How Do You 'Institutionalize Purpose?' Gannett's CMO Talks Values-Based Business

Mar 27 2014, 9:47am CDT | by

How Do You 'Institutionalize Purpose?' Gannett's CMO Talks Values-Based Business
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

Maryam Banikarim has built a career on, in her words, “volunteering for the hard stuff.”  Since becoming the Chief Marketing Officer for Gannett Co., Inc. in 2011, she has brought inventive change to one of the world’s largest - and oldest – media giants.

I was interested in chatting with Maryam after learning about her “Purpose Project”, an initiative designed to inspire Gannett employees as the organization underwent significant internal transformation. Below, she shares how to discover the “soul” of a company, best practices for generating buy-in at a large scale, and why she’s not your “typical CMO.”

One of your first initiatives was the Purpose Project. For other companies looking to get down to the “soul” level of their business, can you tell us how you conducted this work – including and especially how you were able to generate buy-in?

I came to Gannett at a time when the management team was actively focused on transforming the company.  It was an uncertain time in the media business overall, and morale was low.  The buy-in started with the recognition that transformation requires everyone pulling in the same direction.  We started with the CEO and management team to understand the vision, then we interviewed a wide cross-section of employees to uncover the company’s DNA – the real reason people showed up to work everyday beyond their paycheck.

Once we’d uncovered our purpose we needed to distill it down to one simple line. At Gannett, our purpose is to serve the greater good of our nation and the communities we serve.  We created a manifesto that brought our purpose to life, and shared all this with the organization. It resonated with them because they recognized themselves and their efforts in it.  It was authentic.  Now we all had a common language to rally around.

How did you execute what you learned throughout the organization?

Today, the purpose work has been organically integrated into all everything we do. To kick it off, the CEO unveiled the purpose manifesto at a companywide Town Hall.   We also shared back our detailed findings with small groups across the company.  The organization quickly adopted it and brought it into their day-to-day decision-making process.  The next step was to institutionalize purpose.  We incorporated it into all of our HR materials.  We created specific purpose awards and we designated Purpose Champions by office.  Now our efforts are focused on keeping purpose top of mind.  We share and celebrate purpose through annual employee awards, quarterly Town Halls, monthly newsletters, and real time sharing platforms including intranet, Facebook, and Pinterest. Articulating our common purpose has unified the company and helped us transform the business.

I love your motto of “volunteering for the hard stuff.” Can you give us an example from your own career and how it benefited you?

A year and a half ago, our CEO, Gracia Martore, asked me to lead the National Sales efforts at Gannett.  While I had often worked alongside sales over the course of my career, I had never directly run a sales organization.  Taking on sales in the current environment was no easy task!  But it was a great lesson in believing in myself, and my team. I’m pleased to say we’ve improved the way we go to market and serve our clients. As a result, we’ve hit our budget in our first full year.

Another example came during my time as CMO at Univision Communications.  A new CEO came on board and abruptly told the existing team he did not like the current direction of the company’s annual Upfront event.  I had never led a production of this magnitude before but I knew how important it was, so I took ownership of it and built a new team and dove in – with just 30 days to overhaul it! We started at the beginning, redeveloping the theme and envisioning a new experience to create the first “user-generated upfront.”  A leading media industry critic ranked it as the best Upfront presentation by any network that year, but for me it was more personal.  Once again, I realized how much could be accomplished simply by raising my hand, trusting myself, and my team.

For anyone who is also interested in exploring a CMO position, can you describe your job and specifically, a few qualities you believe ensure success in the role?

As Gannett’s first-ever CMO, there was a unique opportunity to custom-create the role. It helps to have a CEO like Gracia Martore who believes in the power of the CMO to effectively drive organizational change.  To me, that is my most important job  — to be a catalyst for change and translate disruptive ideas into measurable results.

But I’ve also had numerous executives tell me that I’m not a “typical CMO” because I focus on the overall business versus simply marketing.  Of course, there is a big focus on advertising, branding and overall communications strategy, but I also spend time focusing on company culture and cultural change, sales, and new revenue streams.  My job is to think about how to use the levers of marketing to gain insight into where consumers and the marketplace are heading – all with the goal of growing our business. CMOs need to be able to see “around corners,” anticipate consumer needs and come up with new ideas, all with an eye towards generating growth and profitability.

If you could go back and give your 20-year-old self one piece of career advice, what would it be?

Spend time with people smarter than you – there is a saying “the rising tide lifts all boats.” Look for people who challenge you to perform at a higher level, and when you can learn from.


Source: Forbes Business


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