Since 2011 Swiss media firm Ringier has steadily built up its African businesses covering classified platforms and media. Their growth has been significant and demonstrate that online media in Africa has potential. At Afrobytes, Russell Southwood caught up with Leonard Stiegler, Ringier Africa General Manager.
Ringier is an 185 year old family-owned media company from Switzerland. It started life as a printer for other people's products and then went on to launch the first tabloid newspaper in Switzerland, Blick. Michel Ringier is the fifth generation of the family to publish Blick.
The company has a long history of going into emerging markets:"Ringier is a very entrepreneurial company and it went into Eastern Europe in the 1990 and followed this later that decade by going into China and Vietnam and it recently went into Myanmar. It first went into Africa in 2011. Ringier has invested US$2 billion into becoming a digital company and Africa fits perfectly into this all digital business". Its Africa operation is headquartered in Lagos where Stiegler is based.
It has a strategy of "build or buy" that has allowed it to create a dynamic series of local companies:"We have an expertise and are good partners. We build local companies. We don't want to press our own entity on others but bring expertise to relevant media companies". In addition, it partners with local entrepreneurs: good partnership examples are Expat-Dakar.com (which is the leading marketplace in Senegal) and PigiaMe (which means Call Me) in Kenya.
Ringier has build two groups: Classifieds and Media. The Classifieds covers four big verticals: jobs, cars, real estate and general classifieds. The competitors in the classifieds space are Naspers, Schibsted (which came into Sub-Saharan Africa and went out again but has marketplaces in Morocco and Tunisia), Frontier Digital Ventures (out of Malaysia), Jumia Group and local entrepreneurs:"We are leading in our markets and we verify this by testing lead generation". In Nigeria, Ringier operates Jobbermnan, Chekki, and Private Property.
"When we started in Africa, media was not in vogue. We were seen quickly as a corporate going into a new market. But we have a deep entrenched knowledge about producing content and digitalizing it and out of this we can build something that works for Africa".
On the media, Pulse is its flagship media brand:" Pulse is a new media publisher that wants to provide accurate, trusted, fast and entertaining information and news wherever it is on the web, including an app and social media. The news and information users get is preset to them. We publish whenever the user wants it. The business model is primarily SMS but we also do some SMS services and video".
It has significant reach measured by unique users: Nigeria (70 million); Ghana (20 million); Kenya (10,000) and Uganda (too early for user numbers). Its overall reach is around 100 million people monthly. According to Alexa, 74% of the uniques in Nigeria are from within Nigeria itself.
"We have massive reach and lots of advertisers want to benefit from our reach. We realized that a lot of brands and advertisers didn't have online marketing, tracking and digital advertising skills. So we built a complete digital partner (Ringier Digital Marketing) to do all of these things using the agency business model focused on distributing advertising budget to different channels. We're much more a builder of communities so we then work with agencies on paid advertising. We're not there to disrupt global agencies. Out of building this reach, we have been approached by different companies wanting to come into Africa including Business Insider, the New York Times, Mens and Womens Health magazines".
The big hit in terms of media platforms has been video where with 170 million views per month it is bigger than the New York Times video offer:"We have online news shows, interviews and special short series with things like prank shows. The length varies from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Online video is the most important trend for Africa for media advertisers. If you don't have a strategy, you should make one. You need to think about how you'll grow it. Video is the content king".
The company has already got parts that are profitable:" Overall we're still investing. But structurally parts of the business are profitable". So what are the company's future expansion plans?:"We find francophone Africa interesting, particularly countries like Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire. We see growth there and we have some feelers out. We're not in a rush to start new platforms".