LAUNCHING BD PART 1
The Business Daily, Kenya’s only business/economics newspaper, marked its 15th anniversary on 14th March, 2022. The newspaper, a publication of Nation Media Group, was launched in March 2007 and has over the years created a niche in the Kenyan economy with its signature salmon pink colour adopted from the UK-based Financial Times.
The entry of Business Daily – BD in shorthand – into the media market in Kenya has always been passed off as the product of strategic thinking of the NMG management. Yet, it turns out that Kenya’s leading newspaper publisher actually poached the idea from South African media investors who were positioning themselves to enter the Kenyan market.
In 2005, as Nation Media Group approached its 50 years anniversary, the management and board had hit a blank on how to grow the company’s media business. The retirement of President Daniel arap Moi was promising to open up the economy and expand media freedoms under President Mwai Kibaki. The media market was indeed growing – fueled by an expanding middle class and an upsurge of entrepreneurship sparked by technology – yet media products remained largely the same except for rebranding of design and introduction of new sections.
By 2005, NMG’s newspapers – Daily Nation, Saturday Nation, Sunday Nation, The East African and Taifa Leo – controlled 70% of Kenya’s newspaper circulation, according to a document detailing the launch of Business Daily, which was used as a case study at INSEAD, a Business School based in Europe. This was a formidable hold on the market that made NMG managers always bullish and, at times, arrogant.
The comfort zone was, however rippled, when NMG received what it saw as a cheeky proposal. Business Day, a South African newspaper jointly owned by the powerful Johnnic Communications Group and UK’s Pearson Plc, approached NMG seeking a partnership to circulate a business newspaper in Kenya. Johnnic later changed its name to Avusa in 2007 and then to Times Media Group in 2012.
“I believed that the only reason they were coming to partner was to have a study of the market, where they could enter on their own,” Mr Cyrille Nabutola, the NMG’s marketing director at the time, is quoted in the study done on the launch of the Business Daily. “Then they said they wanted to participate in the circulation of a newspaper in Kenya, and that it would a business paper. It may or not have been real.”
Mr Nabutola noted that while NMG always took on competition the Group’s resources were already thinly stretched at the time. Since 1959, the NMG had grown mainly by identifying territories that lacked good news media, entering with local language offering, followed by an English edition.
It launched the Daily and Sunday Monitor in Uganda in the year 2000, followed by K-FM radio. NMG expanded into Tanzania in 2003 with the launch of Mwananchi Communications Ltd and gained pace with the jóint venture, East African Magazines, with the Media 24 company. A year later, NMG launched The Citizen, its first English-language newspaper in Tanzania.
Business Day Threat
Though regional expansion was still in the group’s stated strategy, it would not solve the threat from Business Day, which had already signed a printing and distribution deal with NMG. Business Day was coming for what was an untapped market not served even by the weekly The East African newspaper which had a strong business and economic slant then.
Standard’s Financial Standard and Daily Nation’s Smart Company, all business-only magazines published on Tuesdays and distributed as inserts in the main newspaper, were flourishing with advertisers jostling for space on the limited number of pages. Both companies were even forced to have business sections on Sunday to take up some of the content and advertising. Sunday, however, did not resonate with the consumers of business content who wanted their news and features delivered on a week day when markets are alive and people in their offices.
As it thought about starting a similar business publication, NMG had difficulty finding expert business reporters. Neither the editorial content nor revenue model for a new business publication seemed clear. But it had to counter the expected assáult from Business Day – first to protect its business publication, Smart Company, and , if possible, exploit the niche business media market.
NMG managers decided to either block the new paper or launch theirs ahead of the South Africans.
Finding Good Reporters
At the Standard newspaper, NMG’s Daily Nation main rival, Nick Wachira, a graduate of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA, edited the weekly Financial Standard pullout and was largely credited with its success. According to the study, Mr Wachira had sought to break with the “very dry” style of Kenyan business news in a country where government was the biggest economic actor and the press simply “regurgitated government reports”.
“We started focusing on business also as actors in the economy,” Mr Wachira is quoted as saying. “I thought people wanted to read about companies and the people behind them – not just financial results. I started profiling companies and CEOs, business managers. We’d go into a company and analyse its strategies.”
Although The Standard was in managerial and financial turmoil, Mr Wachira had turned down an earlier offer from South Africans to become the editor of the Kenyan edition of Business Day. Mr Wachira, who now runs PR and Communications firm Oxygene, said he believed the Kenyan market was ready for such a paper but thought there were “too many loose ends on the operation side”.
When he was offered a job as associate editor in charge of business reporting at the Nation Media Group in June 2005, he accepted. In contrast with Business Day and Standard, Mr Wachira said, “the Daily Nation was not only the most trusted newspaper brand in Kenya, it was sitting on a fortune.”
A New Journalism Philosophy
At Nation Centre, known in media circles as Twin Towers, Mr Wachira joined an army of seasoned business journalists including Jaindi Kisero, who was then Business Editor, Washington Akumu, Muna Wahome and Geoffrey Irungu, among others, who had established themselves as economics writers. Standard was left in the hands of Ochieng Rapuro, who would later cross over to head the Business Daily, and Hussein Mohammed, who picked up the legacy of soft-business reporting.
Nick Wachira’s arrival at NMG would change the Daily Nation’s business desk’s philosophy from content spiced with economic jargon towards a more liberal flair focusing on companies and their minders, something that was initially frowned upon by Nation’s top editors, led by Managing Editor Joseph Odindo, who saw company or people centric writing as PR spins.
This new brand of business journalism would lead to the birth of Smart Company, one of the most successful magazines in Kenya that later died due to hemorrhage of talent, and set the cultural foundation for the launch of Business Daily.