Roller-coaster ride into a new media landscape
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Under Sekunjalo’s ownership, Independent Media has evolved rapidly, says Sandy Naudé.
A media career largely focused on advertising and marketing across a number of titles and groups found me in the position of general manager of the Cape region for the then-Independent Newspapers, with a dash of digital, when our group was sold to Sekunjalo.
Prior to the sale, Independent Newspapers was mired in cost-cutting and a lack of investment, particularly in digital, due to the challenges faced by our former foreign owners.
Fast-forward to the end of 2013 and new ownership.
Regional management (our silos), where incidentals ordered by out-of-town execs were cost-coded to their regions, disappeared to build the national structure.
Our new company moved into a new space - a South African space - where all readers and advertisers would have a voice and an opportunity to grow their dialogues.
Regional silos were transformed into national structures to maximise sales opportunities and the sharing of projects.
National conferences and town hall meetings brought commercial and editorial teams together with the same objective to transform our business by building our brands and commercial pitches.
A specialist government cluster was formed to handle the specific commercial requirements for the government. Editors collaborated with commercial teams and agreed on innovative styles for advertisers.
The mojo - or mobile journalism - studio was launched and new titles with a focus on vernacular were introduced.
I found myself back in the commercial revenue generation trenches but with a national portfolio to manage.
It has been a very active journey bringing innovation and the sharing of ideas into one pool where what was needed was national teamwork rather than regional focus - an enjoyable challenge largely due to a great commercial team.
We have always had proudly regional commercial teams who are fiercely territorial, with a touch of “if it wasn’t invented here it will probably not work”.
But because we are fortunate to have a team of committed sales mavericks, we adapted swiftly to expectations and we were soon sharing the love and pooling ideas and strengths.
It has been a wild ride with plenty of bumps along the way but we work tightly as a team and commercial camaraderie has seen us through the change.
This is particularly relevant in the digital space where our print staff have embraced intense digital training and it has been rewarding to see their excitement when they notch up digital sales.
Training is now in its second phase with the positive result of commercial teams selling both print and digital packages.
Our multi-platform packages will include print, digital, video, augmented reality and events that offer clients a range of options for their requirements.
Our commercial teams, particularly sales management, have embraced the change and shown their ability to adapt to a changing media landscape.
My personal experience has been a widening of horizons and increased regional knowledge. Although I had spent plenty of time in Gauteng, I had not experienced KZN and the Northern Cape, which have both been positive learning curves with market opportunities.
I have found the media landscape in KZN, Gauteng and the Cape to be very different in terms of markets, products and staff. The lesson learnt is one size does not fit all and understanding the local market and clients is key to the success and market share growth we were fortunate enough to experience last year. Independent Media grew its market share by 5 percent in 2015.
Listening to managers and key staff who know their markets has added substantial value to our strategy.
One of my proudest moments was Independent Media winning the International News and Media Association’s (INMA) Global Innovation Award for Africa last year in New York.
This was acknowledgement that we were on the right path.
What further showcases our transformation as a business is our three finalists in the 2016 Global INMA Awards this month in London, in the categories of video, mobile and reader engagement.
I was honoured to be nominated to INMA’s international board at the end of 2014. INMA informs innovation, as no industry is changing as fast as media.
Another proud moment was when Diamond Fields Advertiser’s general manager Rudi Ferreira won a scholarship to the Berlin School of Creative Learnership, confirming his prowess as an innovation and creative thought leader in Kimberley.
We have wonderful staff development stories in our commercial teams.
Tommy Moodley, who retires this month, was a messenger who became the regional field sales manager for Cape Town. Zaid Samuels, previously a driver and messenger, is a key commercial photographer, and Rene Williams, head of sales in Cape Town, started her career with us as a desktop publishing operator.
There are many more great stories of career growth in our company.
We are fortunate to be able to provide a bouquet of titles and offers that benefit our diverse South African needs and I am proud to work with a resilient team with the expertise to serve an environment that changes at a furious pace.
We need to be agile, active, lean and open to past lessons. We need to learn to listen to colleagues who add value, and fail fast if projects don’t pan out.
We need to celebrate success, acknowledge those who have generated great ideas, and utilise our collective creativity to grow our traditional print titles into a world-class multi-platform media group specifically for our customers and stakeholders.
We are on our way.
* Sandy Naudé is Group Executive: Direct Advertising and Community Newspapers for Independent Media
** Friday Files by Gasant Abarder is on a break, and will return next week.