Can sponsored, story-driven advertising help independent media in Kyrgyzstan become more sustainable and less reliant on donors?
Leading Kyrgyz independent outlet, Kloop, certainly thinks so. With the support of the Prague Civil Society Centre, Kloop has successfully integrated sponsored advertising into its content. This has not only resulted in a diversification of funding but is also transforming advertising in the country.
In Kyrgyzstan, independent media such as Kloop is under pressure and underfunded. Restrictive laws, political influence and heavy-handed responses to any criticism of the authorities create a challenging environment. Although outlets can currently receive funding from donors, this may well not always be the case and finding alternative ways to secure income is vital for the health of independent media.
According to Kloop’s marketing director, Ulugbek, exploring sponsored content was an obvious choice. The site enjoys over 300,000 visitors a month and is one of the most visited news sites in the country making it an attractive platform for advertisers. Combined with a gap in the market for sponsored content, Kloop spotted an opportunity.
Although they knew they had the audience, reputation, brand, and knowhow to produce such advertising, the only thing missing was the money. Responding to Kloop’s message on social media that they were looking to explore such an advertising model, the Prague Civil Society Centre invested in Kloop’s commercial department to get the ball rolling. It was successful from the get-go and within six months Kloop’s commercial team was self-reliant, successfully bringing in clients and producing engaging, story-driven advertisements and videos.
As well as providing Kloop with a sustainable source of income, the approach is also contributing to a transformation of advertising in Kyrgyzstan. “We are trying to change the local advertising environment, we were first to use techniques such as those used by Meduza,” said Ulugbek, referring to the successful Latvia-based Russian independent outlet. It seems their efforts are working as other news websites in Kyrgyzstan are now changing their advertising models to capitalise on the demand for content.
Ulugbek made it clear that the move to sponsored content has not compromised Kloop’s editorial standards. The client pays for the content but does not dictate it. Kloop also takes care to ensure this form of advertising doesn’t create any unnecessary trouble. “We don’t do work for the betting, alcohol or tobacco industries,” he said. Rather, Kloop tries to work with businesses that incorporate social responsibility into their operations. For example, a partnership with FINCA bank resulted in a series of stories aimed at improving financial literacy in Kyrgyzstan.
Although Kloop is at the vanguard of introducing sponsored content to Kyrgyzstan, they are helping other outlets develop a similar model for their own organisations, aware of how difficult it is to produce. “It is much harder to make content like this,” said Ulugbek, “you need to make sure people read to the end of the article, it requires a lot of work.” This has led to a partnership between Kloop and fellow Bishkek-based outlet Kaktus Media to help them develop their model for producing sponsored content.
Kloop’s successful adoption of sponsored content demonstrates that there are opportunities out there for independent media, and civil society more broadly, to secure income outside of the traditional donor framework. Doing so will become more and more important as the space or civil society continues to close in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and traditional sources of funding become more difficult to access.