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Event Planning & Management
10 January 2020 

12 Imaginative Events and Activations from USA Today

Jacob Thomas
12 Imaginative Events and Activations from USA Today

USA Today knows a thing or two about hosting successful events. Learn the top tricks and best practices they use and how to apply them to your own event strategy.

USA Today is an internationally distributed American newspaper that’s been in circulation since 1982. It covers a range of both global and local stories on diverse topics such as politics, international affairs, sports scores, and pop culture. It’s estimated that roughly 2.6 million people read its stories, either in print or online, every day.

That’s quite the daily reach! But its news reports aren’t the only way that USA Today connects with its target audience. It also hosts numerous events throughout the year.

In this article, we’ll look at 12 events and activations from USA Today and tease out the details you need to know to duplicate the publisher’s success. Sound like a plan? Then keep reading and we’ll get this show on the road!

1. Wine and Food Experience

Wine and Food Experience - USA Today event marketingSource: Wine and Food Experience

USA Today’s Wine and Food Experience is an “American culinary tour for fans and connoisseurs alike.” Both big and small cities, from Brooklyn, New York to Naples, Florida, hosted the tour in 2019 and invited attendees to come, meet with local chefs, and savor delicious dishes. National culinary leaders like Martha Stewart, Scott Conant of “Chopped” fame, and WWE champions and winemakers Brie and Nikki Bella got in on the action at various stops. All in all, the Wine and Food Experience is an excellent annual event.

Key Takeaway: Why host one event when you can host an entire event tour, series, or roadshow? If your company has the means to plan multiple gatherings in different areas of the world, you’ll experience various benefits. Chief among them is the opportunity to connect with folks in your target audience who might not be able to attend your gatherings held in cities outside their immediate area.

2. One Day University

One Day University - USA Today event marketingSource: News Media Alliance

One Day University (OneDayU to the cool kids) is an awesome idea. Basically, USA Today brings in the world’s most fascinating professors to inspire, enlighten, and entertain audience members for a few hours at a time. Much like the Wine and Food Experience (mentioned above), One Day University takes place in multiple cities and features top-end talent — only award-winning professors with exemplary reviews from their students are asked to speak. Fortunately, all of the amazing information shared isn’t reserved for attendees alone. Many of OneDayU’s powerful lectures are recorded and available for future viewing.

Key Takeaway: Whether you’re hosting an hour-long lecture or a full-blown industry conference, we always recommend that you record your event sessions for future use. You can then sell the recordings, use them as an incentive for people to sign up for your company’s email list, create promo material for next year’s gathering, or anything else that strikes your fancy!

3. 2016 Presidential Debate

2016 Presidential Debate - USA Today event marketingSource: USA Today

The 2016 American presidential race was one of the most divisive in recent memory. Many people had extremely strong and passionate opinions regarding the two candidates. Whether you were in Donald Trump’s corner or part of Team Clinton, there’s one thing we can all agree on: the entire race and the final debate, especially, were quite the spectacle. USA Today took advantage of this fact and live-streamed the final debate on their Facebook page.

Key Takeaway: When it comes to the technology you use to manage and host your events, the live-streaming tech should definitely be a part of your stack. Live streams will extend your events’ reach and allow your company to interact with folks who would otherwise not be able to attend your gatherings. And given the plethora of streaming options available today, adding this element to each of your events doesn’t need to be difficult!

4. Storytellers Project

Storytellers Project - USA Today event marketingSource: Storytellers Project

According to USA Today, the Storytellers Project is “a nationwide series of live storytelling nights where anyone, from neighbors to notables, can step on stage and share a true, first-person story with their community.” Each of these events, which have given voice to more than 6,000 important stories since the event’s inception in 2011, is hosted by a USA Today journalist.

Key Takeaway: Looking for new event marketing ideas. Embrace storytelling! Amazing stories make the world go round. Whether we’re watching the next big Hollywood blockbuster, binging Netflix, or reading reviews on a product we’re interested in purchasing, storytelling is an essential part of the human experience. So use great stories in your B2C and B2B event marketing efforts to help humanize your brand and explain the benefits of attending your events.

5. Sports Awards

Sports Awards - USA Today event marketingSource: Sports Awards

The Sports Awards is USA Today’s way of honoring and celebrating high school athletics by shining a light on inspirational performances and accomplishments — both on and off the field. One of the more prestigious awards at these events is the I AM SPORT Award, which recognizes student-athletes who volunteer their time to better their communities and the folks who live in them. USA Today’s Sports Awards is proudly sponsored by a few major brands including Adidas and La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries.

Key Takeaway: Event sponsorship is an important element of any company’s event strategy. By securing partners to help shoulder the financial burden of hosting conferences, training seminars, and trade expos, you’ll reduce risk, have opportunities to go “bigger” with all your event types, and reach new potential customers.

6. “What America Wants” Marketing Campaign

What America Wants Marketing Campaign - USA Today event marketingSource: The Farm

USA Today isn’t just a newspaper, it’s also an engaging on and offline platform that delivers stories that matter to people in various communities around the world. In order to make this known to its target audience, USA Today launched the “What America Wants” campaign, which generated more than 112 million impressions in an eight-week span.

Key Takeaway: USA Today’s “What America Wants” campaign reminds us to think outside the box in regards to event branding and promotion. Just because a specific strategy or tactic worked in years past doesn’t mean it will continue to. Always be on the lookout for new ways to market your gatherings and reach previously untapped audiences.

