Friday, September 14, 2012

USAT | A Banikarim-endorsed message: 'I have a dream . . . that one day all Americans will join hands and declare their undying love for our balls'

Chief Marketing Officer Maryam Banikarim reportedly forwarded the following e-mail to a whole lot of Gannett employees this morning. The "balls" reference is to USA Today's new logo series (pictured, above). The e-mail's author is an artist and designer at the paper. 

From: A message from Maryam Banikarim
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 10:52 AM
Subject: Cool Balls

As I mentioned yesterday at the USA Today employee presentation, with Sam's permission, I'd like to share his full note regarding our new logo and getting our mojo back . . .

Enjoy.
Maryam


Cool Balls by Sam Ward

I have a dream . . . that one day all Americans will join hands and declare their undying love for our balls; our spheres of influence, our behaviors, or whatever one chooses to call them.

Actually, and perhaps with an air of creepiness, I DID have a dream about this very topic. I dreamt that people all over the place were talking about the images in USA TODAY’s balls. It was creating quite a stir; which, if we do our job right, shouldn’t be far from the truth.

Whenever anyone steps outside the boundaries of the box it will create a stir. In fact, nothing good can be created without stepping outside the box. No, let me rephrase that; nothing can be created at all without stepping outside the box. Our balls could be our boldest statement; our chance to engage readers on a level that we currently are not doing.

We shouldn’t use that space for your everyday run of the mill promo; that’s currently being done by every newspaper in the country. Nobody would feel drawn to a photo of Neil Armstrong that could have been used on the day after his death. People would however have been attracted to a simple moon boot print, or a flag at half-mast planted on an image of the moon. I guess maybe “sophisticated” is the word that fits.

And I believe readers want to consider themselves sophisticated. They want to be challenged. They don’t always want everything spelled out for them. How can they feel challenged if we never offer them a challenge? If some days, readers can’t understand the symbolic imagery within our balls, they will feel a deeper level of appreciation on the days when they can. Readers form a bond with publications that trust them to “get it.”

And just what are we asking our readers to “get?” Just what are our balls? Well, they are what we will make of them. I believe our balls are symbols of who we are and where we’re headed. They are not stories, graphics, or illustrations. They are signposts, perhaps; reminders that offer inroads into America’s stream of consciousness.

And we have to be sensible about them too. We can’t beat our readers over the head with our cleverness. We should use our balls at the right time and for the right reasons. They should be important, and never feel too planned or overly scripted. We should think of them as we think about sex: sex is great but we don’t want to have it ALL the time. Well . . . maybe that’s the wrong analogy, but you get the point.

It’s quite clear that the old way of doing things isn’t working. The time has come to step into the light and dare to be different. Sure, our competitors will laugh. Let them laugh so hard that they cannot breathe. We should really only be interested in what the readers think. Yes, there may be a few laughing readers too, but not for long. Readers will come to enjoy “the show.”

And hopefully we will get folks talking. Great! We should want them to talk. If nobody talks it’s a sure sign we’re not doing anything very innovative. Maybe our balls will have a viral life. Maybe we will create a wave that readers want to catch. Our images can be our “preview,” our “trailer,” our trademark.

There is an aspect of this that defies explanation. I cannot prove that it exists, but I “feel” that it does. Let’s call it a sense of “coolness,” for lack of a better term. I don’t have any statistics on this, but I believe most people consider themselves to be cool; and they would like to feel they are reading a publication that is cool. They may not totally understand why, but they still want to be a part of it.

Readers will appreciate the risk we are taking; that we dare to be different. USA TODAY could take the safe approach, wading cautiously and nervously into the ever-changing media environment, but that isn’t what inspires people. Americans, in particular, like a big splash. Believing in oneself and taking that dive into the unknown stormy sea . . . now THAT inspires people.

It’s been too long since USA TODAY has taken a chance. We have allowed ourselves to become too comfortable in our niche. We seem to have lost our way, lost our mojo, if you will. But I’ve been getting some good vibes lately. This redesign is working. We are attempting to radically change the way we present the news and the way we go about our jobs.

Yes, I believe things are moving fast now and that our mojo is back . . .  and we have the balls to prove it . . .

[Image: Wolff Olins, which was instrumental in the redesign]

46 comments:

  1. Oh, we're all talking about it.
    EPIC FAIL

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  2. And she had the balls to send it!

    Just another sign that most people at USA TODAY are smiling this morning.

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  3. Speechless. I work at USA TODAY, and I actually like the redesign (the Web redo looks really snazzy), but this is just embarrassing.

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  4. I have to say riffing off of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech to present a sexually innuendo-charged block of marketing babble strikes me as tone deaf at best and insensitive at worst.

    And to extend the analogy presented, if you are going to base a campaign about having balls, you'd better have the reporting to back it up. Speculation about colonizing Mars isn't going to do it.

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  5. Who do I email at corporate about how offended I am at this memo?

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  6. I think the redesign is OK, but it's this kind of thinking that has us so out of touch with readers it's not even funny. People don't give a darn about our balls. They do however care about CONTENT...

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  7. OMG. Who is Sam Ward and does he/she get paid more than I do? He/she must be made to share the ganga! There are so many lines that should be emboidered on sofa pillows. I think each and every Gannett site should hold dramatic readings. Perhaps they could wear Star Trek uniforms while doing it.
    There's even a chance we could get it set to music. I'm thinking of, maybe, Leonard Cohen here. Or a Rod McKuen (very 1960s) hip, scratchy talk-sing thing.
    I am so glad I work for a company wonky enough to actually admit to having a staff member write this, much less a chief marketing guru with the brass to distribute it.
    Meanwhile, at four of the New Jersey newspapers, Newsgate isn't working correctly. Most editors have been unable to work on anything since 6 a.m.
    The memo reads: "We can’t beat our readers over the head with our cleverness." I personally don't think we have to worry about that point.

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  8. Clever? Perhaps, but it reeks of a sorority house with little class and sophistication…and, dare I write envy of something that some at Gannett can never physically have, except to hold.

    Will page 3 girls photographed with various balls be next?

    Frankly, HR should have a discussion with Banikarim about what’s appropriate and what’s not.

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  9. someone here suggested we should all complain to HR about those thinly veiled references...

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  10. I guess it's OK to send out sexually suggestive company emails.

    IF you're one of the anointed queens.

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  11. If it were given to an HR person instead of Maryam, the writer would be fired.

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  12. I think the logo sucks. It's an old idea. Not clever... color coding business units that has been used time and time again. And this email is like the completely overrated, unintelligent show "the office". I watched it once and thought, how crazy and unreal. No company could exist in the real world with such a lunacy of management. Well, it does exist. I'm not offended. I'm more surprised at the idiots at Gannett. IT is so cheesy to philosophize a stupid logo like he did. How about writing great content. That's what readers want.

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  13. AC/DC has long been the market leader known for their balls, the biggest balls of all.

    Though since retro is in, perhaps Banikarim can spend some money getting them to rebrand it for USAT.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g23GiivXC78

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  14. If there were a petition to ask for both of there resignations, I'd proudly sign in... and not anonymously.

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  15. "I have a dream"???? Are you kidding me??? More like WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE!!!

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  16. Is Pete Sweatty now in charge?

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  17. Well I guess the subscriber I spoke to was right when he said we weren't a family paper for posting headlines about "schweddy balls" ice cream. Apparently our business has a strange obsession with puns about "balls". Why do I have to get this juvenile shit sent to my email?

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  18. WTF? That memo is stunning in its ego and sense of self-importance. It also appears to have been written by someone who lost it years ago. As for the logo, the big blue ball? It doesn't do anything for me.

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  19. Go ahead. Get up in arms about a few references to balls. I'll read the closing, pasted below, and be hopeful that the passion reflected in that e-mail is going to produce positive change. Passion is good people. Lighten up.

    "Readers will appreciate the risk we are taking; that we dare to be different. USA TODAY could take the safe approach, wading cautiously and nervously into the ever-changing media environment, but that isn’t what inspires people. Americans, in particular, like a big splash. Believing in oneself and taking that dive into the unknown stormy sea . . . now THAT inspires people.

    It’s been too long since USA TODAY has taken a chance. We have allowed ourselves to become too comfortable in our niche. We seem to have lost our way, lost our mojo, if you will. But I’ve been getting some good vibes lately. This redesign is working. We are attempting to radically change the way we present the news and the way we go about our jobs."

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  20. New Coke was different.
    So was the MacRib.

    And the Edsel.

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  21. Why has no one has started the "blue balls" string.

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  22. 12:08 In fairness to Sam, he wrote this e-mail for an audience far smaller than 31,000 worldwide employees -- plus everyone beyond with Internet access. It appears Banikarim asked if she could forward it. Perhaps Sam was gung-ho with the idea. But I also think it would be difficult to say no to a powerful senior executive.

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  23. Was she drunk when she allowed this to be sent out?

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  24. Randy Michaels sees nothing wrong with this.

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  25. Seems @12:11 also needs a refresher on what’s appropriate in today’s workplace as this isn’t about being against USAT’s efforts, its about a senior leader of this organization passing along a memo that’s admittedly filled with sexual innuendo (whether its shared with a few or 31,000), an act that could be construed as creating a hostile environment, one that encourages and condones like acts.

    Gannett’s legal staff likely isn’t laughing it off (nor would an outside counsel), nor should they.

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  26. As to the propriety of Banikarim sending an e-mail with off-color language to thousands of employees, this may reflect a generational view of what's appropriate.

    Then again, Banikarim is no kid; she's 43.

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  27. Replaced the word balls with squares. Deleted the paragraphs withoug balls. Read it folks. It is not the smut fest some are making it out to be.

    I have a dream . . . that one day all Americans will join hands and declare their undying love for our squares; our spheres of influence, our behaviors, or whatever one chooses to call them.

    Actually, and perhaps with an air of creepiness, I DID have a dream about this very topic. I dreamt that people all over the place were talking about the images in USA TODAY’s squares. It was creating quite a stir; which, if we do our job right, shouldn’t be far from the truth.

    Whenever anyone steps outside the boundaries of the box it will create a stir. In fact, nothing good can be created without stepping outside the box. No, let me rephrase that; nothing can be created at all without stepping outside the box. Our squares could be our boldest statement; our chance to engage readers on a level that we currently are not doing.

    And I believe readers want to consider themselves sophisticated. They want to be challenged. They don’t always want everything spelled out for them. How can they feel challenged if we never offer them a challenge? If some days, readers can’t understand the symbolic imagery within our squares, they will feel a deeper level of appreciation on the days when they can. Readers form a bond with publications that trust them to “get it.”

    And just what are we asking our readers to “get?” Just what are our squares? Well, they are what we will make of them. I believe our squares are symbols of who we are and where we’re headed. They are not stories, graphics, or illustrations. They are signposts, perhaps; reminders that offer inroads into America’s stream of consciousness.

    And we have to be sensible about them too. We can’t beat our readers over the head with our cleverness. We should use our squares at the right time and for the right reasons. They should be important, and never feel too planned or overly scripted. We should think of them as we think about sex: sex is great but we don’t want to have it ALL the time. Well . . . maybe that’s the wrong analogy, but you get the point.

    And hopefully we will get folks talking. Great! We should want them to talk. If nobody talks it’s a sure sign we’re not doing anything very innovative. Maybe our squares will have a viral life. Maybe we will create a wave that readers want to catch. Our images can be our “preview,” our “trailer,” our trademark.

    Yes, I believe things are moving fast now and that our mojo is back . . . and we have the squares to prove it . . .

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  28. finally you folks have something to complain about. After all you can't complain about the stunning success of today's USAT. THe advertising dollars are huge. You won't be able to complain about the new website. So good complain about a memo. Happy Friday

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  29. If Maryam Banikarim read that letter, each sentence would start with "am", "am", "am".

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  30. So the locker room humor at Pointroll has been so pivotal in moving their revenue forward, we're implementing it company-wide?

    Yeah, I'd tap that.

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  31. Unbelievable. That's all I can say about this deteriorating brand that has no idea where to place its energies and focus to right the ship.

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  32. I'm a big fan of the USA Today redesign. Great work!

    I am not a fan of the incredibly sexist email that went out to the entire company this morning. Huge fail. Equating strenth and being bold with having balls is discriminatory and demotivating to your female audience. Thanks for the reminder that the good ol' boy network is still up and running.

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  33. Banikarim is an arrogant idiot. No news there.

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  34. Where the hell is HR in dealing with Banikarim? Has she no sense of professionalism or respect?

    Her resignation should be on Martore's desk by COB. Others have had their blue butts kicked out for less.

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  35. "Sure, our competitors will laugh. Let them laugh so hard that they cannot breathe. "

    I think that someone has failed to understand the difference between laughing *with* someone, and laughing *at* them...

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  36. Jim – I’m sure you know age and smallness of audience is not a winning legal defense, nor does offensive language need to be targeted toward a specific claimant in order to wage a hostile work environment claim.

    Unfortunately, Banikarim put Gannett in a position it need not be in, one exacerbated by her role as a senior executive as by transmitting that message she sent one herself; Gannett apparently condones the usage of sexually charged language and/or innuendo in its workplace.

    Gannett’s silence on it sends the message that they’re okay with it too, a silence that poses risks it likely should not take. Hell, Gannett would struggle in even defending Banikarim's “cool balls” when in reality, they appear as just simple circles in print, and presumably online too.

    This will be interesting to watch.

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  37. When things really start to tank - I mean really, really start to erode quickly - then this logo will be abandoned at lightening speed. It will get all the blame for the downfall despite the fact that it is a weak logo, compared to the one it replaced. Yeah, it's a ball. The people who decided to run with it have balls, not necessarily good judgement. I like new, fresh stuff but this logo pales in comparison to the one it replaced. An update of the old logo and more focus on presentation of the content would have been a better approach to this redesign. I'm sure people will get sensitive about me saying this, but this reeks of amateur hour.

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  38. I don't work for Gannett or USA Today but I had to get on the Blog because of all the chatter regarding Maryam's inappropriate email. I will not be subscribing to USA Today nor purchasing it when I travel because I find the content to be as weak as my local paper's AND I, too, think the people running this company are juvenile. I cannot believe she was allowed to send out that email.

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  39. Wow! What a bunch of bull shit.

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  40. I have a dream, that one day Gannett will finally fold for its terrible, greedy, low-quality business practices, and control of newspapers will return to people who actually care about the communities they serve, so newspaper workers can go back to work and stop getting laid off.

    No one works for Gannett because they want to, they work for Gannett because there's no other choice. Thanks for ruining newspapers everywhere.

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  41. I'd like to meet any man with perfectly circular balls and find out his secret.

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  42. THANK YOU Mr. Apple for telling the world what I posted here in the very first post: EPIC FAIL!
    http://apple.copydesk.org/2012/09/14/my-epic-search-for-a-new-and-improved-usa-today/
    What a hilarious take on this fustercluck!

    Coming soon to a cable channel in your area: MAD WOMEN - THE NEW SERIES REALITY SPINOFF, starring our own MB bs'ing to all!

    What is it P. T. Barnum once said?

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  43. I could have come up with a better logo while sitting on the can.

    Although, if I copied the first thing I saw when I stood up and looked down, it would have been the most fitting!

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  44. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  45. If a male CMO had sent that he would have been fired!

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  46. Replace the word balls with pussy (pretty sure it's plural) and all of a sudden it's way sexually charged.

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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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