales, something that would lead to greater rewards for our employees, our customers and our shareholders."
Getting senior management to understand and commit to the goals took about 15 months, which surprised him, Curley recounted, although other CEO's had warned him to expect it.
USA Today's game plan has paid off in the following ways, Curley said:
? Circulation growth of 3% overall and double-digit growth in its target market.
? Later press times of 30 to 50 minutes, depending on location, for late-breaking news.
? Becoming No. 1 in airline advertising market share.
In addition, Curley said, the paper has sparked up editorial content with the hiring of Jill Lieber, senior writer from Sports Illustrated; Susan Page as White House correspondent; Walter Shapiro for political commentary; Dottie Enrico and Melanie Wells covering Madison Ave., among other newcomers on the staff.
Overall, Curley asserted, defining success means "making choices about customers and delivering them. A lot of organizations are afraid to walk away from certain existing customers."
USA Today, he said, has embarked on a 10-year program to help the circulation department reallocate resources.
"This picture actually works for everybody, including the newsroom," Curley maintained. "By way of self-confession, we found we were spending a majority of our time on unprofitable and untargeted work."
The present era, he concluded, need not be one of "doom and gloom, layoff and cutback, year after year."
The information age, Curley told his audience, is about "bold ideas and grand moves ? not incrementalism and top-down control. It is centered on speed and networks. It is an entrepreneur's dream. No longer are barriers to markets so great that competition is stifled. No longer do the people at the top of the pyramid have all the marbles. The innovator has unparalleled access to the marketplace."
?("Our mantra is to replace high-maintenance people with high-impact people who make a difference in the marketplace. Trade enough high-maintenance people for high-impact people and your organization can fly.") [Caption]
?(? Tom Curley, USA Today president and publisher) [Photo & Caption]
By: M.L. Stein A successful newspaper must weed them out, according to