Esmaré Weideman has been CEO of Media24 for just over eight months. Peta Krost Maunder asked how she is doing.
There is nothing easy about the role that Esmaré Weideman took on at Media24 in May 2011, but she is clearly not afraid of getting her hands dirty…
“It is obviously still pretty new for me as well as everyone reporting to me, but I believe I am slowly starting to get a grip on the priorities,” she says. Weideman is “working closely with the various teams to focus on the key areas that need attention”.
She cites the digital future of the group’s newspapers and implementing the new SAP distribution system as top of the list.
She was involved with the introduction of a new management structure in the newspaper division and appointing a new managing director at On the Dot, the group’s distribution company. “We have also worked hard at identifying the key digital priorities for our various businesses over the next few years,” she says.
In the near future, her eyes are going to be firmly on stringent cost-cutting, balanced with looking for strategic new investment opportunities. “It is a tough time to be taking over the reins at a media company anywhere in the world,” she explains. “The economic recovery has been much slower than anticipated so, along with all the media companies, we need to focus on cost-cutting wherever we can to prepare ourselves for the slower-than-anticipated economic recovery. We need to balance that with the investment costs you would expect at the leading media company in Africa, which Media24 is.”
Weideman plans to attract top young talent to the group and to develop the talent of those already employed. She recently launched a roadshow to all the companies in the group – “one of my messages being ‘I am Media24’, which is an effort to unlock that energy, passion and pride I believe we need to remain at the forefront of excellence in our industry,” she says.
Weideman is focusing on preparing the group for a digital future. “We have long moved from a position as a traditional print company where we see online as a threat. Instead, we embrace the opportunities it offers. The key challenge is to turn this into a good business. At the same time, we believe print has legs, particularly in South Africa, so we will continue to look for new opportunities in print, particularly in the black market.”
Moving to the helm hasn’t been easy. “I have always been a very hands-on editor so, for the past 10 years, I knew my businesses inside out,” she says. “It is hard for me to run businesses at arms’ length, where I don’t know the nitty-gritty of every business but have to rely on – and trust – the management and editorial teams that report to me.”
One of her first offspring as CEO was NewsNow – a weekly, bite-size news magazine. While some in the industry are still sceptical that there is room for such a magazine, Weideman insists: “It has had an exceptional reception.” She says, “NewsNow is the classic example of not throwing the baby out with the bath water. Everyone is saying people don’t read newspapers any more, they get their news online. Point being, we need someone to filter the barrage of ‘news’ you get from the internet nowadays – and for busy and discerning news consumers, that is almost impossible.
“Enter NewsNow, a bunch of very experienced and knowledgeable reporters who sift through all the good and all the rubbish out there, and tell you what you need to know on a weekly basis. I am its number one fan.”
While she was partly responsible for NewsNow, the reorganisation of the newspaper division was something she inherited when it was already half done, she says. “I fully understand the rationale – to get the voices of the editors heard much earlier, to make the reporting lines flatter and cut through bureaucracy,” she explains.
Another problem she inherited is the Afrikaans newspapers’ substantial drop in numbers. She attributes this major problem to three things: “Firstly, we suffered some blows because of our now-defunct distribution system. Secondly, people are moving online to consume breaking news and, finally, we are in the midst of a tight economy.”
Interestingly, all the other newspapers are also experiencing the last two reasons Weideman cites, but they are not undergoing vast drops in circulation. Hmmm!
However, to her and Media24’s credit, they may not be buying these excuses either. As Weideman adds: “We are doing widespread research to find out what lies at the heart of the circulation losses we have been experiencing in our Afrikaans titles.”
So, while there is much on the go at Media24 – what with successes, battles, new titles out and more in the pipeline,– this vigilant journalist-turned-business leader is determined to keep on top of things at Media24.
This story was first published in The Media magazine.