By Lucía Cholakian Herrera
The Argentinean media site RED/ACCIÓN was founded in April 2018 under the slogan “Human Journalism,” with the editorial goal of “hacking” the negativity in the media ecosystem. The organization produces solutions journalism news reporting, analyzes social problems, puts forward debates and suggests possible solutions. Six topics comprise 80% of its content: the climate crisis, gender, education, health, sustainability and technology.
Chani Guyot, the organization’s founder, explained that the team has worked to build sustainability from the very beginning, even though it was an unusual priority for media outlets in the ecosystem at the time. “For us, looking for business formulas and implementing them wasn’t enough. We needed to find our own way to be sustainable.”
The Velocidad media business accelerator was a key component of the process, Guyot said. Today, as a country, Argentina’s annual inflation rate is 50%. The financial management the RED/ACCIÓN team has achieved with its content agency called FIBRA, along with the diversification of the organization’s income, has guaranteed its survival.
“[The first phase of] Velocidad was our starting point. In phase two, we were able to solidify and strengthen those advances. Thanks to the time we’ve spent on [financial management], we were able to pay the salaries of the journalists who do the journalism we are passionate about,” said Guyot.
At the beginning of the Velocidad program, the RED/ACCIÓN team committed to creating journalism that spoke to its audience and that could contribute to the search for innovative solutions to social issues. Although RED/ACCIÓN was created with its own membership program, the team did not have a clear plan for how to grow membership.
Nicolás Píccoli, a strategic consultant who worked with RED/ACCIÓN during the first phase of Velocidad, emphasized that the main challenge for the team lay in the technological part of converting users to members. Specifically, the team needed to strengthen its customer relationship management (CRM) technology and products, which included both media content and newsletters. “We worked a lot on metrics, especially while working with consultant Maite Fernández (an audience expert) to understand the user’s journey, learn who they are and transform those sporadic readers into loyal readers,” explained Píccoli.
For RED/ACCIÓN, the first phase of Velocidad focused on perfecting the membership system that the organization already had. This part of the accelerator program was also a time for the RED/ACCIÓN team to understand that its products were a source of income that could contribute significantly to the organization’s sustainability.
“There was an opportunity there,” remembers Guyot. “Not only [in terms of] income, but also the chance to not lose sight of creating open, audience-focused journalism,” he said. The team cleaned up and organized its databases and newsletters, started to work with calls to action for its members, and proposed ways to interact with the organization’s audience via social media. Team members even created communication channels for RED/ACCIÓN journalists to share their story production processes with members.
Guyot and Agustina Campos, general manager of RED/ACCIÓN, also understood that their organization’s transformation in phase one of Velocidad included more than changes to their work processes. Above all, the changes the organization made had to do with changing one’s mentality when facing a task. “We knew that good journalism wasn’t enough by itself and that we needed help,” Guyot said.
Píccoli also mentioned another key element for RED/ACCIÓN’s sustainability: involving journalists in the financial strategy. “Chani Guyot stepped in to make sure the entire team was up-to-date about how the organization was being funded and could commit to increasing memberships. Since then, RED/ACCIÓN journalists have been involved [with membership] through their production and coverage, and have taken measures to spread the membership program and strengthen it.”
During the first phase of Velocidad, the RED/ACCIÓN team increased the size of the outlet’s audience and worked to turn some of their new audience members into part of their loyal audience. The second phase of Velocidad introduced a sizable challenge for the organization: diversification of income. RED/ACCIÓN had contracted to provide communications services to other businesses for some time, but that work was sporadic. With Velocidad strategic consultant Isabela Ponce, they decided to organize their communications services and systematize their offerings to become a stable source of income.
Their work led to the birth of FIBRA, a content agency geared toward “brands with a conscience.”
“We knew that there was potential in the work we did with brands, and we understood that creating a centralized area of our company would help us achieve sustainability,” explained Agustina Campos. “We don’t sell products, we work to establish social issues. Brands like our perspective, which helps us to contribute our journalism [to what they do], so that social change is coming from other organizations, in addition to Red/Acción.”
FIBRA’s clients include Globant, Accenture, Spotlight Initiative, Telefónica and Techo. Red/Acción’s content agency provides clients with knowledge about equity, inclusion, diversity, communication with social responsibility and a gender perspective, and the environment. The agency supplies communications pieces that help brands develop corporate conscience and adapt to the current times.
In addition to establishing increased sustainability with FIBRA, Campos and Guyot also found that the content agency helps increase the reach of RED/ACCIÓN’s vision related to important societal topics. The content agency now represents 54% of RED/ACCIÓN’s income and it is one of the main tools the team uses to stay true to the organization’s original goals. “Now, it’s a structured project that’s growing. The next challenge for us is to give the content agency more visibility and expand it internationally,” said Ponce, who was involved as a consultant since the beginning of FIBRA.
