There's been a lot of change underway at the good old dependable Associated Press in the last few weeks, culminating in the hiring of a new president and CEO, Gary Pruitt. We were intrigued by this news since, the AP has been redecorating a lot, revamping its social media strategy, redesigned its logo, and releasing a YouTube video that explained how the new logo was symbolic of a larger shift at the 166-year-old organization. The only problem with all the intriguing possibilities of Thursday's news, though? Pruitt, already a member of AP's board, the new president and CEO is not actually very intriguing.
Pruitt, to be completely fair, is a very impressive man. Born in Virginia but raised in Satellite Beach, Florida, the 54-year-old executive holds a law degree and a master's degree from Berkeley. After doing First Amendment work for a law firm in Florida, he joined McClatchy newspapers, where he climbed the ranks, becoming chief executive in 1996. He was only 38 at the time. However, things haven't been awesome over the course of the past five years. The economic crisis hit McClatchy hard and the company's stock has failed to recover from the free fall that started at the end of 2004, when the share price peaked near $75. While it's difficult to pinpoint a reason why McClatchy has suffered as a company, Pruitt failed to pull the nation's third largest newspaper company's value back up. At the time of this posting, McClatchy was trading at $2.91.
In joining the Associated Press, Pruitt said in a video to staff, "I hold a deep appreciation and respect for AP's leading role in advocating for transparency public access government a countability and press freedom around the world." He also noted, "AP's continuing leadership and innovation in video and digital media are immensely valuable to all of AP's members and customers."
To be fair, these sorts of hi-how-are-ya messages from new corporate leadership are supposed to be simple and safe. But Pruitt hardly sounds inspirational, speaking in a measured, dull tone. Pruitt doesn't feel like a fresh new face ready to turn the company around because, well, he may not be. PaidContent's Staci Kramer says that Pruitt's choice "shouldn’t be surprising. The AP board trusts few people more than its own members."
Being simple and safe seems to be the AP's MO, and that's okay. However, as competitors like Reuters and Bloomberg continue to innovate more quickly and scoop up market share, the AP will find itself in danger of losing its status as leader in global news. Reuters and Bloomberg are enjoying a particularly fruitful period in their histories. (Bloomberg more than Reuters, it seems.) With the resources to double-down on digital and make big name hires, the other two services are starting to seem not only innovative but downright hip.
Then again, does the AP need to be hip? Probably not, but that doesn't stop them from feinting in that direction. A month before naming Pruitt, the company redesigned its logo, and then-current CEO Tom Curly certainly sounded like he was trying to freshen up the brand, even make it a little cool. "Now we're making an evolution because of the new devices," Curly said in the video below, with a sassy beat playing in the background. "Now is the moment that we have an opportunity to showcase who we are and what we stand for."
We were getting excited about the new logo and the "Now is the moment!" sort of attitude from the AP. Pruitt might bring it when he shows up for his new job in July. He'll be the 13th person to run the AP, the last in a Baker's Dozen. Will he inspire, will he intrigue? We'll see.