Mobile and Advertising Innovations Set the Course for Sustainability Efforts by Liberia Media

Aug 232012
  • The Daily Observer launched Liberia’s first mobile news updates and ads this month.

  • Knight’s partners in the new MBSE program – including IREX and the Business Start-Up Center in Monrovia – will continue the marketing and advertising guidance so crucial to sustainability for Liberia’s media.

Since embarking a year ago on a media-sustainability project as a Knight International Journalism Fellow in Liberia, I have worked with managers at three newspapers and three radio stations to help them succeed not only as news organizations but also as businesses.

The Liberia media industry is extremely volatile, with radio stations, in particular, shutting down from time to time for lack of income. A case worth mentioning is the demise of Star Radio, which by any measure of popularity was considered a leading source of news for thousands in this African nation. In today's fast-paced news and digital media environment, studies point to the need for sustainability training if media are to survive in developing countries.

An effort to build revenue at two leading Liberian newspapers emerged from a Media, Business and Sustainability Exchange (MBSE) program that I designed. As part of this program – supported by a grant from UNESCO and a partnership with IREX – some 30 local CEOs, media owners and journalists meet monthly to talk about opportunities to increase commercial advertising in Liberian media.

This effort bore its first fruit in late April, when the Heritage became the first newspaper in the country to offer interactive ad space on its website. The Heritage is one of Liberia’s top three newspapers. Traffic on its website averages 600,000 unique visitors per month. Previously, online ads on media websites consisted of static logos with no live links. After the interactive ads were posted, the newspaper’s revenue shot up 25% from the previous quarter.

The Heritage move inspired the Daily Observer, another major newspaper, to launch a mobile website that sends news updates and ads to readers’ mobile phones. New this month, it is also the first of its kind in Liberia.

Thanks to the strong partnerships I forged with IREX and the Business Start-Up Center in Monrovia, Knight’s six media partners and any other news outlets that join the MBSE program will continue to receive guidance on marketing and advertising, which are key to their sustainability. The regular luncheon and networking events will continue next year, sponsored by IREX and USAID, with UNESCO also interested in continuing funding through its office in Accra, Ghana. I have brainstormed with IREX on the format of the event and on providing personalized marketing coaching once my fellowship is completed this month.