Operating a successful media business in a small market is a major challenge, according to Lyudmila Chekina, CEO at TUT.BY, the leading online news portal in Belarus, which employs more than 50 editorial staff and is read by 42.9% of all Belarusian internet users.
And in the case of media, success is not just measured on the balance sheet: independent media needs a sustainable business model to keep the stories coming out.
“A successful financial model enables an independent media outlet to survive,” says Chekina. “Increased profitability also enables an outlet to be independent of large corporate advertisers.”
Though the company had grown from a start-up in 2000 to a major digital media player, its dependence on the brand advertising market in Belarus and increasing online competition, including from foreign players, meant TUT.BY needed to develop its organisational structure and introduce better operational processes to stay ahead of the game.
To do so, it turned to the EU-funded Advice for Small Businesses programme, implemented by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development as part of the EU4Business initiative. They connected TUT.BY with a team of international business consultants from Poland.
As part of the project, the consultants:
- Conducted 10 visits to the company’s headquarters in Minsk
- Organised 2 business matching trips to Warsaw and more than 10 thematic workshops
- Helped the company to develop a 3-year business plan
- Reviewed the company’s strategic priorities and revenue channels
- Helped set up financial budgeting and investment planning
- Developed key operational areas, such as sales and content management.
“The project helped the company improve significantly its operational performance, provided advice on its video sector development and budgeting, as well as enabled it to make some strategic decisions that changed its structure,” said Chekina.
The overall changes implemented during the project enabled TUT.BY to define long-term goals through the development of a three-year strategic plan, which included the introduction of strategic initiatives such as the implementation of programmatic advertisement and a new format of video news. In addition, the company conducted a critical analysis of its current portfolio vs. market opportunities, and decided to sell its non-core assets to a strategic investor.
As a result of these changes, earnings are up 20%. “For sure, the improved earning capacity has gradually increased the editorial budget and the number of employed journalists,” says Chekina, adding: “Our earning capacity helps us to preserve our independence.”
Lyudmila Chekina is confident looking forward, but conscious of the need to diversify for growth: “In small countries, the limited market is a key problem for the media operating based on an advertising model. Therefore, we believe that the development of content projects with the possibility to expand into large markets and media cooperation with leading service companies in other markets… are the most forward-looking and efficient strategies.”
EU4Business has been critical in priming TUT.BY for the future, strengthening the company’s ability to identify and tap into new market trends, developing new products and establishing new partnerships.