local media insider

Gannet CMO: Nine big ideas that transform companies

Alisa Cromer

Maryam Banikarim, CMO, Gannett Corp Inc, is in charge of helping transform a local media company its 83 daily newspapers, 23 TV stations, and digital media assets that include PointRoll, ShopLocal and CareerBuilder. Hired in 2011 to help the multibillion-dollar company tell its story, she shared these nine powerful ideas that transform companies at the Local Online Advertising Conference. 

1. News comes from anywhere 
News editors are no longer the gate-keepers for what is considered news. Examples of social-first news include  the hyper-viral story about Alec Baldwin escorted off a plane, tweeted to the world by his seatmate. And when returning soldiers were charged  for their extra baggage,  someone posted a "Do you think this is right or wrong?" question on Facebook, starting a firestorm that resulted in Delta changing its policy, announced in 24 hours on twitter.

When everyone with an iPhone is breaking the news, the job of the brands is different.  So Gannett remade its own brand with a "purpose" to improve its communities, which allows it to take advantage of how news spreads by tapping into people's beliefs and passions. 

2. Interns are the new bosses
"20 somethings are actually the CEO's in new media companies.The ideas that 20 something are not to be heard but seen is all over."  Banikarim sources the concept of reverse mentoring, from bestselling The Ten Faces of Innovation.  

"In this day and age, essential to learn from digital natives. Today it is not about taking the interns out for coffee, you need to have them sit at the table with you."

In 2009 Gannett to created a young talent development program. To bring this young talent pool to the executive table, Gannett asked them to participate in the Digital First news project.  

"A senior executive looked around the (original team) and said, 'We need to find people who don't look like us. And what he meant by that is people who are not old...The project took an incredibly different run by collaborating people who actually look at the world in a different way, and who are  more digital, mobile and socially oriented."

3. Relevance over rules

Rules need to be continualy challenged in light of  these new paradigms. For example, the rules had always been to "lead with brand, follow with story."

"Today you have to mix things up. After I started, someone wanted to know if it was ok to use bitly.com  to shorten URL's to share news. At Gannett, that went against the brand policy. The choice was do we stick to the rules, or change. So we made using bitly the new corporate standard. Now the local sites have created shorter links with their  own abbreviated brand, since even in short form consumer prefer recognizable brands.

4. Don't be afraid to share the process 

"The old rule for trusted news was that you needed to have two sources to confirm the facts before breaking the story,"  but the need to break news faster, means commenting on the process of reporting, as well as delivering information, so that readers can assess the degree of accuracy for themselves.

And example in fall of 2002,  a rumor circulated online that captured journalist Daniel Pearl had been found It was covered by all the media except CNN, who was waiting to confirm. The rumor was wrong, and CNN  was "high-fiving itself for waiting."

But to its audience,  it looked like they missed the story.

"It's ok to say, we are waiting for confirmation. Today (Gannett) will tell you if they think it's not true and are waiting for the story to be confirmed. Transparency is name of the game."

She also points at new experiments at live video tape of editoral board meetings as "shocking to us," but a sign of the new paradigm of transparency in action.

5. No such thing as a quick fix 
"Remember the day that Timewarner merged with AOL. Was it quick? Yes. Was it a fix? No."  

Banikarim points to Jim Collins' book,  Great by Choice,  about companies who succeeed in times of chaos doing the right things every day, rather than giant fast initiatives. 

"The way through chaos is with fanatic discipline...You need a bueprint for growth and local marketing services growth. A steady pace that is deliberate." 

6. Lead with digital

In the book Leading with Ethnic Insights,  a key McDonald's  executive saw that the insights around its ethnic marketing should apply to the overall marketing rather than the other way around. "If they are setting trends, multiculturalism cannot be an after thought."

Similarily digital - and especially social media - can no longer be considered an "also-ran."

"Everyone on the team (at Gannett) needs to have a social media presence. It it about muscle memory. It's not enough to have one person, everyone has to be digital."

7. Sell solutions 
Banikarim pointed out that cable originated solution-based selling when it went after television's market share, by offering more alternatives.

"I was at turner in the nineties... we focused on the marketers business and it worked. So this is not a new concept, that was 20 years ago. But it is important that .. marketers overwhelmed... and solution seling is how we work with all of our clients."

One of the most successful Gannett campaigns was for  American Express, which needed a strategy to promote small business Saturdays. The campaign achieved 72% awareness in Gannett markets and  65% in non-Gannett markets, encouraging consumers to shop Main Street, by working with other media to extend its reach. 

8. People are brands too 

"Everyone knows that brands still matter. The very definition of brand has actually broadened," Banikram says. People in the company have their own company/brands and networks. She brought up a leading editor who challenges his team to out-tweet him. 

"The name of the game is to engage people around contacts, engage consumers and measure their footprint." 

Increasingly broadcast personalities have their own company Facebook pages and networks. Best practics is real time reporting, in which reporters can see their stories lift when they post to a fan base or tweet a question. A Gannet editor, she points out "has all of the devices in front of him" in the newsroom and is checking "on all the devices."

9. Know what business  you are really in 
"Companies need to keep fixed on a north star, and  in turbulent times this is especially important...It's not what you sell, it's what you stand for. Companies with a central understanding of their purpose perform better. Like every news organization Gannett needed to revisit it core purpose and reason for being."

The result was a mission that recaptured Gannett's commitment, outlined in its new corporate video as  "A rare and sacred opportunity to to affect change for good in the communities we serve. To enlight, mobilize support for worthy endeavers.." Several additional statements including acting as a watchdog, and the video concludes 'We do this because we live and work in the communities we serve..."

"Not long ago someone would have said you were in the newspaper business. Today we are in the business of created serving the greater good," Banikarim said. 

"I'm in inspired by the business of being in the greater good. That idea would not have occurred to me while I was at Turner. Local is where the money is and local is cool."

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.


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