First Mover: Maryam Banikarim

Gannett's first ever chief marketing officer defines her mission and defends the 'McPaper'

Gannett’s been around for 100 years; why do they need a CMO all of a sudden?

I think there’s this recognition that while it was fine to be more of a holding company and let these businesses all operate independently—which was a great thing and they were incredibly profitable—now there’s a sense that there is an opportunity to create a connective tissue.

Gannett is the largest newspaper group in the country, but newspapers above all other forms of media are really where the struggle is.

The statement that “newspapers are dead” is a great headline getter. While historically Gannett was a newspaper company, it’s no longer a newspaper company. About 21 percent of the revenue comes from the digital space. So we own 82 publishing companies, 22 broadcasting stations, we have pretty rich digital portfolios with CareerBuilder, ShopLocal,, and obviously there’s USA Today. All of these media companies are more than just the linear distribution mechanism; they’re all multimedia, and they’re all 360-degree opportunities.

Let’s talk about the centralization of editorial and design operations at your papers. How does local coverage not suffer?

What that offers is that you can actually bring great design to some markets which may not have been able to afford that caliber of designers before. It’s a matter of getting it in one central distribution center, but really they are focused on having very localized and customized work that they do for each market.

When you talk about design, you’re talking about the newspapers themselves? More charticles?

Everything. What’s interesting about coming here is that everyone knows the USA Today brand. It’s probably one of the most recognized brands. But when you look at the history of USA Today and you read the books, it really was the Internet before its time because it was short-form content done visually. Now the question is, how do you take what was there initially and revitalize it?

Another way to look at it is that it’s the news, dumbed down.

The notion of “dumbing down” is such a New York and L.A.-centric elitist idea. They were called McPapers for a long time, which is a badge we now wear with honor. USA Today at its origins was actually focused on trying to create editorial that was relevant to the consumer. What is the impact of the story to you? They were never trying to compete with The New York Times or Wall Street Journal. This is a newspaper that is almost like a morning show. The person who reads USA Today is quite successful and affluent, but they’re not focused on being elitist.

But being informed and intellectually curious doesn’t necessarily make you an elitist.

I think what’s interesting is that there is a very wide group of people who actually want to be informed and they want to be informed in a way that’s relevant to them. So much of the media is so focused on what they think people should know rather than what consumers want to know.

Twitter and Facebook wouldn’t be popular if people didn’t like information in nuggets.

Yes. We are all so incredibly time pressed it’s even more of a use today than it was 10 years ago.

Publish date: September 19, 2011 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT