Interviews Maryam Banikarim

Maryam BanikarimA member of our Generation W community, Maryam Banikarim, was recently interviewed by about her goals and challenges as the chief marketing officer of Gannett, the largest U.S. newspaper publisher reaching millions of people via digital, mobile, broadcast and print media.  Here is an excerpt: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you become interested in marketing as a career?
Banikarim: It’s kind of a funny story. When I was in college, I did a column for the college paper. It was an insider’s guide, so if you were in London [I would write] “What are the five places you should go where you could feel like an insider?” This was when the Gap had a campaign called the Individuals of Style [using celebrities as models]. It was like Kim Bassinger in a simple white T-shirt, and they localized that campaign. … I had this idea of doing [the column] as a free-standing guide with different cities featuring that campaign, and actually having it sold and distributed at the Gap stores.

I mocked it up and sent it to Mickey Drexler, who was president of the Gap at the time. I didn’t really think much of it. I just put it in the mail, and, to my surprise, he called, and we ended up meeting. And that’s what steered me into a career in advertising and marketing. Is that what intrigued you about Gannett—telling the story?
Banikarim: I’ve been in the media business off and on for most of my career. I mean, who didn’t watch “All the President’s Men” and understand the importance of journalism and what it brought to the fray? But I think more importantly for me, it was the opportunity to be part of a turnaround. I love solving parable problems, and it was a CMO job with a seat at the table. In media, that’s pretty rare. What were some of your initial goals? What were you hoping to accomplish?
Banikarim: When I joined Gannett, I must have done an informational interview like once or twice a week. So many people were sort of freaked out about what was going on in the business and feeling like we were really at an inflection point. One of the things that struck me when I walked in the door was how low employee morale was. Again, I go back to the “All the President’s Men” notion: Nobody came to Gannett to become a gagillionaire. They came because they wanted to change something for the better.

Don’t get me wrong—people still want a paycheck, but there was a higher cause. And there was a feeling that they were willing to take the hill, and they were incredibly passionate, but they weren’t quite sure what hill they were supposed to be taking.

One of the first projects I undertook was understanding and uncovering the DNA of Gannett and what our greater purpose was as an organization, across the 32,000 employees. You’re almost like an anthropologist where you’re digging back to the origin and having that common language so that we all could remember where we were all heading. … I could sense that the employees needed to be rallied. What is your marketing philosophy?
Banikarim: My philosophy is about being … incredibly laser-focused on the consumer and willing to listen and take that feedback and look to be somebody that is solving a problem. … In the end, that’s what great marketing is. You know, two of my favorite marketers are people that people don’t even consider necessarily marketers—Steve Jobs and Micky Drexler. They were really good at listening to consumers and executing flawlessly.

Click here to read the entire interview.