Monday, March 14, 2011

In Banikarim, why it may be different this time

[Saridakis, Banikarim]

An outsider suddenly pole vaults onto the Gannett Management Committee, to a newly created position with a mandate to shake things up. The executive is the youngest in the powerful 11-member group, taking a seat alongside CEO Craig Dubow, plus the heads of the newspaper and broadcasting divisions.

Soon, however, the new executive meets resistance within the hide-bound company. Fearing change, the Old Guard pushes back in a classic turf battle that challenges the executive's mandate. They skirmish over plans to erect paywalls. Having initially backed the executive, Dubow wavers, then withdraws his support. Barely two years after taking the job, the executive quits.

"I was incredibly frustrated by their lack of decision-making,'' he says later in a published interview.

That executive, of course, was Chief Digital Officer Chris Saridakis, who left Gannett a year ago.

Now, it's Maryam Banikarim's turn, as GCI's just-named chief marketing officer. Like Saridakis, she's been made a senior vice president in a new position on the Gannett Management Committee. Yet, after Saridakis' experience, what can we expect for Banikarim?

Similar, and not
Saridakis was 39 when he was promoted to digital chief in 2008. He'd been CEO of PointRoll, a company GCI had bought just five years after it was launched. An entrepreneur and start-up investor, Saridakis came from a culture of small, nimble companies that challenge conventional wisdom, and reward risk-taking.

Banikarim, too, is a relatively young outsider (she's 42), from NBC Universal, where she was senior vice president of integrated sales marketing.

However, unlike Saridakis, Banikarim comes from Big Corporate America, where she spent the past eight years. Indeed, she's already navigated two other media giants with longstanding, more traditional cultures: NBC, which traces its history to the 1926 formation of Radio Corporation of America. And Univision Communications, the Spanish language TV channel started in 1955. Banikarim also owned and managed a marketing services consulting firm.

Given these different backgrounds, it's easier to imagine her deflecting the inevitable pushback she'll get from GCI's entrenched divisions and their executives. Announcing Banikarim's appointment, COO Gracia Martore said in a statement today: "Maryam's creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, and ability to make things happen will help us continue to drive growth across the company."

It's hardly surprising Banikarim sounds undaunted. After all, this is a woman whose family fled Iran for Paris after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, when she was 11 years old. "This is an incredibly exciting time for all of us in the media business," she said in the statement, "and being part of a team committed to paving the way forward is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Time for directors to act
This is no cakewalk, however. Dubow, 56, made much of Saridakis when the technologist joined the Gannett Management Committee in January 2008, calling him "a visionary and an innovator, as well as a smart businessman" who would "use his talent and ability to move rapidly in further developing Gannett into a digital powerhouse.''

Was he too smart? Did he move too rapidly? We don't know for certain; without a shred of explanation, GCI buried his departure in a regulatory filing a year ago. He hasn't been replaced.

This time, with Banikarim, Gannett's historically weak board of directors must watch what happens closely. In particular, Director Scott McCune should play a big role, given his background: He is director of integrated marketing for Coca-Cola, a consumer brand giant with plenty of turf battles of its own.

With revenue still weak, and competitors surging ahead, GCI has only so many leadership opportunities left.


  1. I wish her luck, my fear is they will wear her down. They also need to do much more than brand or market. They have to improve product quality..especially at Usat and the website. Better news judgement, better writing.

  2. One big difference is that Saridakis came across with his former properties, Point Roll and Ripple6, which Gannett bought but clearly did not (still don't) understand. Banikarim doesn't come with any properties in tow. That makes her more of a free agent and, perhaps much more vulnerable in the eyes of the Crystal tower's sharks who made their careers crushing people like this.

  3. Gracia eats her young.

  4. Maybe shell be able to market dubow. In better apparel when he speaks nonsensical gibberish on tv.

  5. I agree with the forecast here. If corporate is anything like my local site, I've seen the cliques and the contradiction between what they say they want and what they actually want -- to wit, any spark of creativity or honest dialog is quickly suppressed as a threat or an embarrassment to all the naked "emperors."

  6. Repeating some of the key questions I posed yesterday:

    How will Banikarim build her own team? What's the size of her budget? How many folks will she bring from outside to work with her? Who within Gannett will have to give up turf to her? Who within GCI will now have to report to her, instead of to someone else? Does Banikarim become part of the advertising sales arm, or does her office become a hybrid of advertising and circulation?

  7. She's been around long enough that the questions Jim asks should have already been settled. Or, at least, I hope they are already settled -- especially the part about giving up turf and who reports to whom. I am predicting a war of powers unseen in Crystal Towers history (10 years). These guys don't fight clean, and they fight to the end. I hope she is warned of this, and is duly prepared.

