USA Today announces big ad sales shake-up

Updated at 5:10 a.m ET today: Scrambling to boost revenue after last month’s sharp decline, the nation’s top circulation newspaper said yesterday that it hired Money Magazine Publisher Brett Wilson to oversee all advertising sales. The move by Publisher Craig Moon (belowpushes aside Senior Vice President Jeff Webber, who will now be responsible only for the paper’s website sales and business affairs. In a press release, Moon eschewed the usual niceties typically accorded executives like Webber during a big management shift — an omission suggesting Webber might not stay much longer at the Gannett flagship.

Wilson’s appointment as senior vice president of advertising sales comes just two days after USA Today revealed that May’s revenue had plunged 18% — the biggest decline so far this year. The disclosure came in Gannett’s monthly statistical report, which showed across-the-board revenue declines during the month. Wall Street punished Gannett stock in response, sending it skittering 7% since Tuesday — to $23.67 yesterday, a low not seen in 14 years. USA Today‘s outsized role in Gannett’s declining fortunes likely pressured Moon to find a new sales strategy.

Wilson had been Money publisher only since November. A 21-year Time Inc. veteran, he had previously been associate publisher of Time Magazine. He had earlier held other sales posts for Fortune and other magazines.

Webber followed Kelley
Webber’s fall had been rumored. A Gannett Blog reader said in a comment, just two days ago: “A good friend tells me he is on his way out.” In his revised role, Webber’s job as chief of USAToday.com sales might have been a plum, high-profile assignment — given that the Web is key to future growth. But yesterday’s forced management shuffle clearly wasn’t a promotion.

Webber had been senior vice president of advertising for USA Today since 2006, and publisher of the paper’s website since 2000. As ad-sales chief, he had replaced Jacki Kelley, who quit to join Web portal Yahoo and then, last fall, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. (Kelley’s husband, former star USA Today reporter Jack Kelley, resigned in disgrace after admitting in 2004 that he’d faked stories for years.)

Earlier: Sales chief Jeff Webber has been pushed aside, Publisher Craig Moon has just disclosed. Replacing Webber: former Money Magazine Publisher Brett Wilson. I’m working off my iPhone again, so can’t write much. I’ll post more later. Comment, below!

What’s next for USA Today’s ad-sales strategy? Your thoughts, in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, use this link from a non-work computer; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

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14 Responses to “USA Today announces big ad sales shake-up”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    It seemed strange that he had as much responsibility as he did. He maintains the publisher and ad position of usatoday.com.

    Something had to give because USA Today has been having some pretty small papers lately and the June
    20th edition is going to be one of the lightest Weekend editions in recent history.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Deck chairs. Titanic. That’s what this boils down to.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    As an aside, anyone know what happened to Jack Kelley. I heard he divorced Jacki, but someone told me that he didn’t and is a househusband. Anyone know for sure?

  4. Anonymous Says:

    As much pressure Gannett generates in becoming leaner and meaner, (read that: do more and do it cheaper) I wonder if Mr. Kelley felt compelled to fabricate stories in trying to please an over-bearing corporation? No excuse, I suppose but it does make one wonder?

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Jeff is a good guy, and like many now being excoriated, was in charge during an almost impossible time. The idea was to make advertising at USA TODAY a seamless, unified newsprint-digital ‘buy’ for clients. But that ignored the targeted, ‘niche’ approach now favored by advertisers. The ad department probably should be broken up more rather than brought together in some phantom quest for a national buy for every ad.

    The Kelleys did not divorce after the scandal and are said to be still together.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Now can somebody please get rid of Moon, one of the nastiest individuals on the planet.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    anon 11:08a…Pathetic. Jeff is lame and has had a target on his back for a while. Jackie Kelley was great and we lost her to Yahoo and now at Martha Stewart. It is about time Moon sees the light. Webber was a circulation guy. That is a far way to move that deck chair.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I just love this kind of shit where you remove the person who got you were you got to. If Moon hired him, why not Moon to resign?
    Shit travels downhill. Same old Gannett crapola.

    All starting to fall apart.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    anon 11:43…amen. What has he helped sell?

    Jeff was placed in an impossible situation after Jacki left. He is one of the most genuine people you could meet. I think he had too many responsibilities and not enough support. Some of the real ad sales people and VPs have dropped the ball.

    Can someone get Carolyn on the phone and beg her to come back?

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Jeff is a very smart guy, but definitely not advertising SVP material. it takes a lot of charisma, drive, creativity, and an outgoing personality to lead an ad organization, not just intelligence.

    Jacki K was the best they ever had. Hopefully the new guy knows what he is doing. My guess is he will be over both print and digital soon — you have to sell the entire brand, not just products, in this media world.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    This is a major move and a smart coup. And probably in the works for months, most likely since last year. Recent results, my guess, have nothing to do with it. Wish best to both.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Oh,let’s not get too sentimental for Jacki Kelley. Actually, she wasn’t the best USA Today had. Carolyn Vesper Bivens was the best and it was a huge loss when she left. Here’s a key question — what did Kelley accomplish? Not much. She was pretty much all show. When she took over after Carolyn left, things began to slide. As mentioned by someone earlier, Webber is one of the most genuine people you can meet. He was put in the tough position to correcting the slide and developing a two-platform ad strategy. The new guy likely will make changes and shake things up after he assesses the existing leadership and sales staff.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Brett Wilson is a great choice. He is one of the most respected ad management executives at Time Inc. and in the total industry. Time Inc’s loss is USA Today’s gain.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    coming late to this party, but wanted to chime in as well.

    Having worked with Carolyn, Jacki and Jeff, I can say that Jacki was the most motivational to the sales force and she was the right person in the post-9/11 era that hit many advtg categories pretty hard. That svp position, as it is rumored to be, is a setup for failure because the old guard VPs and directors cannot be easily replaced and shuffled

    Jeff is a genuine guy, but was pretty much a non-entity to most of the sales force. BUt I’m sure he’ll land on his feet wherever he ends up.

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