Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A new age: Two Texans, and GCI’s cultural shift; might search for 'purpose' return to an old one?

For years, Texas advertising executives Roy Spence and Haley Rushing have come across as corporate management evangelists with a New Age twist. Their pitch: Companies prosper when they find a purpose that goes beyond simply making money.

Now, Gannett's 31,000 employees are being asked to join their flock.

Chief among them: Maryam Banikarim, GCI’s top marketing officer since March 2011. Indeed, she and Rushing are scheduled speakers tomorrow during a Los Angeles marketing conference. They're to be on a Spence-led panel discussion called “The Purpose-Based Organization: From Concept to Practice.”

Spence and Rushing are well known across the advertising and marketing industries as authors of a book on their purpose concept: It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For.

In it, according to Publishers Weekly, Spence argues "people work harder and more joyfully when they believe they are part of something larger than themselves; he speaks enthusiastically about employees turned into company evangelists and the power of purpose-based leadership."

This is a positive reminder, the trade publication says, of the private sector’s potential in “making a difference in the world.”

If “making a difference in the world” sounds familiar -- well, it should. Only last week, Corporate announced a new internal honor: the Greater Good Awards. They “recognize the individual and unit that best represent the company’s shared purpose, which is to serve the greater good in the nation and communities we serve.” (Making a difference also echoes a well-know USA Weekend service project.)

That’s just one example of how, under 43-year-old Banikarim, the purpose credo is now being woven into GCI’s corporate culture, as the company struggles to regain its footing and identity in a vastly changed marketplace. Here’s another: This week, a memo revealed a Gannett/USA Today "Purpose Team" was building a "Purpose Wall" at Corporate’s headquarters in McLean, Va.

“We’re asking all departments on campus to submit photos that reflect you at work or the benefit of your efforts at work or in the community,’’ the memo says. “The Wall will be a representation of everything that brings us together as a community."

What's the purpose?
The wall will be unveiled at a “Corporate Purpose Celebration” tomorrow afternoon. Banikarim apparently is skipping that event in favor of the PromaxBDA entertainment marketing conference at a Marriott hotel, where attendees will be “inspired by the brightest of luminaries in the industry,’’ according to its website.

Those luminaries include actor Charlie Sheen, who had a much-publicized meltdown in 2010. He's doing a Q&A tomorrow morning in the hotel's Diamond Ballroom.

Spence, 63, is a co-founder of the GSD&M advertising agency in Austin, which apparently has a contract with Corporate. Also in Austin, he and Rushing launched The Purpose Institute, which says it helps leaders and organizations “discover, articulate and align all stakeholders around a genuine and authentic purpose at the heart of the entity.”

He and his agency co-founders were students at the University of Texas, Austin who wanted to work together after graduating. (Now-retired GCI CEO Craig Dubow is a UT alumnus, too.)

In a video interview this spring, Spence said the founders had three goals: stay together; stay in Austin, and make a difference. Forty years later, he notes: “We're still together. We're still in Austin. And we're still trying to make a difference."

Spence emphasized one part of the words partnership and friendship during the interview: "It's the ship -- the good times and bad -- if you can stay in the ship together, you'll look back and never regret it."

A 'Seven Sisters' trio
Rushing has degrees from Vassar (1992) and the University of Pennsylvania (1994) in cultural anthropology, consumer behavior and positive psychology, according to her LinkedIn profile.

In their educational pedigrees, a Gannett Blog reader astutely observed, Rushing, Banikarim and Gannett CEO Gracia Martore, 60, have a common bond: They all attended one of the "Seven Sisters," a group of elite East Coast colleges. Banikarim graduated from Barnard in New York, and Martore from Wellesley near Boston. Barnard and Wellesley remain all-women colleges.

At the GSD&M agency and the Purpose Institute, Rushing’s title is "chief purposologist." According to her bio there, she "leads a team of people who act as organizational therapists, anthropologists and investigators dogged in their pursuit of uncovering the purpose at the heart of an organization."

Banikarim appeared familiar with GSD&M's work before arriving at GCI. She told Fast Company magazine about developing a "purpose line" for NBCUniversal (it's in the "idea business") for its January 2011 merger with Comcast.

Last year in Los Angeles, Rushing appeared onstage at an influential TED conference, where she was no less New Age-y in videotaped remarks that reflected personal interests, including what she calls Contemplative Christianity. She had just returned from a winter holiday at a Mexican resort.

"This morning I was on a beach in Cabo, doing yoga and building sandcastles with my five-year-old twins,” she told her audience. “So, I feel like I'm in a really good headspace to talk about well-being and vitality."

GCI's original purpose
Gannett, of course, hasn’t been in an especially good headspace for many years now -- and nor has the industry as a whole.