  8. It's true. It's hard if not impossible for creative visionaries to survive in Gannett. Those types are systematically weeded out and snuffed for various and sundry reasons. That's why successful innovation is so hard to find around G-land. Can one person change that longstanding culture? Doubt it.

  9. Anonymous said... westchester site and other sites. is this the real plan outsource and layoff and headcount and furloughs to top gannett brass shame on you.

  10. Well, history documents singular persons who have changed a course of events. So don't count out Banikarim until we see what she's made of.

    My advice to our CMO, grow a set and lead. Writers on this blog are right about how fierce the fight can be to push past mediocrity but if she's as smart as I'm hoping, she may already know what's waiting and may have learned how to navigate pecking order jealousies at one of her previous employers. Her history doesn't sound like she's a wallflower or afraid to lead.

    So, lead Maryam, fight for what you believe in, fight for all of us.

  11. I'm skeptical, but I am also ready for anything. We've been in these doldrums for four years now, and we need someone to point a direction.

  12. I wish her well. I hope she proves everyone wrong and turns this ship around. I'm so happy we have a young successful women to lead the way out of this good old boy network!

  13. I have to say, her and Chris would make a great couple! LOL!

  14. I wish her the best. I hope she is smart enough to realize that marketing alone isn't the answer. This company needs product, product, product. Improve the product, and the eyeballs will be there.

  15. Other people have said this but let me add my voice.

    Marketing Gannett is a totally different job than dealing with media inquiries.

    To view this as a shake-up of the communications end is really missing the bigger picture.

    Good luck to all. We sure can use all the help we can get.

  16. Don't you get it? Hiring a female with a foreign sounding name means the old guard is safe and can blame her. Unless the actual PRODUCT stands out, the status quo will remain, to heck with new marketing.

  17. Get some real journos with hard news experience in key positions at crystal palace, Usa today and keyf gci properties will help solve lots of problems. Then figure out the marketing part. And teach the dotcommers about journalism. We need to be sophisticated. New lipstick on the same old pig will be disastrous.

  18. Bring back tom mcnamara and hal Ritter. And tom curley.

  19. Can you imagine Chris and Maryam conceiving a child? Smart, good looking, wealthy and media powerhouses! Hmm...Maybe they can bring back Saridakis. It would be interesting to see this combination work together.

  20. 8:19p...So funny. They would be great working together. Saridakis a successful entrepreneur and technologist and Maryam a successful corporate media exec. Both full of fire.

  21. When Saradakis left, this blog raked him over the coals. Now he is a savior. Pick one. I think when the smart people leave (as they always do) we miss them and wish it weren't so. Let's give Maryam a chance.

  22. "I wish her well. I hope she proves everyone wrong and turns this ship around. I'm so happy we have a young successful women to lead the way out of this good old boy network!" I agree.

    But I also agree our products need to get better. USAT cant compete with WSJ and NYT for paywalls if they dont offer something to build reader loyalty. Readers WILL pay for something they want. WSJ proved that.

    I like that she'll be on the operating committee where they can hopeful bridge that product improvement with marketing/sales.

  23. Timing seems a bit bizzare. One has to think that this hiring was in the works BEFORE the big Gannett branding campaign launched. So why not wait on the campaign until AFTER you bring in a new chief of marketing? Does this mean she'll scrap Pence's big effort? Put her own stamp on things? Just sayin...

  24. It's the Saradakis Worship Cult again. His Celebrity Apprentice results took 2 years before he was to meet Trump. Make Gannett better, the real challenge? Sardy took the money and fled.

  25. They need to bring Saridakis back. He was the only one who would stand up to the GMC and the rest of the overpaid executives here. I hope Maryam takes over where Chris left off.

    Saridakis did not care what he said or who he said it to. When you have $300 million in the bank, you can say and do what you want. We all knew he wasn't afraid to stand up to Craig and Gracia.

    Our hope is that this woman will be more like Saridakis (or better) and not fall into the corporate subservient trap that Hunke, Dickey, Lougee, Williams and others have.

  26. Our hope is that this woman will be more like Saridakis (or better) and not fall into the corporate subservient trap that Hunke, Dickey, Lougee, Williams and others have.

    3/15/2011 11:31 AM

    Well, then she will be out the door post-haste. That's what this is all about at Gannett: Play with the dogs and get thrown a bone as a treat. Don't play and they'll eat her alive.

    Gracia could care less about her credentials. She want to see numbers and the rest is of no significance to her. LOL!

  27. They need to bring Saridakis back. He can be voted most friendly on campus for another round of two years, then leave cash rich again.

  28. "Saridakis did not care what he said or who he said it to. When you have $300 million in the bank, you can say and do what you want. We all knew he wasn't afraid to stand up to Craig and Gracia."

