Clemens Pig (APA President and CEO): During Corona we experienced an increased use of all formats of the APA editorial team. In the field of publishing offers, we even registered a tenfold increase.
Clemens Pig, President and CEO of APA, shows the three-step-plan used by the Austrian News Agency for crisis management, and points to diversification in order to reach the profit line by organic growth. About state funds and keeping the editorial independence, and much more, in the EANA Top Voices Interview below.
How did APA handle the lockdown period of the Covid-19 crisis? Did you set up any special procedures, apart from employees working from home?
In crisis management we have followed a three-step-plan according to the utmost urgency.
Level one dealt with the protection of our employees. Except for a minimal emergency service about 500 employees were completely relocated to their home offices within a few days. Since APA is part of Austria’s system-relevant “critical infrastructure“, we are prepared for such scenarios. The fact that APA is not only a professional news provider but also an important technology provider helped us to transfer equipment and processes for working remotely very quickly.
In addition, we immediately set up a crisis management team and a central information platform, making important information accessible to all employees very quickly and thus having established a channel for dialogue.
Stage two aimed at maintaining continuous operation and production: Although our production team worked remotely and thus decentralized, we managed to generate the requested output. For sure, more communication was needed, but all services were fully maintained at all times.
We were able to meet the increasing demand for information and communication during the crisis with new innovative products. For example: Corona information was offered in eleven languages, a Corona live blog went live, digital events in the APA press centre and APA-Campus webinars took place. Live streaming and the digital newspaper Austria-Kiosk were pushed and together with ORF we operated a pool solution for press conferences of the Federal Chancellery. Furthermore, we increased our efforts in particular in the field of source and fact checks.
The final point of our three-step-plan focused on the economic protection of the company.
How do you see the future of APA, in a media landscape which seems to grow weary due to the crisis? Will the agency become even more relevant for Austrian media? Which is the trend?
During Corona we experienced an increased use of all formats of the APA editorial team. The trend of digitalisation has gained traction once again, which led to an increased demand for technical applications such as live streaming, e-paper and web services. In the field of publishing offers, we even registered a tenfold increase.
The combination of perfect editorial and technical services as well as the development of revenue sources for the media (e.g. via the digital newspaper stand Austria-Kiosk) is a great life insurance for APA.
Media change is not a phenomenon of Corona, it has accompanied us already for years. Our strategy is aimed at diversification in order to achieve the profit line not only through cost-related measures but also through organic growth.
For all media companies and independent agencies there is an increase in the use of editorial offers and verified, reliable and fact-based content has become more important. This development is strategically very significant and provides the framework for the business model.
However, with this business model we have not yet found an answer to how the increasing online usage is also equally capitalized. These answers can only be developed together in the media industry – in joint initiatives and with joint solutions.
Is there any type of extra pressure from shareholders during this period?
No, there is no pressure from shareholders at all. It is important that APA fulfils its role as the country's media and communications infrastructure following the highest quality and performance standards, i.e. with the highest possible reliability and system stability. Infrastructure in this case means providing a first-class editorial service and reliable technology for the media and communications markets in Austria.
Do you foresee any financial problems for APA? What are the strategies for overcoming the crisis? Is there any crisis for your organisation?
Private news agencies have a different business and financing model than media companies. Therefore, Corona is not expected to cause an immediate or rapid drop in turnover. However, we certainly have to expect negative secondary economic consequences.
APA's business is currently stable, but it is still too early to take a year-end look. For this reason, APA has included possible downsides in the price forecast of the second half of the year. In view of 2021 we have already initiated necessary structural adjustments, which probably will be reinforced by Corona.
On the one hand – during and after the Corona crisis – we have to ensure editorial independence out of our own economic strength and, on the other hand, we have to secure the future of around 500 employees, which is the high total number of our employees in the APA-Group.
What would you advise other news agencies which might face struggles with their revenues during these times?
Corona will accelerate the ongoing structural change in the media industry and fuel digitalisation. I recommend agencies initiating structural reforms on the cost side as early as possible and ramping up quickly new products and services that promise success during the crisis, e.g. digital press conferences, live streaming solutions etc.
For some media companies and agencies it will not be sufficient to take measures on their own. The rapid development of the legal framework for the media industry is inevitable and without any alternative. This means that besides the ongoing debate on the national implementation of an ancillary copyright law (level playing field), there is also in particular the adaptation of the labour law framework to the digital era as well as the strategic question for private agencies which models of obtaining public funds are compatible with economic and editorial independence. In this respect, especially Switzerland offers an attractive future model in the Corona crisis, with which the agency receives earmarked state funds which are paid directly to the recipients of the basic service to finance the basic Service.
Interview by Alexandru Giboi (EANA Secretary General) for the "EANA Top Voices" project.