Eastern Europe: The same but different

Western Europe's media properties adopt a local feel for Eastern Europe, Lucy Aitken writes.

Having lunch with Cosmo later," one Kiev-based media expert says cheerfully on being contacted for this feature. So there are some similarities between the media scenes in Western and Eastern Europe after all, with lunch courtesy of the world's biggest-selling paid-for women's title ranking among them.

In fact, a newsstand in most Eastern European territories is stuffed with local editions of Cosmopolitan, Maxim, Top Gear, The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek - usually spawned by content partnerships or licensing agreements with local publishers such as Axel Springer and Burda. Meanwhile, global TV brands such as MTV and CNN are well-established.

And a multitude of lesser-known media owners are becoming more powerful as the region becomes an economic tour de force. TV is the dominant medium in Eastern Europe, claiming a generous half of most adspend in most territories. Top of the pops is Central European Media Enterprises, which owns a collection of stations in the region, from TV Nova and Galaxie Sport in the Czech Republic to Pro TV in Romania. Established in 1994, CME now attracts more than $1 billion in annual adspend and has the leading free-to-air channels in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine and Romania.

It's not resting on its laurels either, and is currently sizing up potential acquisitions in Poland, Bulgaria, Russia and the Balkans. Romana Tomasova, CME's director of corporate communications, reveals that between 70 and 80 per cent of CME's inventory is bought upfront - a figure to make ITV's sales team weep.

Hanley King, the Prague-based regional director for Universal McCann, says: "If you're an FMCG or a mobile operator, you have to use CME's channels for their reach. But they are tough negotiators because they're in such a strong position; Procter & Gamble has fought with TV Nova in the past, but always ends up coming back."

He adds that, outside of TV, media owners are "fighting over the crumbs", although there are some impressive new players on the web which, in years to come, could loosen the grip of TV's stranglehold. For instance, the Russian-language search engine and portal Yandex has a daily audience of more than five million unique visitors. Advertisers such as Nokia, Honda, Coca-Cola and Microsoft have advertised on Yandex, which offers free e-mail and news, as well as specific microsites such as online TV and games. It also has the largest WiFi network in Russia, with about 300 cafes, restaurants and bars offering wireless access.

Whereas TV channels in the region still gear their sales pitches around eyeballs and reach, other media owners are innovating to boost their revenue figures. Agora is the parent media company of the Polish national daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza (Election Gazette, so called because it was created on the eve of the Polish parliamentary election in 1989).

The paper, which has 5.6 million readers and a 41 per cent share of the newspaper advertising market in Poland, has developed creative opportunities that make it stand out in a sector that is continually bashed for its lack of imagination. In 2006, for instance, it introduced non-standard advertising offers including translucent wings on the front page adopted by Vodafone, among other clients. The new formats scooped a trophy at this year's International Newspaper Marketing Association Awards.

It has also become renowned for DVD and book covermounts. Gareth Brown, the vice-president of ADV Group, a holding company for agencies in Eastern Europe, says: "Gazeta Wyborcza was launched as an anti- Soviet underground paper. Today, it's a great big fat thing that gives away DVDs and is almost the size of The Sunday Times."

However, Urszula Szwed-Strych, a spokeswoman for Agora, maintains that the company has not lost sight of its roots. "We remain faithful to the values which guided us when we launched: truth, tolerance, respect for human rights and solidarity with the less fortunate. We promote these principles in our media, and through notable social campaigns, we initiate and reconcile these values with successful business operations."

Beyond its flagship paper, Agora has a 28 per cent share of the outdoor advertising market, a group of local radio stations and gazeta.pl, one of Poland's most popular websites. Agora also publishes the freesheet Metro in major Polish cities, as well as 13 magazines.

And the magazine market in general in Eastern Europe is flourishing, stimulated by a strong launch culture, including the appearance of several heavyweight international business titles including Newsweek Polska, Russky Newsweek and Forbes Polska.

One of the biggest consumer publishers is Sanoma Magazines International, which launched in Hungary and the Czech Republic in 1992 via local acquisitions. It is now a high- profile player in Russia and Hungary, and is also prevalent in fast-growing markets such as Romania, Ukraine and Bulgaria. It publishes Cosmo under licence in Russia, which has an 860,000-strong circulation, as well as local editions of Story, a celebrity title. Its interests have also extended into a cable TV station in Hungary based around gossip and celebrities.

As Hans Dreijklufft, Sanoma's business development director, comments: "Sanoma is delivering content to consumers via their preferred channel. In most cases, that's still a magazine, but, increasingly, it can mean the internet, live events and TV."

Talking of television, one of the biggest hits on CME's Pop-TV in Slovenia is Deal Or No Deal, presented by the country's answer to Noel Edmonds, Zmago Batina. This white-suited Elvis Presley lookalike sporting Dame Edna specs is a potent reminder that, even though TV shows and magazines might share the same name, the Eastern European variety can be as vibrant - and idiosyncratic - as the region itself.


How do you even begin to summarise more than 300 million people, ten time zones and more than 20 languages?

Estonia is one of the most connected countries in the world - you pay for your bus ticket with your mobile. Slovenia has already overtaken Portugal in terms of GDP per head. Across the region you drive your new car, bought with credit from an Irish bank, to a shiny mall, spend the day shopping at Zara or Next, eat at Pizza Hut before watching Pirates of the Caribbean 3 at the multiplex - in English with subtitles.

In Uzbekistan, Albania or Moldova, you will find something closer to the kind of country made famous by Borat. Parts of these countries appear to be a 19th-century theme park but with mobiles. And in all the countries you will find a large number of Porsches and Ferraris given the economic circumstances. Evidence of a relaxed attitude towards remuneration.

But what about advertising? Media is as developed as Western Europe. In the most developed countries, it is ahead of many markets in "old" Europe. The agencies are staffed by bright young people who are open to new ideas. The only missing element is the retail information.

On the creative side, the region is further behind, but this is not down to the locals, because Eastern Europe has always been a creative place. It is the dynamic of markets where the priority is to create an instant impact on sales rather than long-term brand identity. What's more, with many ex-pat clients moving every couple of years, only change is constant.

- Gareth Brown is the vice-president of ADV Group.