But as the sector’s biggest, GCI’s moves have been the most dramatic. It has shed more than 20,000 jobs through hair-raising layoffs and other cost-cutting; imposed wage freezes and furloughs, and sharply reduced its coverage of vital news across the nation. GCI's stock plunged. Top executives preserved their seven-figure paychecks, however.

New logo last year
Along the way, the company shifted from its long-established special purpose of community leadership through public-service journalism that protects the First Amendment. That shift was evident last year, when the company adopted a highly publicized corporate campaign where its newspapers and TV stations were rechristened in more advertiser-friendly terms: as consumer brands. The new tagline: "It's all within reach."

But the change was even more vivid in 2010, when the company redefined itself as “an international media and marketing solutions company."

It may well be time for deep introspection across GCI, of searching for a special purpose to inspire employees and customers. Yet, perhaps the answer is as simple as returning closer to the company’s original roots: comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable.


  1. The problem with Gannett is that corporate believes that crap like this is the elixir it needs.
    Not a single consumer of its content would agree.
    Nor its rank and file.

    This is the best example I've ever read to measure just how lost this company is.

  2. This is as bad as Obama saying
    "the private sector is fine".Talk about totally out of touch!

  3. Where is the revenue that will create and save jobs?

    Or the business plan to drive more people to websites and buy more papers?

    Has this Purpose motivated employees to see Gannett beyond the profit grabbers they are?

    Spence and Rushing did not do their homework on how broken Gannett is and how management and the board simply don't care about employees.

    And here is the biggest missed insight: in a time where consumers care about finding trusted news sources, Gannett has cut its newsrooms so deeply we can't compete.

    Banikarim is typical of narcissistic marketers: spin spin and more spin.

    The product is the brand. But we've killed the product.

  4. Religion is used as a form of control, and add in the Kool-Aid - sounds like there will be a lot of zombies walking around. Reminds me of one of the old Flintstones cartoon episodes where Fred walked around during the entire show in a robotic state using a monotone voice repeating: "YABBA-DABBA-DOO!" over and over again!

    Ex: "Please enjoy some of the free ice cream available in the lunchroom. Reply: YABBA DABBA DOO!"

  5. Great reporting. Thanks, Jim.

  6. Banikarim hired GSDM before she was on the job 30 days.

    She didn't have a clue about Gannett and neither did they.

    But once the train left the station, she had to keep going with this project.

    Martore was still in the dating stage with Banikarim and gave her keys to the castle.

    Martore did not fund an ad campaign so now Banikarim is left to find internal ways to use this Purpose. Purpose Wall anyone?

  7. Lets focusmon pay walls, not purpose walls.

  8. 8:18, that post is so insightful. I know I read it and thought: "Wow, that has so much helpful information!"

    Has the WSJ contacted you yet for a quote?

  9. Charlie Sheen is actually one of the many luminaries speaking at this conference. His purpose is much more focused than Gannett's.

  10. Is it true Martore did not find an ad campaign after the impressive branding effort by Robyn Spence?

  11. Martore realizes her biggest problems are with employees and she is trying to fix that, to her credit.

    But a purpose wall is not what employees need. They need good leadership, less BS, raises, job stability, and to be treated decently.

    Banikarim and Beusse have both wacked very good people. And that just kills morale.

    Beusse at least has an aggressive business plan. Banikrim hasn't moved the revenue needle forward and should be held accountable.

  12. If Purpose Walls and in house awards are where this company is focusing on, it shouldnt be laying off workers, making others reapply for their jobs and creating an atmosphere of fear and mistrust.

    gracia, please stop with the bullshit rahrah initiatives. Please provide some mature oversight to your out of touch CMO, who has no understanding of the news business and cannot put a team together that can bring in ad revenuse. And please direct your new but detached Usa Today publisher that implement swift leadership changes at Usa weekend, Usa today and its digital operations.

    We need results at uscp and usa today, not mantras, slogans or silly grade school level consultants.

  13. Poor Roy Spence. He is a gentlemen and in his day was respected.

    Allowing someone to have a title as pretentious as "Purposologist" is just embarrassing.

    It's 2012 Roy. We have this thing called the internet now and it's changed the news business. That is Gannett's challenge.

  14. Gannett's sole motivation is money, with two main goals, staying profitable and paying dividends. Nothing else really matters. 20,000 people were jettisoned to achieve this. Any of this this purpose-driven crap is just a self-deluded attempt at wrapping themselves in a false aura of nobility. They probably want the laid off folks to donate their unemployment checks to charity. I'd say the people who are implementing this are on drugs but no drug will mess your head up that much.

  15. 8:59 wrote:

    "I'd say the people who are implementing this are on drugs but no drug will mess your head up that much."

