In time of crisis, Los Andes accelerates new revenue models, digitisation

By Luis García

Los Andes/Grupo Clarín

Mendoza, Argentina

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There were a lot of changes in June for our regional newspaper. July was another month spent searching for stability while we still worked on sustainability of our digital future, maintaining traditional profitable products.

Context and challenges

The Argentine economic crisis of the fourth quarter 2020 and the beginning of 2021 were important challenges for traditional media. Nothing can compare to the arrival of COVID-19, which required a very long, mandatory, socially preventive isolation in Argentina. It was like a car crash, impossible to avoid. We had to stop and see how we fared. And then, start the recovery.

At first, we were paralysed by the diagnosis. We had a plan to carry out in 2021, which would lead us toward the goal of digitization. Almost all the tasks would be done during this year: a new digital platform, paywall, and the production and launch of more than 10 digital content and advertising formats. These would provide options within our business model of media companies.

Los Andes has gone through many changes to fully realise its potential as a digital media source.
Los Andes has gone through many changes to fully realise its potential as a digital media source.

From the end of February until the middle of May, we continued on that path. It was in the first fortnight of May that we moved forward and pushed every future plan to while keeping an eye on constant monitoring over the coming months.

Until June, our company did not achieve balance in EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation). Every month we got closer, but we couldn’t achieve success. We planned to achieve EBITDA balance in October 2020, once we readjusted the budget after the initial COVID-19 wave.

However, with a huge effort, July is our first month with blue numbers in 2020. From now through the end of the year, the enormous challenge will be to keep this up in a very uncertain country, economy, and world.

Plan and operation

We moved on our five pillars for the June launch:

  1. A smaller, flexible structure and new processes. 
  2. Focus on leadership for the digital and newspaper audience.
  3. New technology for the Web platform to meet audience behaviours.
  4. Log-in requirement/paywall and subscription model.
  5. Moving the newspaper format to tabloid.

At the end of June, we went deeper with a strict stabilisation monitoring plan using 12 multi-disciplinary teams to adapt to the new reality, and generate changes. These multi-disciplinary teams were guided by two quotes:

  • “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” — Stephen Hawking.
  • “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change” — Charles Darwin.

The issues these teams are working on include:

Exclusive content for subscribers: This requires an interactive dialogue among the newsroom’s main editors, CEO, and digital team leaders, who contemplate the audience’s behaviours and interests. They also consider the media agenda of relevance and influence, and the social role of a media company in the community.

Monetisation of different market opportunities: This is undertaken by a multi-disciplinary team that includes marketing, the newsroom, sales, the CEO, administration, technology, and media partners. The priorities are the 10 new sales formats we have produced in the last two years. We are still are working on income participation.

The Los Andes paywall received 40,000 logins in the first month alone.
The Los Andes paywall received 40,000 logins in the first month alone.

Circulation newspaper, log-in wall, paywall, and loyalty club: This requires weekly behaviour monitoring of buying traditional daily product in the middle of the lockdown and the impact of restrictions of compulsory social preventive isolation. It also includes daily monitoring of the log-in wall.

In the first month of launching the log-in wall and paywall, we reached 40,000 logins with more than 50 notes read. We consider this a success. We also have 11,000 paid content members.

The loyalty club is another important meeting point in the context of the economic crisis. Loyalty club members get a 20% discount in supermarkets, gas stations, and e-commerce stores as the main benefits as well as restaurant, cafe, and show discounts.

Marketing: Communicating our social role, our role of providing fact-checked information, and how close we are to population problems is vital. Marketing plays a major role in being at the forefront of behaviours and conversions as well as seeing and trying best practices, or modifying them to the habits in the province.

Audience and business intelligence: This team meets weekly and summarises the daily interactions of the audience with our media company on our platforms. This includes information like the most viewed information and articles, topics of interest, and our performance on social networks. This team follows our loyal readers’ (400,000 people) preferences and interests and our readers with more than 10 monthly notes.

Public affairs and Los Andes’ social role in its province: We try to engage in dialogue with region majors on a weekly basis. Our relationship with Mendoza’s central government and how we work together is vital. We try to analyse the impact of national and international politics on the local economy and social situation.

Weekly management team meeting: Each team shares with the rest of the company’s team leaders about its current agenda, state of issues, and whether it is necessary for the CEO to participate in any matter to get faster results or to change or re-establish the course of action or goals. It is a space that generates new, integrated ideas and strengthens the common goal of sustainability.

Weekly forecast meeting by project and platform, while supporting the traditional advertising and circulation model: Fridays are the weekly forecast days. We analyse information with our sales team on how we are doing with advertisers and the platforms we are targeting and strengthening. We also define our goals for the weekend on all platforms.

Meeting of work culture and talent of our industry: In a high-tech world, companies that come from the traditional world have a difficult time adapting and generating attractiveness for digital natives. Because of this, we must generate routines that lead to habits and thus create culture. We must also assert the pillars of relevance and the social role of the media in society throughout history.

Forum of best practices with other local and international regional media, as well as the view of the media industry in general: On Monday mornings, we review what we perceived as relevant to our media. We also review the content that was most viewed and interacted with on social networks, including advertising guidelines. It is an important exercise to review the best practices throughout the country, region, or world.

Weekly forecast meeting: This touches on revenue, collections, finance, projections, and the COVID-19 economy. In the COVID-19 economy, the focus is on cash, being close to our advertisers and social clusters, reducing costs, and accelerating income models and projects.

Innovation forum for new revenue models and products to be tested: This team is vitally important right now. We accelerated the incorporation of new digital tools such as arc, login, and paywall. We changed formats and adapted the press, working with modifications due to the fact tools didn’t arrive because of closed borders. We implemented a virtual wine sales store and accelerated newsletter projects.

Conclusions from our experience in June and July

We will continue working step-by-step as a team, without pause, trying to cope with uncertainty. We strongly believe reformulating a 136-year-old regional media company takes time. We are doing our best to accelerate our speed. This takes commitment, intensive learning, a tolerance for frustration, loyalty, humility, and a huge amount of effort to face this task.

Banner image courtesy of DavidRockDesign from Pixabay.

About Luis García

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