Sustainability is the key topic for all sectors, but media and creative industries face particular challenges regarding their future due to market changes, fragmented audiences, low entry barriers. The independent media in the Western Balkans face multiple challenges in that regard. Some of the reasons for it include the continuous economic crisis and the collapse of traditional business models meaning that the audience, followed by advertising practices, have shifted. Global technological revolution has brought many business opportunities, but it has also made it harder for the media in the Western Balkans to attract advertising. The tech giants such as Google and Facebook enjoy a growing share of the advertising market because they can reach wider audiences for less money than domestic outlets. Furthermore, as stated in the study on sustainability of professional journalism in the region financed by the European Union, “regional advertising packages offer access to audiences in the region’s smaller economies, but they are often heavily discounted, thus undermining the position of domestic media outlets. The ruling political structures have been quick to exploit the resulting financial vulnerability of local media by instrumentalizing government advertising and grants for media outlets. They are also known to put pressure on advertisers who fall within their sphere of influence. The sustainability of professional journalism in the region is further threatened by the absence of supportive media policies, by poorly functioning media markets and by a lack of effective business models”.
Addressing this type and scale of the problem could never be easy, but authors argue that, when it comes to the audience and advertisers that have shifted to the digital space, having more diverse and gender-balanced media products is going to lead to sustainability and better business. Part of the Internews’ “From Outrage to Opportunity” report focuses on the audience consumption element of the news value chain by examining news leaders’ motivation for change and the business benefits that getting closer to gender parity in news consumption would generate for news organizations. After interviewing news leaders, the authors of the report found out that the most convincing arguments for change are anchored in journalists’ duty to give voice to all audiences and the need for news to be relevant to all audiences. In addition, the vast majority of the interviewed news leaders shared their long-standing desire to understand the gender parity business opportunity, as well as their frustration that this work had not been done. For instance, the researchers find an 11-12 percentage point addressable gender news consumption gap between women and men, and that if this gap were closed by one percentage point each year over the next decade because of news organizations taking targeted strategic, editorial, creative, and tracking actions across the whole news value chain, then global revenues in the newspaper industry would increase.
Listening to the audience and answering its needs
As the case study of Amedia in Norway shows, women-sensitive coverage leads to improved business model, and it is correlated with higher revenues from women subscribers. Amedia is the largest publisher of local newspapers in Norway, with 80 titles that attract a combined 2.4 million daily readers across all platforms. In 2019 Amedia examined articles from 19 newspapers to measure women’s share of voice and found that 36% of the share of voice belonged to women, but there was variation by topic. For example, in business, finance, and economics, women’s share of voice was 32%; in politics 36%; but in health it was 48%. Importantly, the analysis discovered that the publications that featured more stories containing female sources (which were more likely to be written by women reporters) had more women readers.
Amedia leadership believes in the importance of data monitoring and metadata in informing editorial decisions about the stories that are relevant to audiences. That is why they developed tools to monitor women’s engagement with news and their subscriptions. The company has recently introduced audience engagement as a new key performance indicator (KPI), measuring the time a reader spends with the local newspaper online. Once they identify an audience segment that is less engaged, the content development team helps journalists understand the reasons for this lack of engagement. Adding the gender of the sources to this would benefit the analysis greatly, so the appetite for this within the company is growing. “You can give any newsroom a number, but journalists need to be able to understand it and act on it. If we measure the gender of the sources that journalists use, they can act on these insights by changing who they speak to,” says Amedia Director for Content Development Eivor Jerpåsen. In a conversation with the authors of the “From Outrage to Opportunity” report, Jerpåsen addresses one of the prevailing “problems” of not having enough female sources and experts who are ready to be interviewed by the journalists. She says simply not to take no for an answer and to lean forward to find female sources. “If an organization is going to succeed in interviewing more female sources, there is no substitute for leaning forward ‘to go out and look for these sources, rather than just interview the ones that come to us, who are often older men,’” reflects Jerpåsen.
