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Gender and media viability: making a business case for diversity (Part Two)

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International Women’s Day seems like a fitting time to discuss the relationship between gender and media business performance. MDIF’s 25 years of experience in supporting independent media shows us that a women-focused approach in areas such as content strategy, audience engagement, revenue management, and product design can pay dividends for media business development. This two-part series explores different aspects of gender inequality through examples of news innovators from around the world who are paving the way for more inclusive media (Part One), and looks at how female-focus can help news organizations build different revenue streams (Part Two).

Gender and reader revenue

Diversity and inclusion play a role in an audi­ence­-driven world and publishers’ reader revenue strategies. Gender balance can improve successful conversions, increase audience engagement, particularly among women, and anecdotally has led to growth in the number of subscribers, listeners or open rates for newsletters. In particular, younger audiences do not respond well to under-representation and pay closer attention to coverage that speaks to them and their core values. For example, the BBC 50:50 Equality Project aimed to increase the representation of women on-air and made the content more enjoyable to young audiences and increased media consumption among young women.

Shared values, such as respect for women’s rights, can also be used as a trigger to attract new readers and draw in new digital subscribers. For example, after the law on abortion was tightened in Poland and massive demonstrations ensued across the country, Agora’s Gazeta Wyborcza created a subscription campaign built around the protest. Each time someone bought a new subscription, Wyborcza donated all the money to the National Women’s Strike movement. In just one week, they had gained 10,000 new subscribers and collected $180,000. After 10 months, the company had 36% of new subscribers still active on their website.

Whether it is membership or subscription, gender can be an important aspect of audience segmentation too, with some topics for which women tend to over-index or under-index. But strategies focused on traditional demographic information, like gender, are far too broad to define audience, and can end up marginalizing women or even magnifying gender stereotypes. More specific qualitative information can be more telling: passion points and interests can help tailor the content and formats to the specific needs and interests of the target segment, while data about customer behavior and specific triggers can help optimize the purchase funnel.

Partnerships and institutional funding

Gender can also play an important role in building institutional revenue. Grant funding, sponsored content and partnerships with foundations and other non-profit organizations, can have a particular focus on gender, such as promoting equality, women’s rights and the empowerment of women and girls.

For example, Ecuador’s GK and its arm for branded content, GK Studio, created a multimedia project about women and climate change in a desert in Ecuador sponsored by SDG Fund in Latin America and produced content for UNFPA’s campaign on sexual and reproductive rights of women with disabilities in Ecuador. During the 2019 elections in Malawi, Capital Radio produced a series of radio documentary-style programmes in partnership with Hivos, which promoted the advancement of women to more senior-level leadership positions within the government. Similarly, last year, Peruvian regional outlet El Búho delivered extensive reporting with the support of the IWMF Howard G. Buffett Fund, which was focused on female political participation in 2021 general elections, disappeared girls and women, and other women-focused reporting.

Branded content revenue

Sponsored and branded content is becoming an important revenue stream for many media businesses, whether it is marketing-with-a-social-cause, including around the topic of diversity and inclusion, or marketing products directed at women. There is a great advantage for brands to work with socially-minded media because they can market high-quality, engaging content that doesn’t feel intrusive, and have distribution channels with targeted audiences, either female or that care about the subject of women empowerment.

For example, in India, women-only social network SHEROES offers brand solutions for companies looking to engage with its online community of women through its accredited brand profile known as a Champion profile. In the Philippines, BrandRap, the sales and marketing department of digital news site Rappler, was the digital partner of an award-winning Pantene’s #WhipIt campaign that criticized gender double standards and highlighted women who challenge the status quo. In Argentina, digital outlet Red/Acción and its content studio for conscious brands Fibra launched Mujeres + Mujeres project, an alliance with Facebook Argentina to make visible the work of women entrepreneurs who made a change in their profession and created content for a software development company around issues of social responsibility, diversity and inclusion.

Gender and events business

Events, an important tool in engaging communities and facilitating critical conversations around gender and women’s issues, are another important revenue source for media companies. Advertisers who turn down pitch sales for web or print ads are frequently keen to participate in event sponsorships, as this offers them an opportunity to create meaningful conversation and connection with the audience.

In South Africa, where August is Women’s Month, investigative weekly newspaper and website the Mail & Guardian, hosts the MG Power of Women event that showcases extraordinary women leading change across the country, while the online platform gsport4girls is known for its annual gsport Awards that celebrate the successes of women in sport in South Africa and beyond. In both cases, the events are supported by various sponsors and partners who support the organizations and their cause. In India, Josh Talks joined with Girl Up to organize an event celebrating the achievements and records of Indian women on the International Day of the Girl, and with UN Women to host an event focused on finding solutions to end violence against women and girls. In Indonesia, Katadata, a digital media focused on economic and business news and data analysis, organized a conference focused on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, with the support of Investing in Women (IW), an initiative of the Australian Government.

Collaboration around gender topics

Another crucial movement in journalism over the past few years has been the rise of collaborative projects organized around different topics, including gender and diversity issues. Although closely tied to editorial and mostly focused on shared reporting and distribution, collaborations are frequently facilitated by foundation funding. They also support brand positioning and brand recognition through amplifying other outlets’ work and allow to build long-term relationships of trust with other media that can be leveraged to better serve everyone’s communities.

For example, transnational media alliance “Red de Periodismo Humano” (“Human Journalism Network”), involving Chile’s Mi Voz, Argentina’s Red/Acción, Ecuador’s GK and 5 other Latin American media outlets, aims at amplifying the reach of their human journalism stories that cross borders and address common challenges, including reporting on gender equality and social inclusion. GK, along with six other media outlets, was also part of a collaboration “Ser Niña en América Latina” (“Being a Girl in Latin America”), a regional effort to expose and denounce inequality and gender violence across the continent through insightful reporting.  Another recent collaborative editorial project, “Cicatrices de la pandemia” (“Scars from the pandemic”), including Argentina’s Red/Acción, explored how the Coronavirus crisis in Latin America has affected middle-class women in particular, while GK created a documentary focused on women searching for bodies of loved ones who passed away due to Covid-19, in partnership with El País and Pulitzer Center.

As these case study examples suggest, focusing on women is important for building stronger news organizations that better engage and serve their audiences on the path towards a more diverse future. But the consideration of women and issues relating to women can also pay dividends for media business development and create valuable revenue streams. This is not to justify female-focused media initiatives on the basis of financial benefits, but rather to strengthen the message that diversity is important for building better and stronger news organizations.

Magdalena Skrzypek
Impact and Communications Manager, Media Development Investment Fund

Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) is a not-for-profit investment fund for independent media based in New York, United States, providing affordable debt and equity financing, supported by business and management support and advisory services. It invests in independent media around the world to help them build robust businesses, safeguard their editorial independence and reduce harm caused by the challenges facing media industry globally so that they can provide the news, information and debate that people need to build free, thriving societies. With more than $122 million assets under management, since 1996 MDIF has invested almost $270 million in 138 independent media businesses in 45 countries.

This feature is published jointly on both the website of Media Development Investment Fund and WNIP