Annelies van den Belt, CEO of SUP Media in Russia, says digital is not the goal – it’s all about the journey. She shared her digital journey, which serves as a microcosm of the leading trends in digital.
In the late ‘90s, she was publisher of the Moscow Times and the company was contemplating the issue of paid vs. free for its website. “We had to look carefully at the quality content we were producing and what we would produce particularly if we created a paywall, but in the end we put it all behind the paywall. Done.”
From 2000-2005 she ran the online division of the Times and Sunday Times in the UK, where she converged the sites into one. “Interestingly, today they are separated again.”
During that time, she says she learned a lot about the importance of technology, particlarly CMS. “We were struggling with our sites being too slow, workflows complex, while our competitors weren’t having these problems. CMS is a critical issue for media organisations in today’s digital world.”
Not just with technology, but also with content and other strategies, she says trial and error should be a part of our digital working culture.
During her time at The Telegraph in the UK, she was on board with the major newsroom integration project there. The issue of integration, in her mind, is still a question mark. “Should we integrate? After all these years, I really don’t know. Integration is more a hearts and minds game about how to make news scalable and delivered more efficiently and effectively.”
In 2007 she became Managing Director of the Broadband Division of Britain’s leading commercial broadcaster, ITV, gaining valuable experience in video.
Today, she says video has exploded to be a crucial aspect of all news.
She says the game of “360 degrees” is something that became incredibly important in recent years, not just from the publishing side but especially from the advertising side. “360 means looking at the consumer, not so much at what they want, but what are they doing, and learning how to meet their needs. It’s a complete shift in mentality. The news agenda of today and tomorrow is largely being set by the consumers, not by editors. We have to understand that.”
In 2008, she came back to Russia to head up SUP Media, one of the leading User Generated Content-based media groups in the country. “People told me back then that it was a backward move to take this job, but in the end I learned so much when I got here. And we should also learn that we can learn from publishers and companies all over the world.”
At that time, Russian websites were content-empty, she says, in that most of the sites were service and technology oriented, not driven by traditional publishers. “The best part is that we had no baggage dragging us down to go forward.”
After four years the content provider is profitable, nimble and dynamic. Much of its portals, blogs, sites incorporate UGC, curation and are driven by sophisticated CMS. Again, she says CMS cannot be underrated. “We launched a travel portal and within three months were No. 2 in the market. Much of the credit goes to our effective CMS, which gave us the ability roll that out so quickly.”
Along the way, she says she has learned that:
- Publishers have be “always on and everywhere: video, mobile, web.”
- Don’t underestimate the issue of rights when launching services and content… it will grow to be a bigger issue.
- Make sure your platforms are open, visible, and you are always connected. Make sure you are truly social. “For me, social is an excellent distribution platform. It’s not a destination.”
- Product development does not equal printing a newspaper every day. “Publishers and editors have to learn to look out of their windows at other people’s products.”
- Being profitable means balancing caution with trial and error: “We were profitable after four years of operation. We always look at what is scalable very carefully. For example, we have 120 journalists on Gazeta. If we double our traffic there, it doesn’t mean we double journalists.”
You may download Ms van den Belt's presentation on slideshare.