To her mind, editorial thinking at Amedia has previously fallen into the stereotypical trap of looking for “soft” stories about, for example, interior design to attract more women readers. But they quickly realized that their female readers went elsewhere for these kinds of stories. What they needed to do instead (and successfully did) was find relevant angles for women when covering the “hard news” at the core of Amedia’s offer. For example, Amedia was very successful in finding a relevant angle to economics stories by focusing on female entrepreneurs which attracted more female readers.
Probably the most interesting finding is the one proving that gender equality and diversity of the newsroom bring higher revenues. The data scientists at Amedia analyzed the diversity of various newsrooms against their financial performance and found that the most gender-balanced newsrooms, as well as those that write most about women, deliver the best financial performances. The more balanced the news coverage is, the more gender-balanced the subscriber base becomes. As fairly pointed out by the authors of the “From Outrage to Opportunity” report, the financial argument is not the only reason to aim for gender equality but at a time when the news industry is under huge pressure, it may help make the wider case for greater diversity and inclusion within news media companies. “The global newspaper industry is set to experience brutal declines in its revenues in the next decade. Many individual news providers will be extinguished. Time is running out. The industry needs to find new audiences and news revenue streams that are aligned to its ethical and audience-centric mission. One untapped and under-served audience is screaming for attention – women. For those news organizations that approach this challenge seriously and strategically, rather than symbolically, there is the prize of accessing the untapped multiple millions of dollars that women news audiences would generate.”
Building the brand and following media trends
One of the top ten consumer trends for 2023 outlined by Euromonitor includes gender equality. The Euromonitor’s report says that “consumers refuse to remain silent on gender inequality. Fair representation, equity and inclusivity are at the forefront of women’s purchase decisions”. Also, women purchase from the brands advocating for the cause. 59% of female consumers believe that their choices and actions can make a difference to the world, while 46% of them prefer to take charge and lead others. Therefore, the movement of female empowerment cannot be ignored, but rather should lead to understanding what kind of business opportunities are opening up. Socially responsible companies have already made diversity and inclusion part of their workplace culture, but it is not only about being socially responsible. Those companies realized why having products and services that support women and their values is good for the business too. The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) clearly states the importance of diversity in its guide on media planning and buying. These are some of the questions advertisers would consider:
- Which media suppliers receive your media investment?
- Have you found partners who authentically engage?
- Could a minority-owned or focused partner make your work more impactful?
- Are there opportunities to innovate or co-create progressive and inclusive content?
Gender equality as the media trend has been recognized by advertising industry for some time. In 2018, just a few years after the UN Sustainable Development Goals were formulated, the organization Unstereotype Alliance was established with the aim of fighting for UN Goal number 5 goal – gender equality. This organization was convened by UN Women which is the United Nations entity for Gender Equality. Unstereotype Alliance brings partners such as companies/advertisers, agencies, media, organizations, professional associations and all others connected to marketing communications and advertising. The goal is to collectively use the advertising industry as a force for good in order to drive a positive change all over the world.
"Stereotypes reflect deep-rooted ideas of femininity and masculinity. Negative, diminished conceptions of women and girls are one of the greatest barriers for gender equality and we need to tackle and change those images wherever they appear. Advertising is a particularly powerful driver to change perceptions and impact social norms. UN Women is excited to partner with the foremost industry shapers in this Alliance to challenge and advance the ways women are represented in this field," said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Former Executive Director of UN Woman marking, we could say, the official start of advertising industry’s organized approach to gender equality.
We believe that aligning with global tendencies promoting gender equality, including those in advertising industry, could be beneficial for the independent media outlets in the Western Balkans. Firstly, the audience consume media products that reflect not only their values, but that also bring some sort of trust. In the challenging media environment, clients are more focused on acting with responsibility toward their consumers, audiences and the planet as a whole. “Responsibility” is the common thread underpinning World Federation of Advertisers (WFA)’s agenda, alongside safety, measurement and privacy. Many WFA members are developing their own responsible media programs, while diverse, inclusive, gender-balanced media outlets will be the natural response and good match for the growing number of responsible advertisers. On the other hand, the advertisers’ media planning buying choices can play a significant role in supporting diversity and inclusion in the mainstream media landscape.