    Is there anything worse than giving yourself a title like "purposologist"? What a bunch of out of touch self-agrandizing lunatics.

  16. Id like to have what Spence, Rushing and Roger Sterling are taking. Far out, man !

  17. "Spence and Rushing did not do their homework on how broken Gannett is and how management and the board simply don't care about employees."

    These kinds of companies FEED on companies like Gannett. They offer up quick and convenient schemes that sound good on paper but amount to nothing more than a sugar high. We have no answers, so we hire charlatans and pay them millions to feed us all crap.

  18. I predict that purposing will be yet another meaningless initiative that is announced with great fanfare and then slowly is forgotten.

    It is said, as Jim points out, that we have abandoned earlier community roles in the mad rush to abandon print for digital. What Purpose is there in yet another website like so many others? And one that charges for it?

  19. Very helpful overview. Thanks for pulling the threads together.

  20. If this is our Purpose:

    "To serve the greater good in the nation and communities we serve."

    we should get our money back from GSDM. They sell that same exact purpose to all companies.

    Just articulated differently.

  21. Flash forward: Profits are down but we're very proud of the fact that we are serving our community and making a difference.

    Yep the shareholders will love it.


    If/when Jim Romenesko and Gawker gets a hold of this, they will certify Gannett as a bunch of "shit-kicker newspapers," as ol' Jack Germond used to say.

    What would one expect from a bunch of mindless "Seven Sisters" yahoos and their suck-up underlings?

    Purpose of a newspaper: to report the news, without fear or favor, fully and fairly. At a profit.


    A bill for $250,000 is forth-coming, mindless Gannettoids.



    GANNETTOID-ISM at its apex.


    GANNETTOID Purpose task No. 1: get map, try to figure out where Main & 1st cross, in new town that Gannett chain has sent you.

    GANNETTOID Purpose task No. 2: run series of "Our Communities" stories, to figure out, where the F you are.

    GANNETTOID Purpose task No. 3: suck up to Corporate for next job; propose an "Our Communities" series for next job in Gannett chain.


  23. Why do I sense that Charlie Sheen might be the next new VP at corporate?

  24. What the motherfuck? "Joyfully"? Seriously? At Gannett?

    In it, according to Publishers Weekly, Spence argues "people work harder and more joyfully when they believe they are part of something larger than themselves; he speaks enthusiastically about employees turned into company evangelists and the power of purpose-based leadership."

  25. Favorite newspaper slogan: To tell the truth and make money. Purpose squared.


    he speaks enthusiastically about employees turned into company evangelists and the power of purpose-based leadership."


    Does that include, working with sub-marginal CARPET-BAGGERS who can't find City Hall?


  27. Purpos-olgy -- $1,000,000 retainer and binkie for GCI board.

    Porpois-olgy -- Flipper out-wits the tuna boat captains, while Big Al pontificates from Pumpkin Center.

  28. Thanks for this excellent overview, Jim.

    Using your context, it's useful to remember two things, I think. First, successful consultants make a lot of money the same way that successful evangelists do, by purposely convincing people to pay them for preaching their doctrine. Their success is metered by their charisma and presentation, more than the doctrine itself, in many cases. I'm feeling the urge to re-read "Elmer Gantry."

    Second, the most widely understood definition of a "wall" is something that divides, protects and defends. What an unfortunate metaphor for the company to promote if their aim is to open, embrace, and include their employees, advertisers and customers.

  29. "He (Spence) speaks enthusiastically about employees turned into company evangelists and the power of purpose-based leadership."

    As a kid, I remember watching TV with my dad and everytime a commercial for one of the products his company made appeared he actually cheered. You could tell he was genuinely proud of his company and happy he worked there.

    Why was this?

    Because he was never furloughed or laid off, got a nice raise each year, and generally worked in a pleasant, supportive environment. His company would encourage managers to treat potential hires with respect because they were also their customers.

    He felt a sense of honor and pride of belonging to something bigger than him.

    They didn't need a purpose wall because they had strong leadership who treated employees like men and women.

  30. Excellent post, Jim. Thank you.

    I actually think it's great that Gannett is trying to find its purpose. Long overdue. Unfortunately, the bubble wrap that surrounds the corporate minds prevents them from discerning that GCI's purpose rests in those communities out there, the ones that depend on their local newsrooms to deliver. Those newsrooms have been decimated by the profit/bonus-driven minds that rule their resources, mismanage their missions, and steal from pensions, benefits, and paychecks. If you can find joyful company evangelists there, well - please let us know. But evangelism means "good news." You don't deliver good news by sucking the lifeblood from your newsrooms.

