Klaas Glenewinkel is kick-starting markets for private media advertising in post-conflict regions. This allows local print, radio, and television media to become more independent from political and religious groups and it enables companies from around the world to support pluralistic societies through their advertising budget. Klaas is working through a grassroots research and advertising agency that is dramatically lowering entry-barriers into the fragmented and under-researched media markets in post-conflict regions.
The New Idea
Media in Cooperation and Transition (MICT) is one of a few of Germany’s private media development citizen organizations (COs); Klaas has trained journalists and independent media outlets in many post-conflict countries, such as Iraq, Sudan, Tunisia, and Afghanistan. For more than ten years, he improved their journalistic quality through on-the-job training programs. In all these years, Klaas saw many well trained and professionally working independent media outlets go bankrupt after Western donors left the country. Lacking financial sustainability of independent media in post-conflict regions is a well-known but still unresolved problem in international media development.
Realizing that business and management competencies can be just as important as journalistic quality, Klaas started to amplify MICT’s training programs two years ago. He began to train media outlets on how to generate revenue through advertising and started to match them with international and local advertisement clients. Now Klaas has created a new for-profit entity, Plural Media Services, a media and advertising sales organization that builds on MICT’s long-standing personal network and contacts within the field of local independent media. Plural trains journalists to be media managers and then plays the role of an international matchmaker bridging the existing gap to commercial advertisers (international and local companies) by facilitating advertising campaigns.
Plural’s advertising campaigns create win-win-win situations for companies, local media, and citizens. Companies gain credible CSR opportunities in addition to professional advertisement in regions that are hard to reach. While local media earn impartial income and build internal capacities, citizens gain further economic citizenship as they participate in a broader and more sustainable market. Plural works as a self-sufficient social business and transfers profits to media development activities not covered by governmental support.
Millions of people live in post-conflict regions without access to stable independent media. Unbiased and professional media are essential for democratic reconstruction, nation building, and economic livelihoods. As a result, many media organizations in these regions are financially dependent on governments, political parties or religious groups, which may contribute to the conflict in the regions. The result is a reliance on project-based funding in the context of international media cooperation that is both short-term and focused on improving journalistic competencies. Media institutions thus lack the capacity to build up their own sustainable income streams.
In addition to the lack of democratic reconstruction in media institutions that poses a problem in post-conflict regions, many economic opportunities in these quickly recovering consumer markets go untapped. Unfortunately, there is a lack of business acumen among local media makers to explain to market advertisers the potential value of this market. In addition, there is a lack of transparency in local markets from the perspective of international media sales agencies, which further hinders the opening of this market. This lack of transparency, for example, causes inaccurate information about where products are sold to be spread throughout a post-conflict region. There is a need for this market to be realized and then transparency applied to it.
The current media landscape with its numerous scattered, small-scale, locally focused and poorly connected organizations is not profitable enough for professional media sales. Advertising agencies prevent these brokers from playing their role as market catalysts in the field, which results in markets that are served either by small unprofessional local agencies or foreign agencies focusing on big state-dependent media organizations. Democratic institution building is thus compromised. In addition, smaller independent media are usually not capable of showcasing their advertising capacity and do not understand the mechanisms of the advertisement business. Without detailed knowledge of their audience, most media struggle in pricing advertisements properly and often undermine their journalistic professionalism through mixing sponsored and editorial content.
Plural links the advertising interests of international and local businesses to independent local media institutions by providing services for marketing campaigns on site. As a sister organization of MICT, Plural can utilize its established networks, tools, and methods on site.
Plural starts its practical on-the-job training with grassroots research assistance. It helps media institutions fully understand the scope, demography and interest of their audience/readers, often for the very first time. Once this analysis is done, the entities can begin thinking about a realistic pricing of their available advertising space. In this process, Plural offers valuable benchmarking knowledge and teaches young media makers the underlying mechanisms of their local (and global) advertising market. After having internalized the difference between journalistic and sponsored content and journalistic codices through practical training, independent journalists become media managers aware of the advertising potential of their media outlets and able to realize their full business acumen.
Plural is currently using MICT’s operational infrastructure and is only active in countries where MICT is already present with a well-established network across local independent media entities. MICT is an independent CO based in Berlin, with offices in Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, and South Sudan. MICT specializes in training journalists and other media producers in content development. MICT’s activities are currently focused on the Middle East and in northern and east Africa, where the organization undertakes a variety of activities. These include the operation of a network of professional in-country journalists that produce unique reports for print media, television and radio, as well as running a number of training programs in various media sectors. MICT has also released several of its own publications on culture, media, and other related subjects. MICT’s 2009 project, Wirtschaftsplattform Irak (Business Platform Iraq), is an online marketplace for German companies willing to invest in Iraq.
Starting in Iraq and leveraging the MICT network, Plural trained media managers and committed first market research to analyze the local infrastructure for national advertising campaigns. With several media outlets, Plural has already committed audience analyses and feasibility studies. The first advertisement deals were signed with the Swedish pharmaceutical company Awamedica, along with Audi, and a German company importing consumer goods, while others are being discussed with Mercedes Benz, DHL, and Lufthansa.
Plural plans to quickly broaden its client base to local advertisers and expand geographically to other MICT target countries (e.g. Afghanistan, Sudan, Tunisia, and Egypt). In the growth phase, 70 percent of profits will be reinvested and 30 percent serve as earned income for MICT and other media development initiatives. Local media will be paid market prices for their ads. Plural will also open source its method so that other media development agencies can adapt its learnings.
Plural applies and constantly checks compliance with a rigorous code of conduct by its partners and is itself evaluated by independent organizations such as BBC World Trust, the Thompson Foundation, and the University of Zurich. The organization measures its success by the income generated for local independent media. Klaas founded Plural with the German advertisement maven, Thomas Koch, as his business partner. Thomas was named Media Person of the Year 2010 and will now, after his retirement, dedicate most of his time pro bono to win big international companies as advertisement clients for Plural. Two of Germany’s biggest newspapers recently reported on the exceptional impact of Plural.
Klaas is a real solution-builder. From early childhood, he was fascinated by storytelling and foreign cultures. This quickly developed a deep interest in media and its influences on social change. In the early 1990s Klaas fled from his conservative German mid-sized town and traveled via the U.S. to Japan where he implemented cultural events and opened an experimental restaurant. This led him to found his own cultural magazine in Japan, Super Ball, in 1994.
After coming home, Klaas dedicated his creative energy to setting up an early German version of MySpace, an online community for young artists, called Kulturserver (Culturedatabase) (www.kulturserver.de). Later, he started another cutting edge cultural technology company, Streamminister, an online streaming company providing participatory video and audio platform formats to TV stations and other media institutions.
In 2004, after traveling to Iraq to get a sense of the situation, Klaas started Telephone FM, a community radio for young people in Bagdad which he managed from Berlin. This project was the start of Klaas’ successful organization, Media in Cooperation and Transition GmbH.