Media24’s board has approved a major restructuring of the company that will change how it works, the way it collaborates, how it allocates resources and enables staff, as well as how it markets itself, says CEO Esmaré Weideman.
The “big undertaking” also heralds changes in staff, and a massive focus on digitalisation. To this end, Media24 has poached Lisa MacLeod from the Financial Times and FT.com in the United Kingdom. MacLeod will be in charge of all Media24’s digital publishing assets that will be housed in a single digital content hub. She will “work hand-in-hand with our editors to ensure our content is best published on our digital platforms”, Weideman said in a wide-ranging email to staff, seen by The Media Online.
We asked her how she pulled off bringing MacLeod back to South Africa.
“With a stroke of luck and good timing! We invited Lisa to speak at our annual leadership conference this July and she was brilliant. I immediately knew that we had to get her on board. I started working on her at dinner that evening… I’d like to think she was as bowled over by Media24 as we were by her! Lisa is an expert on print and digital integration, digital publishing and workflow systems and change management,” Weideman told The Media Online.
“With the wealth of experience she gained at FT.com and the Financial Times, she is exactly what we needed to strengthen our team. As GM of digital publishing she will take responsibility for formulating and executing a single digital publishing strategy, free and paid, across our News, Lifestyle and 24.com divisions. (You may have noticed: ‘Lifestyle’ is the new name of the division previously known as Media24 Magazines.),” she said.
The different name of the magazine division, which will be headed up by Charlene Beukes, isn’t the only change afoot at the country’s largest media company.
Weideman says the digital imperative has driven the need to restructure so as to “fast track our growth and better monetise our digital publishing assets”. It mainly affects news, magazines and 24.com and will enable the group to “rally behind a single digital publishing strategy — no longer a collection of fragmented divisional strategies executed in different silos”.
“Media24 has always followed a federal system with our divisions working in isolation (and often in competition with each other). What we need to do now is break down those silos to get better efficiencies in our business and to foster greater collaboration,” she says. “We should be focusing on getting our great content to as many consumers as possible, across as many platforms as possible. Also, we are preparing ourselves for a future where our new businesses, built to diversify our revenue base, will start kicking in and where publishing will be one of several solid revenue streams for the company.
“So I think the change from CEO to GM is an important psychological shift, in our own heads. Having said that, journalism and content will always be at the heart of Media24 and we absolutely and passionately believe in the future of media,” Weideman said.
The new general manager of news is Ishmet Davidson, who takes over from Fergus Sampson who left in September. Adriaan Basson becomes editor in chief of Netwerk24 but remains editor of Beeld. And 24.com chief, Geoff Cohen, will focus on the new businesses such as online job classifieds and online services. “This is a key growth area for Media24 and there is no-one better than Geoff to lead the charge to realise our ambitions in the rest of Africa and to diversify the company for future growth,” Weideman said in her email.
Key to these operations is introducing new cost efficiencies. Does this mean further retrenchments? Weideman says the new structure and the unifying of digital properties within 24.com are “intended to build efficiencies and drive growth, not to cut jobs”.
“We have been actively managing our costs over the past few years and will continue to do so. Sadly this has included staff retrenchments similar to what we have seen in media businesses around the world and in South Africa,” she said.
“Like media companies globally our traditional print operations have been hit hard by declining advertising revenue and circulation. Over 60 of our senior staff have been working on plans to reduce costs and drive efficiencies in our businesses,” she told The Media Online. “We have identified initiatives ranging from consolidating back-end functions such as finance and IT to optimising distribution and printing. Some of these initiatives will kick off immediately and others will be fully implemented over the next two years.”
Also in the works are discussions with digital media agency, The SpaceStation, to handle the company’s news inventory. “The SpaceStation, the premium display advertising sales house in sub-Saharan Africa, already sells inventory across our 24.com and lifestyle sites and will work towards a similar agreement with our news division. The very competent Ads24 and direct sales teams in our news division will continue to sell print, digital and 360 degree advertising solutions to their huge client base,” Weideman explained.
Weideman said the company faces “tough but exciting times”.
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