There is much to learn from the affable Jean-Paul Reparon, a publisher based in the agricultural university town Wageningen in the Netherlands. The only way to navigate a highly emotive environment and media woes, Jean-Paul says, is to adapt and change. And while content may be king, content distribution is queen.
Jean-Paul Reparon gushes about udder health, testing tractors and dairy cows. He waxes lyrical about using robotics to maintain football pitches and makes a goat event sound like a Taylor Swift concert.
He may not be a farmer, as Jean-Paul quickly qualifies, but he and his team know farmers and understand the pressure Dutch farmers – the country’s national treasure – are under. And as a smallish publisher in agriculture, a traditional industry with an ageing and dwindling audience, he also knows the difficulties publishers everywhere have in mitigating changes in advertising spending, finding the right people to grow their teams, and diversifying their business models.
Yet Jean-Paul, managing director and co-owner of AgriMedia, is remarkably upbeat. The company – they employ twenty people – publishes nine magazines digitally and in print, each focused on a specialist market in the agricultural sector.
“When we look at our content, we don’t talk about economics, and we don’t talk about politics. We talk about solutions, and one of the solutions to our problems is innovation and technology. That is what we write about in our magazines and on our digital channels.”
Jean-Paul is referring to the Dutch government’s plans to shut farms to half harmful nitrous oxide emissions by 2030 under European Union laws. The stikstofkrisis – or nitrogen crisis – has sparked riots and protests and become the centre of a global culture war. Conspiracy theories swirling online claim “globalists” want to replace farmers with asylum seekers.
Populist opportunists hijacking the issue aside, many see the government’s plan as a challenge to an industry that stirs near-unparalleled emotion – mostly pride – among the rather stoic Dutch. The tiny country’s farmers have made it the world’s second-largest exporter of agricultural goods, rising to more than 100 billion euros in 2021, a record.
But this success has put pressure on the environment, forcing farmers to constantly change their methods and modernise while cutting emissions.
**On a side note: Jean-Paul will also speak at Mx3 Barcelona on 12-13 March 2024, an “off-the-record” event focused on media innovation. Read more about it and see the other speakers so far confirmed here..**
In this difficult and charged milieu, Jean-Paul says, it is crucial to provide specialised, credible and relevant content. And to adapt and change.
“When you create high-quality content that helps your audience make better decisions , you can make your business case.
“We are our audiences. Most of my editorial team are based in the agricultural sector. They are either farmers, or their families are farmers, or they were born on a farm. They know what is happening in the business. They understand the regulations, but they also understand our audience. They know what they [the audiences] need.”
Every piece they create, Jean-Paul says, is “need to know” instead of “nice to know”.
“For example, we are one of a few companies in the world who are testing tractors. We test six to eight tractors a year on a very deep level. That means we are running them, testing their quality and comparing them with their competitors. Our subscribers have to trust us when we test a tractor.”
Another example is the “Landbou Mechanisatie Zomertour“, where two editors embark on a six-day tractor journey of around 600 kilometres, searching for compelling stories and suitable accommodation.
“People know us for our innovative and creative content formats,” Jean-Paul says.
Agrimedia’s titles, loosely translated, include Agricultural Mechanisation, Animal Husbandry Technology, Garden and Park Technology, and Goat Farming. The company also produces podcasts and videos and hosts four annual events.
“By diversifying our business models, we can still run a profitable business,” Jean-Paul explains.
Like many businesses, AgriMedia had to adapt in the Covid-19 pandemic. When event attendance was stopped, they started streaming sessions. After the epidemic, they carried on recording events to create premium content for their websites.
They tailor their decisions to each audience, Jean-Paul says, and offer digital and print subscriptions.
“Our major business model is subscriptions; about 65%. Then we sell ads to manufacturers in the industry. We have developed knowledge partnerships and offer an agency model, where we help marketers to create and distribute their content.”
Titles in the AgriMedia stable focus on niche markets. They are nano communities striking gold, as Jean-Paul likes to say.
He follows the same strategy with events.
Goats and soccer fields
The National Goat Event, in September every year, is “an awards show for the most beautiful goats in the Netherlands”. It attracts a thousand or so people – a large number, given there are around 650 goat farms in the Netherlands. The exhibition, knowledge sessions and award shows are free to visit, but this year a record number of 45 exhibitors paying for stands carried the cost. (A total of 226 goats – also a record number – from eight different breeds competed for the title “Most Beautiful Goat in the Country”.)
“We also organised a fairly small event about robotics in the maintenance of our soccer fields. It’s fairly niche, but when you realise we have 7 000 football fields in the Netherlands, and you see the transformation from manual mowing to robotics, you understand it’s a very big market.”
Jean-Paul says around 75 people attended the event, a “deep-dive into a specific topic” giving subscribers extra value. This particular event came about because of an AgriMedia podcast called Grasmannen (the grass men).
“We don’t think about the numbers. We think about the quality of the audience. You can reach 50 000 people at a very big exhibition, or you can reach a hundred decision-makers at a small knowledge event. And that is who we focus on.”
And if content is still king, Jean-Paul stresses, “content distribution is queen”.
“Look, we are where our audiences are. Our audience is a little older. I think the average age is around 40, 45. So, we are not on Snapchat. We are not on TikTok. Maybe we will be in future, because we want to target a younger audience, but for now we are on Facebook, we are on Instagram. But we mostly reach them through our digital newsletters, our print editions, and our events.”
The most important lesson he has learned, Jean-Paul says, is to carry on learning.
“Change and adapt to change. Keep looking at your audiences. Keep looking at what is happening around you, and find your way through it. When you have a good idea, spend time and money on it. When it works, move forward. If it doesn’t work, ask why.”
AgriMedia, for example, experiments with podcasts, although the market for that is still small.
Video, however, is increasingly popular. Melken voor Morgen Geitenhouderij and Melken voor Morgen Rundveehouderij, videos featuring goat and cow dairies, are a hit.
In one video format, called Stalbezoek (visit to a dairy), farmers talk about topics such as their machines and experiences. “That’s what people love to see. They love to learn from each other instead of listening to a sales guy from an office. So we’ll focus more on that in our video formats,” Jean-Paul says.
“Maybe we’ll become the Netflix of agriculture in the Netherlands.”
It sounds like he is only half-joking.
* Meet Jean-Paul Reparon at Mx3 Barcelona, where he will be part of our speaker line-up. Read more and sign up at mx3barcelona.com.
Adri Kotze has been a journalist for as long as she can remember, including stints as a features writer, political journalist, investigative reporter and commissioning editor. She now writes about all things media and publishing.
Contact her at email@example.com or find her on LinkedIn.
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