    He didn't say squat and is now $400 mil. Maybe if I met him he could cast that magical spell.

  29. Sardakis was a non-event here. Doesn't anybody get that?

    What did he leave us? Seriously.

    I am neither pro nor anti Sardakis. Never met the man.

    But what did he do for us?


  30. Pointroll and Ripple6

  31. Saridakis was barred from installing genuine innovation by the luddites on the management commitee. He was trotted out as a symbol of digital leadership, but he was never given real authority to overhaul resources and systems to compete seriously. It's not a personal thing about Saridakis - no one in that role would be permitted to advance Gannett in the online world. Why do you think no one wants the CDO job now?

  32. From: "Tafler, Jason"
    Date: Tue, 15 Mar 2011 12:46:00 -0400
    Subject: Moving on from PointRoll/Gannett

    As many of you already know, my family and I have made the difficult decision to leave PointRoll/Gannett and move back home to Toronto so that we can be closer to our families. From starting off almost seven years ago advising PointRoll on its sale to Gannett, to joining the company as VP of Business Development, to working with our leadership team to evolve and grow the business as CEO over the past three years, it has truly been an incredible personal and professional journey.
    First off, I want to thank all of you very much for your guidance, encouragement and business during my time at PointRoll. Whether you are a ‘Roller, customer, partner, colleague or friend, it is you who helped lead PointRoll to greatness as the company surmounted many obstacles to drive record growth time and time again, and as we achieved our vision of enabling the world’s best marketers and agencies to deeply engage with people through, quite simply, more effective advertising. Amazingly, PointRoll has served well over 500 billion ad impressions for 2/3 of the Fortune 500 to date, but even more amazing is that so many of these impressions were actually full-blown interactive experiences that led to deeper connections and relationships. Whereas in 2011 everyone is now talking about “engagement”, PointRoll has been executing on this for almost 11 years of consistent market leadership, thanks mainly to a relentless focus on delighting our customers and a very unique combination of unbelievably passionate people, rapid innovation and great service.
    I’d like to say a special thank you to Chris Saridakis for giving a young investment banker the chance to dive deep into the operations of the business, for teaching me a ton about leadership, execution and making tough decisions, and for having the confidence to eventually hand me the reins. I also want to thank Gannett’s leadership and Board for not only having the vision to initially buy into the digital marketing services business, but for also giving us the freedom and flexibility in recent years to continue to innovate and solve problems for all of our clients and partners. And last but not least, I want to thank PointRoll’s leadership team, now led by CEO Rob Gatto, Sandy Dondici, Cat Spurway and Sarah Ripmaster, for their passion, dedication and loyalty over the years.
    Today is my last day at PointRoll; soon I’ll be joining Rogers Communications in Toronto as Chief Digital Officer. For those of you who haven’t yet heard of Rogers, it is a $20B market cap company that has a very unique set of complementary assets, from wireless, cable/Internet and TV/radio/magazine media to sports teams, e-commerce and more. Built from scratch over the past 50 years by a visionary Canadian entrepreneur, the late Ted Rogers, the company is now poised for its next phase of innovation and growth. And digital media is a key priority, both in terms of creating engaging consumer experiences across the company’s more than 250 web/mobile properties and by building and acquiring high-growth, innovative digital businesses that leverage and benefit its customer base and cross-platform assets. It will definitely be an exciting new challenge during such a transformational time in the media and technology industries.
    After today, you can reach me at I look forward to keeping in touch and thank you very much again for your incredible support during my time here at PointRoll/Gannett.

  33. >>Saridakis was barred from installing genuine innovation by the luddites on the management commitee.<<

    Them why all the high praises? If it was genuine innovation then the committee would not have stopped him. He was paid innovative sawbucks.

  34. Wow - I actually graduated high school with Mary. Nice to see some people have made something of themselves. I really wish her well. She's a cool chick, someone who would always surprise you.
    I don't understand spending months and money crafting a new logo and then hiring someone to make it work. But then again, this is Gannett, a company that rewards mediocrity and status quo and consumes ambition and creativity.

  35. Smartest hire in some time. Let's hope her marketing prowess translates to selling ads - something the current structure doesn't do well enough. Unfortunately, it comes after someone decided Robin Pence could run a branding campaign. Too late to stop a lot of money being thrown down the toilet.

    I hope she find out about the blog. Could be the best way she finds out what the real deal is among people who still care about the product. And keeps things in perspective.

    Good luck and much success, Maryam !

  36. I wish her well, and hope they give her a chance to do what she needs to do.
    Too bad the marketing money was already spent....

  37. OK, so let me see if I understand this. We launch a big, bold, life-altering marketing campaign to position Gannett as a media solutions company. And THEN we hire a new CMO? Can anyone say ass-backwards?


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.