As part of its commitment to the Unstereotype Alliance, WFA developed a short guide hoping to build awareness for the movement among its corporate members. Naturally, the media is expected to respond to the efforts for countering (gender) stereotypes in their content. “Taking on stereotypes in advertising is both an important and challenging effort that requires participation from many sectors including agencies, clients and trade groups. In order to make real change that will ultimately influence cultural norms and society’s views, we need to commit resources and expertise to this key initiative. Like us, the WFA understands that the elimination of stereotypes in advertising is essential to successful and meaningful advertising and marketing,” said Michael Roth, Chairman and CEO of Interpublic.
WFA guided its members that ultimately, taking action on gender requires companywide change and not just small tweaks to the process. It emphasizes that “getting this right means establishing a culture that is gender aware both for people internally and for external messaging. It’s no good having great marketing if your company is being castigated for failure to act on equal pay or poor professional development. And even if you’re doing great on gender sensitive marketing, your efforts will be undermined if you ignore the other aspects of diversity (e.g., race, national origin, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation). Increasingly these measures should run right through the whole value chain so you will also need to tackle suppliers too. ASK YOURSELF: How can I promote more positive, diverse portrayals of men and women internally and among suppliers?”
As an addition to the guide on countering stereotypes, WFA guides its members on media planning, claiming that “strong brand safety protections keep brands from appearing alongside hate speech, misinformation and other harmful content, and in doing so remove some of the incentives for creating it.”
There are many reasons why diversity is good for business. Analyzing this topic, Harvard Business Review collected findings and results from several scientific research, experiments and studies. To stay competitive, businesses should always continue to innovate. One of the best ways to boost their capacity to transform themselves and their products may involve hiring more women and culturally diverse team members, research suggests. In a study published in Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice, the authors analyzed levels of gender diversity in research and development teams from 4,277 companies in Spain. Using statistical models, they found that companies with more women were more likely to introduce radical new innovations into the market over a two-year period, writes the Harvard Business Review. In one-word, diverse perspectives lead to better content: When media organizations have a diverse group of people working together, they can create content that is more nuanced, authentic, and inclusive. When diversity and gender equality expand audience reach, more people and different communities will consume the media content. Consumers are increasingly looking for media outlets that reflect their values and perspectives, therefore they are more likely to support them and above anything, trust them.
The recent data shows how women regained trust in the British public broadcaster, at least when it comes to their representation. In 2017, an initiative to have equal representation of women and men in content was born in the BBC’s London newsroom. The 50:50 Equality Project introduced a simple, self-monitoring system for ensuring gender-balanced content. Five years later, these are the results:
- 69% of audience surveyed had noticed a change in the balance of men and women in BBC online content and felt there had been a shift towards more women;
- Among female audiences aged 16 to 24 years old, 80% said they enjoy BBC online content more as a result of seeing and hearing from more women;
- 68% of women aged 16 to 34 said they visit BBC websites and online services more often because of greater female representation;
BBC monitoring system is simple, and adaptable for other organizations around the world. One of the BBC international partners, Veronika Wagner from Bavarian public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk (Germany), speaks about the argument that there are no women contributors and experts to find, especially in male-dominated fields like science, sport and politics. “At the Bayerischer Rundfunk something remarkable happened since becoming a 50:50 partner (….) And data proves that we are on the right track. Six months after joining the 50:50 Project, 73% of the teams increased female representation and 70% reached gender balance of their contributors in at least one month. It’s impressive how the 50:50 principles – simple and flexible – ignite change.”
The “Gender Equality in the Media” study produced within the Balkan Media Assistance Program to Foster Organizational Readiness While Advancing Resilient Development (BMAP Forward) aims at responding to the needs expressed by the key media partners for the improvement of gender equality and inclusion policies and practices. The authors of this Danica Ilić, Vanda Kučera and Armina Mujanović study analyzed the BMAP Forward key media partners’ requirements, as well as their output, offering some solutions and recommendations for the long-term, substantial improvement in the field of gender equality in the media.
Read previous articles:
Gender Equality in the Media: part one
Gender Equality in the Media (part 2): Global goals for gender equality
Gender Equality in the Media (part 3): Gender underrepresentation and stereotyping in the local context