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Chief executive Mark Pownall (L) and chairman Elton Swarts. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Delivering the news for 25 years

ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: Riding the waves of Western Australia’s boom-and-bust economy while simultaneously dealing with the decades-long disruption to the media landscape means Business News has faced more than a few challenges during its 25-year history.

Innovation has been the key, according to Business News executive chairman Elton Swarts and CEO Mark Pownall, learning and adapting from others while breaking new ground at the same time.

Mr Swarts bought into the media group in 2000 but soon discovered that growth plans for the business were not living up to expectations as the dot.com era ended suddenly and resources remained in the doldrums.

Searching for answers, he and Business News founder Harry Kleyn invested in a fact-finding mission to the US, where specialist business publications were more common than in the homogenised Australian market – and where the subscription model and events businesses were mature pathways for publishers such as Business News.

“We arrived in New York, spending $600 a night on hotel rooms, trying to save a business that was rapidly running out of working capital,” Mr Swarts said.

“The irony wasn’t lost on us.”

However, it turned out to be a solid investment of time and money as Mr Swarts met with six different publishers in seven days, including one particularly generous publisher who would help change the course of Business News.

“One American publisher sat me down and gave me basically their business plan for 40under40,” Mr Swarts said.

“The guy looked me in the eye and said ‘promise me you’ll give this a go’.

“A few days later I was flying back on the dreaded flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, with the rude awakening I was coming back to a business starved of capital, poring over this 40under40 plan while I was squished up in economy, and I decided I was going to give it a go.”

True to his word, Mr Swarts launched the inaugural Business News 40under40 Awards, just before the terrorist attacks in the US of September 2001. Despite a nervous and soft market, the event was a success and opened up a new business division for the media group.

“We could feel the energy 40under40 released. Businesspeople loved meeting each other … there was a strong positive vibe in the room,” Mr Swarts said.

“Even though we were in trouble, we were applauding other people. We were serving others, and amazingly in doing that our outlook got a bit better.”

From the success of 40under40, Business News launched the Success & Leadership breakfast events, featuring well-known local business identities telling their stories.

Business News had discovered an appetite within the Perth business community to recognise, and learn from, its own and to move away from the ‘wild west’ stereotype it often saw in the mainstream media.

“There was even a bigger tall poppy syndrome back then [than now] but through this we realised that some of us are actually okay,” Mr Swarts said.

“We helped discover people and it got our brand out and made us relevant in a way other than the pure news.”

The events side of Business News’s operations has grown but has remained anchored on giving local business people a platform to meet, and to shine a spotlight on people who have done good things.

As technology has disrupted the way people consume news, Business News has been one of the few media organisations to successfully marry a print edition and a digital offering.

Readership of the print edition is estimated to be around 30,000, while the website attracts close to 1.4 million users annually, generating more than 4.2 million page views. The morning and afternoon news emails reach about 45,000 people.

Mr Pownall said the Book of Lists, which was integral to Business News’s move to a full subscription model, formed the basis of Business News’s data platform, the BNiQ Search Engine.

“The data story is pretty powerful and we are focused on growing that side of the business and finding more customers to use it; ways to improve the data and finding new sub-sets that add value in different ways,” he said.

Mr Pownall describes Business News as ‘platform agnostic’ as it remains true to its mission of editorial integrity and giving the business audience what it needs.

Mr Swarts said the focus was not a particular medium but simply whatever the business audience wanted.

“We know our audience is deeply hungry for reliable news that will help them do business, and we are deeply committed to providing not just news, but also data through all those channels,” he said.

“We are pro-WA; we understand and like business and we support business by telling those stories in a balanced way, by really smart journalists.”

Comments

Lloyd Pickwell Architecture Keane Street, Midland
Congratulations. I watched the growth from days in Broome during my time as secretary of the Broome Chamber of Commerce. I frequently chatted to Mark Pownall about the business life of Broome, and if my memory serves me right there was an information sheet you guys produced then. From little acorns of beginnings then now we have BN. Thank you for persisting in spite of hurdles, and for bringing to fruition this excellent magazine and twice daily information format to businesses in Western Australia.

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