7. The Edison Awards

The Edison Awards - USA Today event marketingSource: The Edison Awards

Named after one of the greatest innovators of all time, Thomas Edison, the Edison Awards seek to recognize, honor, and foster innovation. The award ceremony has been around since 1987 and has bestowed prestigious accolades on notable organizations (such as IBM for its next-gen computing prowess, Major League Baseball for Statcast, and Unilever for developing the world’s first dry wash spray). Have an unrecognized innovator in your life? Nominate them for an Edison Award on the organization’s website and get them the recognition they deserve! We should mention that USA Today does not host this event, but they do sponsor it.

Key Takeaway: Earlier we talked about finding sponsors for your events. Now, let’s flip that around and talk about sponsoring events hosted by other organizations. That’s right, proper corporate event management should include these opportunities as well. Look for conferences and other gatherings that serve a similar audience to yours. Then investigate whether your company can sponsor them and get its name in front of their potential customers. This is a great way to boost event ROI, by the way!

8. The “National-Local” Model

USA Today is widely known for applying the network television business model to its flagship newspaper. If you’re unfamiliar with how network TV usually operates, let us enlighten you. In a nutshell, national broadcast operations plug their extensive resources into a grid of smaller stations, which allows them to effectively deliver local news in cities around the world. USA Today is taking this same approach by inserting national news sections in its local dailies. This strategy has helped USA Today increase circulation and boosts revenue.

Key Takeaway: What can we learn from this example? The importance of meeting your audience where they’re at with your events. Just like USA Today, a national mega-paper uses its resources to produce local news stories in small communities around the world, your events team should also do what it can to cater to specific demographics within its target market. You can do this by hosting event series as we’ve already discussed, local training sessions, and occasional conferences aimed at subsets of your entire audience.

9. GET Creative

GET Creative - USA Today event marketingSource: USA Today

GET Creative is USA Today’s in-house, branded content studio. Do you work for a large corporation with a well-known brand name? Maybe you’re an up and coming entrepreneur from the Midwest with a great business idea and a story to tell. Whatever situation you find yourself in, GET Creative wants to help you develop your brand story and reach the world with your products and ideas.

Key Takeaway: If your events team is a well-oiled machine, perhaps you should consider hosting events for other, non-competing organizations. This strategy will allow you to grow your company’s brand, build partnerships with other businesses, and boost revenue. Not every company out there will want to spend resources running events for other businesses. But if the tactic fits your organization’s big-picture outlook, give it a try!

10. Chat With Sheryl Sandberg

Chat With Sheryl Sandberg - USA Today event marketingSource: USA Today

Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, a celebrated author, and a bonafide billionaire. This is exactly why USA Today hosted a live chat with Sheryl and broadcast it on Facebook back in 2017.

Key Takeaway: The truth is you need to secure top speakers for your events. If you don’t have recognizable names delivering keynotes at your next conference, you’ll probably have a hard time convincing people to buy tickets. But don’t worry, you don’t need to blow your entire annual events budget to get a top speaker. Expensive celebrities aren’t required. Instead, just secure speakers who your target audience has heard of and will respect. These could even be knowledgeable folks within your own organization!

11. Food Truck Mashup

Food Truck Mashup - USA Today event marketingSource: Food Truck Mashup

Food Truck Mashup is a competition-style festival that pits popular food trucks from different cities against each other in a bite-by-bite showdown. In 2019, the event was held in four different cities: Louisville, KY, Brandon, MS, Cathedral City, CA, and Lansing, MI and each location featured outdoor entertainment, live music, and consumer votes.

Key Takeaway: Never underestimate the power of live competition and its ability to draw a crowd. From hackathons to cook-offs, brainstorm ways to entertain your event guests by pitting some of them (or a few participating companies) against each other in a friendly battle to win a prize. What should your prize be? That’s easy: whatever will be enjoyed by your target market. Gift cards, trophies, and/or bragging rights are usually suitable.

12. VR Stories

VR Stories - USA Today event marketingSource: USA Today

VR Stories isn’t a specific event, it’s a new way that USA Today puts everyday people in the middle of the events already happening. By accessing the USA Today mobile app and donning a VR headset, folks can experience the news as if they were actually standing next to the reporter delivering the story. Imagine learning the results of an Indy car race, for example, by digitally standing on the race track and seeing the cars race by! It’s an incredible way to learn about current events and connect with amazing stories.

Key Takeaway: VR Stories is only possible because of modern technology. In fact, technology is responsible for producing many of the amazing things we look forward to when we frequent events, from amazing light shows to top-notch audiovisual displays. We encourage you to take advantage of modern tech — even if it’s only by using event software to help ensure your conferences, training seminars, and other gatherings go off without a hitch.

Main Takeaways: Host an Event Like USA Today

The events team at USA Today obviously knows how to host a winning event. And while we’ve dedicated this entire article to uncovering the secrets behind their success, here are the top three things you need to know to host a gathering like USA Today:

  1. Put Your Target Audience First: The people you’re attempting to serve with your events should always come first. What do they want to get out of your conferences and training seminars? Once you know, do your best to give it to them.
  2. Event Series Are a Great Strategy: As you’ve just seen, USA Today goes all-in on event series. The company rarely hosts a stand-alone gathering, it seems. If your organization has the resources, follow suit and experience the benefits.
  3. Invest in Modern Technology: Finally, USA Today regularly invests in modern technology. Whether you’re interested in VR, live streaming, event software, or some other tech, do your best to incorporate it into the events you host.


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