Ponce worked with the RED/ACCIÓN team as a consultant to provide order and structure to what is now the FIBRA content agency. In addition to consulting sessions, Ponce helped provide the team clarity regarding the direction of the content agency. She asked RED/ACCIÓN team members questions such as what identity they wanted to create for FIBRA and guided meetings to plan the organization’s workflows and processes, team roles, pricing for products, and the creation of templates to make their work more efficient.
Consulting sessions about management, metrics, finances, news products and memberships enabled the RED/ACCIÓN team to do more than create the content agency.
Another successful way the team diversified the organization’s income is an alliance with Infobae, the media outlet with the largest audience in Latin America. The partnership is called “Soluciones para América Latina” (Solutions for Latin America, in English). Through this project, the two organizations created a new website section dedicated to solutions journalism stories. In addition to this initiative strengthening RED/ACCIÓN’s commitment to innovative journalism, it increased the team’s exposure and expanded RED/ACCIÓN’s reach.
To accommodate this amount of new projects and processes, the RED/ACCIÓN team needed to expand. As part of the Velocidad accelerator, a new graphic designer, sales manager (for FIBRA) and more contributing reporters joined the team. However, another hire identified as important by the team was the addition of an on-demand chief financial officer, or CFO. They contracted Emilio Busadas, who works for RPA, a consulting agency for start-ups. Busadas helped to update RED/ACCIÓN’s financial operations by measuring the organization’s work and available resources. Analyzing this information allowed Busadas and the RED/ACCIÓN team to plan for the organization’s future. “In a country where the economy fell 9.9%, inflation is over 50%, journalism trade union wage agreements are not proportional to this inflation, and advertising investments dropped 29%, working with strategic consultants and making other advances during Velocidad were extremely useful to acquire tools and skills. In this context, efficient financial management is the difference between surviving or dying,” said Guyot. “The journey is easier if you have help.”
As is the case with other media outlets in the Velocidad accelerator, a main shift in perspective for Guyot and Campos was realizing that, “good journalism is not enough.” Recognizing the important role that finances play in the success of digital media outlets was key. “Even though they didn’t know much about finances, they put a lot of effort and professionalism into everything they did,” said Mario Postay, a tactical consultant for RED/ACCIÓN during the second phase of Velocidad. “We worked hard on a business plan, discussed possible funding models, and I explained how to prepare reports for current and potential investors. They also incorporated tools to estimate costs, create proposals for clients, and evaluate which clients would be more profitable or strategic,” he said.
These tools were crucial for the RED/ACCIÓN team to analyze the organization’s current situation and project for the future, something that they had not been able to do before. “Velocidad and similar projects are vital for journalism in the region, which is constantly under attack from economic and political forces,” said Guyot. “I believe there is a chance that social dialogue will deteriorate due to a lack of perspectives and innovation. I’m of the opinion that new perspectives and innovation often come from small and medium-sized places.”
“The two team leaders, [Guyot and Campos], were able to split tasks evenly, delegate responsibilities that were previously theirs and improve their leadership skills,” explained consultant Isabela Ponce. Campos is now director of FIBRA. She focuses on running the content agency while Guyot spends more time coordinating editorial activities.
RED/ACCIÓN’s growth at the beginning of Velocidad was between 80% and 100% for all indicators of success: from article and newsletter readers, to social media followers and business achievements. “When we started Velocidad, our organization was two years old. We were a project that was still living off its initial investment, searching for a business model. We leave the program having achieved sustainability and breaking even on the operations side,” explained Guyot.
The organization’s challenge going forward will be to self-sustain its growth. After achieving economic sustainability working with their on-demand CFO, one of the remaining goals for the RED/ACCIÓN team is to bring on a permanent CFO, starting March 2022. This person will help the organization continue to work toward expanding its reach across Latin America. “We believe that journalism is about changing the world, that it’s about more than telling stories,” said Guyot. “The idea that journalism can inspire social engagement is a long-term journey, but we hope that these types of impacts will just get bigger and bigger,” concluded Guyot. In that sense, the Velocidad accelerator was just the starting point of this process, of striving to change the world.
Topics covered: Climate crisis, gender, education, health, sustainability and technology
Business model: Memberships, content creation for clients, sponsored content, consulting services, advertising and grants for special projects.
Team: 18 people
Revenue growth 2018-2019: 183.10%
Revenue growth 2019-2020: 153.01%