On How OKRs and Agility are Remaking a Legacy Media Giant


Mayur Gupta headshot
Mayur Gupta

Former Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer at Gannett

Episode notes

The special challenges confronted by a legacy media giant are the focus of this episode of Dreams with Deadlines, featuring Chief Marketing Officer Mayur Gupta. Host Jenny Herald elicits nuts-and-bolts details about how the Gannett – USA Today Network has moved to broaden its platform and shift to a subscriber-based model. Mayur offers insights into designing a dynamic team structure, embracing a customer-obsessed focus, and implementing synergistic, methodical OKRs across departments.

NOTE: This episode was recorded when Mayur was the Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer at Gannett. He has since moved on to Kraken Digital Asset Exchange as their Chief Marketing Officer.

What you will learn

  • Mayur’s personal evolution from engineer to marketing and growth strategist.
  • What it looks like to marshal a major shift in alignment within a traditional news organization whose first priority is to remain a trusted source.
  • How Mayur was tasked with expanding Gannett’s platform and reach through a customer-obsessed focus on experience, engagement, and retention.
  • The various teams – or “pods” – that worked cross-functionally to execute on a broad range of OKRs while never losing sight of the organization’s foundational “North Stars.”
  • The critical role that marketing has to play in aligning teams that are laser-focused on building a brand that is not only beloved but positioned for increased market share and growth. 

Show notes

  • [00:03:57] Mayur starts the conversation with a little about his career evolution from engineering to marketing to working with one of the largest legacy media companies in the U.S.
  • [00:07:44] Understanding marketing as a potential center of and agent for growth – a shift of paradigm from its relatively static function in the 20th century into what became a “rather soulless” pursuit tailored to digital platforms and adtech data.
  • [00:09:39] Covid refocused businesses on the importance of honoring customer engagement and “the why” because, far beyond data, loyalty maps to shared narratives and authentic connection.  
  • [00:11:40] Mayur reflects on integrating technology into legacy companies and the most common underlying challenge across all verticals: The challenge to adapt to a rapidly evolving marketplace in which the nimble and responsive cultures will dominate.
  • [00:14:32] Getting granular about Mayur’s experience at Gannett, a traditional media conglomerate trying to transition on two fronts: 
    • Evolving from the legacy print orientation that has been central to newspapers for hundreds of years to a natively digital business.
    • Shifting from an advertising-led business model focused on eyeballs and impressions to a subscriber-led focus on customer experience and the core value of content (which can include gaming and other forms of engagement).
  • [00:17:13] Piggybacking on Mayur’s observations, Jenny echoes the belief that creating an ethos of safety amidst chaos and calm amidst a frenetic, even manic, pace will be a huge differentiator for enterprises moving ahead.
  • [00:17:43] Focusing in on the content subscription model and what it looks like for legacy media companies like Gannett that are making the transition.
  • [00:20:08] Mayur unpacks the various facets of Gannett that underlie its core mission, which is to be a gatekeeper and trusted source of news and information.
  • [00:20:25] Beyond journalism and news, Gannett’s mandate is evolving to invest in sports, educational products, contextual tools
  • [00:22:24] How a subscription-based model fosters a “customer-obsessed” culture dedicated to creating incremental value that keeps readers/viewers coming back.
  • [00:23:33] Personalization has a powerful role to play in helping to tailor data to specific audience members – to “become the Netflix of non-fiction,” as Mayur puts it.
  • [00:26:13] Mayur weighs in on the metaverse, and the role education has to play in this rapidly developing ecosystem.
  • [00:28:13] About the concept of “pods" recently deployed at Gannett, creating cross-functional units that are self-sustaining and autonomous with very clearly defined OKRs and core leaders to keep teams on track.
  • [00:28:47] Gannett “pods” are constantly mapping to five “North Star” priorities, including strategies for supporting operations agility and decision-making processes.
  • [00:30:55] More about the strategy ops role that Mayur is implementing to orchestrate all the moving parts and shape the chaos. It’s a work in progress with evolving OKRs and assessments along the way.
  • [00:33:24] Gannett’s Shift Out of a Legacy Mindset: Mayur explains the current transition from laying a foundation for change in 2021 to adopting a lean mentality in 2022 that emphasizes autonomy over bureaucracy, nimbleness, and velocity.
  • [00:33:55] The role of communications across the enterprise in accelerating and bringing the marketplace into the organization in a vivid, agile way.
  • [00:34:51] Breaking down the CMO role, which Mayur believes should explicitly focus on advocating for customers and tracking market developments to grow business and user value. He regards the role as a flywheel with three key components:
    • Growing the brand
    • Growing the user base
    • Growing user value
  • [00:36:47] About user retention and the constant cultivation required to manage fickle audiences and maintain loyalty in a world where customers have infinite choices.
  • [00:39:31] To secure enduring relationships, brands must find ways to communicate to customers the emotional, value, and data moats that represent incremental investments that make it hard to jump ship. Think Netflix and LinkedIn.
  • [00:42:30] Serendipity and irrationality impact a platform’s success, but growing a beloved brand identity is the most critical factor for scaling velocity and longevity. Project managers must work synergistically with marketing and vice versa to ensure the company ethos is evident and connects with users. 
  • [00:46:03] Mayur takes a deeper dive into the concept of brand outcome and the elements that must be orchestrated in order to create a cross-functional network of commitment to the ultimate: Amazing customer experience.
  • [00:48:38] Critical components on which Mayur relies to assess and ladder up KPIs:
  • [00:50:33] A Quick Fire Question for Mayur Gupta:
    • What’s your dream with a deadline? To remain continually challenged while also enjoying the ride and observing gratitude – a human revolution towards what in the Buddhist practice is known as a state of absolute happiness. When you’ve reached that place? Things like OKRs and KPIs fall into the right proportion.

About our guest:

Mayur Gupta headshot
Mayur Gupta

Former Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer

Mayur Gupta is an engineer who evolved into a marketer with several pivots through his career. He is the CMO at Kraken Digital Asset Exchange. Prior to that, he led the transformation of Gannett - USA Today Network from the largest news media company to a growing content subscription platform that is obsessed with user value and subscriber growth.

Additional resources