Virtually every journalist in Africa has, at some point over the past fourteen years, relied on resources provided by APO Group to do their job. The media company, whose full name is African Press Organisation, has grown to become one of the biggest media companies on the African continent. We recently spoke to the Founder and Chairman, Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, to hear how the success story began. He also gave advice to journalists and aspiring media entrepreneurs. Enjoy the conversation.
BEA: Briefly tell us about yourself, Sir.
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard: I’m the Founder and Chairman of APO Group. I started the company in 2007 when I was still a journalist working for Gabonews, a media company based in Gabon. I was their correspondent in Europe at the time.
BEA: Tell us more about how the idea for APO Group came about and what the journey has been like so far.
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard: As the European correspondent for a major African media company, I was tasked with reporting on news about Europe’s relations with Africa, as well as the relationship between African countries. To do this, I had to subscribe to a lot of press releases. The objective was to receive as many press releases as possible from the European Commission, the ministries of foreign affairs of European countries and all the international organizations headquartered in Europe. Unfortunately, it was quite difficult for me as an African journalist to pull all these press releases together.
It dawned on me that, if it was hard for me to receive press releases about European organizations, then it must be even harder for the international media to obtain press releases issued by African organizations. I even carried out a quick test by trying to subscribe to content from these African organizations and it was extremely complicated. I realized it was one of the reasons why Africa was constantly being presented in a negative light by the international media. It’s not like there wasn’t any good news about Africa. The problem was that the good news from Africa was not reaching the international media community.
So, I decided to act on this by resigning from my position as a journalist. Then I spent a long time contacting African institutions and asking them to send me their press releases. I also managed to seal partnership agreements with some of the leading news aggregators in the world. All of this culminated in the creation of a service that enabled international media to receive all the news releases issued by African institutions. In doing so, we have made sure that the voice of the African continent is being heard by the international media community. That has been the driving objective. For the past fourteen years now, APO Group has shown the world that Africa is about more than just poverty and conflicts. Africa is a continent made up of 54 countries, most of them offering great opportunities for investment. We will continue to facilitate the distribution of news about Africa, be it in the area of business, sport, entertainment, fashion, technology, innovation, etc.
BEA: You mentioned that your company distributes press releases issued by companies and other organizations. But do you also have reporters that work for you?
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard: APO Group is made up of two business units. On one side, we are the leading Pan-African press release distribution company. Here, we distribute press releases on a Pan-African scale to all 54 markets on the continent. We distribute in many different languages – including local languages. On the other side, we are the leading Pan-African public relations agency, again providing our service on a Pan-African scale.
We do not employ journalists, but we do work very closely with all types of media because of our work in providing journalists with content and access to our clients. We are providing text, images, videos and soundbites to 450.000 journalists who are either in Africa or reporting on Africa. We also provide them with access to CEOs and other executives of some of the largest multinational companies active on the continent.
BEA: As you know, money is essential when it comes to running a successful media company. So, I’m wondering, how does APO Group generate income seeing your content is distributed for free?
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard: As a press release distribution company, APO Group is paid by its clients to distribute their press releases. And as a Public Relations agency, the company is also paid by its clients to manage their public image. We are also providing digital marketing services to our clients and we manage a very strong sport marketing portfolio.
BEA: Last year, the media industry in Africa was pummeled by the Coronavirus pandemic. How did this affect you and how were you able to navigate the challenge?
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard: In terms of revenue, the pandemic didn’t affect us at all. APO Group grew by 25% in 2020, thanks to positive performances in both areas of the business. The results for the first quarter 2021 are very good and we are confident we will record an even more significant growth this year.
One of the ways that we responded to the pandemic was to create an initiative called the APO Group Coronavirus Initiative for Africa, which is a series of actions that were implemented by APO Group, including the donation of expertise and resources to fight the pandemic. We provided pro-bono services to the World Health Organisation’s Regional Office for Africa and to UNESCO. We are still doing that as we speak. We also joined the UNESCO Global Coalition for Education where our job is to help UNESCO in making sure that children in Africa are able to return to school, and given opportunities to access remote learning.
We invited some of our clients, like DHL, NBA, Canon, and a lot of others, to support several of the initiatives undertaken by WHO and UNESCO. And we also organized a “Safe Hands Challenge” with Naomi Campbell. We’ve been actively involved in different initiatives either aimed at fighting for African women’s empowerment or fighting against fake news. We will continue to work in all these areas beyond the pandemic, too.
Another significant issue for us has been the impact the pandemic has had on media companies. Many have had to cut budgets and staff due to the loss of advertising revenues. We have been helping in this regard by providing free media content in the form of press releases. Indeed, our press releases have proved to be more valuable to media houses during the pandemic than ever before.
BEA: Will your content continue to be free or do you have plans to impose fees anytime soon?
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard: We are the African Press Organization, and it is in our DNA to support the African media companies through the provision of free content and access. That has always been our purpose and our business model: to disseminate our clients’ content to the media. All our content is copyright-free and can be used without restrictions. What that means, is that you can use the content in any way you want without any requirement to mention APO Group. We have absolutely no plan to ask anybody to pay for access to our content. We are always trying to identify new ways to provide content to journalists in the format or through the channel that they prefer. For instance, we are currently exploring ways to start distributing press releases to journalists via Whatsapp because we’ve noticed that an increasing number of journalists are relying on that channel to receive and share content.
BEA: Any final comments regarding the Africa media industry?
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard: In 2019, I started a series of lectures at journalism schools across the continent. I gave lectures in Senegal, Zambia, Uganda, Ethiopia, and a few other countries. During these lectures, I spoke about journalism and entrepreneurship, the African media landscape, and the expansion of the international media on the African continent. I believe journalism is one of the most rewarding and intellectually interesting jobs in the world. I’m always saying this to students! As a journalist, you get to meet fantastic people and you will find that every time you ask someone a question, they will answer you! That is a real privilege of being a journalist, You are always learning and growing.
On top of that, you have the opportunity to disseminate important information and, ultimately, to influence public opinion. And sometimes when it comes to issues like democracy and health, you realize how important your role is. Without the media to relay the right information, the public will either not be informed or they will be misinformed. Either way, it can be extremely dangerous. This is why the role of the media in fighting fake news was crucial during the pandemic. When the WHO issued directives stating that the best ways to deal with the pandemic were to your hands and maintain social distance, journalists reported it faithfully, and it literally saved lives.
Unfortunately, the African media industry is in distress as a result of several factors, including digitization and monetization. But the biggest issue is the expansion of international media companies in Africa. Right now, if you are a media organisation operating in Lagos or Johannesburg, you are not in competition with the media next door. Instead, you are in competition with the international media. And that’s a problem, because, not only are you in competition for the audience and the advertising revenue, you are also in competition for the best journalistic talent.
International media companies have the reputation and resources to hire the best journalists, while some of their local counterparts are basically struggling to pay salaries. It is really a fair competition? But then again, it is also unfair that the African journalist only has the choice of working for the international media before they can earn good money. I don’t know where exactly we are headed, but my biggest concern is that there will come a time when Africans have to rely mainly on international media platforms to get their stories. I do not want to live in a world where most of the stories about Africa are reported by non-African media.