    GCI's purpose at one time more closely matched the needs of the communities its newsrooms served. But now it has no champions out there. The newsrooms are traumatized, readers/viewers see the demise of their community's top journalism outlets - why would they pay more for that? Meanwhile, the political forces in those communities are increasingly conducting community business with no questions asked.

    GCI abandoned its highest purpose years ago, focusing solely on high profit margins and bonuses for its upperlings.

    No 'Purpose Wall' will fix that, but it will make the upperlings feel more noble about themselves as they walk by and see purposeful photographs -- by PressWire?

    If they really want to reinvent this company, they should start by apologizing to the communities it has short-changed, the employees it has betrayed, and the families it has robbed in order to protect their own personal interests.

    Then they should go back to the place where they first lost their way, and adopt the purpose posted above @1016 (modified here to expand beyond newspapers, of course, and inject a modifier to the profit purpose):

    Purpose of a newsroom: to report the news, without fear or favor, fully and fairly. At a (fair) profit.

    That's what communities want and need from us.

    The local newsrooms are still trying to grind that out - but with precious little support from the mis-purposed upperlings.

    It's hard to believe that our leaders can't figure this out. But research shows that bubble-wrap does funny stuff to your brain.

  31. Astute and insightful. Thank you Jim.

    And also alarming and shameful we are all now being subjected to this load of BS from Banikarim.

  32. Banikarim and Charlie Sheen make an interesting pair.

    2 1/2 Yahoos.

  33. Is the wall gonna be built near the big blue ball at the Mothership? Or has that rolled away? Been awhile since I cared. I left Gannett for a marketing job awhile back and have never been happier.

  34. Company evangelist, charismatic Charlatan, Swami = all one in the same!

  35. Gannett has been gutting marketing across the company and they take the money and pay these snake oil salespeople?

  36. So what happens if you don't do anything that benefits the community? My work is only a small gear in the big Gannett machine and what I do in my spare time is none of their damn business. Do they want take credit for anything good their employees do on their own personal time? Ridiculous! How about a picture of me in my underwear, drinking a beer and watching a TV show on a Gannett station? That's as good as it's going to get.

  37. When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter is aligned with Mars....

  38. In the interest of fairness, I'm cross-posting this comment from Anonymous@9:32 in this thread:

    Maryam Banikarim is not without accomplishments.

    For most of its history, Gannett had no overall marketing effort at all. None. (Robin Pence was mostly a corporate spokesperson).

    Maryam has stepped in and tried to give Gannett a media identity which, beyond USA TODAY and an image as owning "a bunch of small-market papers" was non-existent.

    So things like "Purpose Projects" are attenpting to fill a gap that never existed before. You may not like her approach, or the result, but the company's brand is virtually unknown to most people. Gannett? What's that? Something had to be done.

    As for USA TODAY, marketing there had fallen into a black hole after a series of marketing chiefs who mainly tried to give ad salespeople the needed data to make sales.

    USA TODAY cut back on marketing when things collapsed in the 2000s, and there hadn't been a substantial market survey in years.

    Almost all the data on hand was hopelessly out of date and the marketers left struggled to go digital and do events.

    So again, you can argue with the methods and results, but Maryam and Micek have tried to rebuild USA TODAY's marketing department.

    Maryam also is now trying to bring USA TODAY's ad effort into line with 2012.

    She may not be to everyone's liking; her efforts may come across as self-serving; she may fail. But she is for sure no a do-nothing exec.

    Just saying all this for a modicum of balance.

    1. She has been here over a year. what does it take for her and her minions to hold her sales force accountable? When do we see some results beyond her personal, non company agenda?

  39. I think Maryam has finally found a better way to post more credible support for her self through these more "balanced" comments in the past few days. The M.O. Is the same though - blame others (who aren't even around anymore to defend themselves) while calling attention to herself.

  40. She fits the classic definition of a narcissist. The need for look at me attention is never satisfied. Stay away from her.

  41. The main narcissists are the "woe is me" people posting here about how they work and work and work and no one cares, etc.

    Except they aren't gutsy enough to sign their names.


    1. Actually, Bob, narcissists do not operate in a cloaked manner. they crave look at me attention to fuel their egos.

  42. Oh, that Bob.

  43. Let's not be naive, Bob. People post anonymously because if they posted their real names, Gannett would have them out the door in half a heartbeat.

  44. I'm trying to figure out whether the Gannett suits are trying to "sell" the company to their employees or are searching for something to convince themselves that the company is worth sticking around for.

    And to think I thought their "purpose" was to sell the company to advertisers.

  45. They dont have a clue. that is the problem. and when they do, the muddled message is lost on the rest of us. many of us, including the disgruntled vets who ask too many questions, actually crave bold, well thought ideas. Not half baked mantras issued by the new corporate elite.


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."

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