44 years of responding to industry challenges

Cayman Free Press celebrates its 44th anniversary today. This is a good opportunity for Cayman Free Press Managing Director Brian Uzzell not only to look back at what has been achieved during this time, but more importantly to focus on the future of the business.

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Some of the challenges of the past are still valid today, he says, ‘but there are now really a lot more challenges than we had, say 10 years ago.’

In particular the advent of the Internet has increased competition and changed the nature of the news publishing industry.

While the online business in the industry is still trying to find itself, contemplating whether to charge for content, determining where the value of online advertising lies and what constitutes the most effective type of advertising, the change is taking effect.

The economic situation in Cayman and internationally is another factor contributing to a very competitive environment for a publishing house.

‘I am very pleased with what we have been able to do so far this year and we have had tremendous support from our advertisers and our readers,’ he says.

‘In these times we realise the value of what we have been trying to do for a number of years and that is to be responsive to customers,’ Mr. Uzzell explains, pointing out that customer service from the front desk to the advertising and editorial teams is key.

Technology is one of the main drivers of change for the business, but it does not come cheap.

The technological change affects all areas of the publishing business, from delivering news content online to new printing methods.

‘We have invested a great deal of money in computer to plate technology, which is where you do all your work and page layouts on your computer and transfer it to a machine that produces a plate for the printing press,’ Mr. Uzzell says.

By cutting out all the intermediaries, for example in terms of film and chemicals, this is better for the environment and more cost-effective.

The technology strategy of Cayman Free Press has always been to invest in tried and tested technology, rather than attempting to be cutting edge at all cost.

‘It is extremely expensive to do this and you have to get a return on investment. Sometimes it is very difficult to realise this return, especially on an island like this one with all the limitations that it has.

‘But we are continuing to invest and we will do that on an ongoing basis.’

Streamlining the editorial work flow in 2010 will be a continuation of similar successful efforts in the billing and advertising department.

It will help particularly on the website, by enabling the faster and more efficient upload of news to the internet, he says.

This is necessary because the Internet as a medium has transformed the way news must be presented.

Mr. Uzzell explains: ‘You can no longer mull over individual stories. News has to be immediate; that is the only way you can compete actively with TV and radio.’

This does not only relate to the written word but also to video streaming and a range of other electronic services that will be introduced in the near term.

The Internet also enables Cayman Free Press to expand outside the confines of the shores of the Cayman Islands

While in the past the only way to supply newspapers was to physically deliver them to different countries, circulation across the Caribbean has been, and still is, logistically and from a cost-perspective virtually impossible.

However, the Internet has brought with it new forms of news delivery, whether through websites or e-papers.

The facilitation of these media on a combined basis with the print product or individually is a continuous task.

One particular product that has been successful in this regard is the quarterly financial publication Cayman Financial Review, Mr. Uzzell says.

‘The CFR has been readily accepted by the financial industry, particularly in view of the financial worries of the world.

‘We have regular visitors to the site from over 20 countries in the world and more than 30,000 people, including business leaders from all relevant industries, in our contact database.’

The diversification of Cayman Free Press publications has also responded to the growth of Cayman’s other major industry – tourism.

Mr. Uzzell says he realised from the start that a small newspaper on its own, even if supported, as it is, by a commercial printing business, was not going to sustain the company’s growth.

The company therefore published a map of Cayman, which proved popular, and created a magazine called Tourist Weekly, a forerunner of today’s Key to Cayman magazine. Many other publications, including the Observer on Sunday, The Journal and What’s Hot were added to broaden the product range.

A different avenue for diversification of the business is the development of the company’s property and real estate assets. Over the years the Cayman Free Press has acquired individual parcels of land to add to its current four acre site. Property and real estate became important assets to the business, enabling a more secure financial base and ensuring the independence a newspaper requires.

‘We could see the expansion of the Compass Centre within the next two years,’ Mr. Uzzell says.

‘That would give the company a different revenue stream and mean the business was not wholly reliant on advertising and the sales of newspapers.’

The competitive and technological development has also meant that the way the company is managed had to evolve.

‘As we got into all these competitive and technological changes, obviously you cannot be a one-man band. You need to have continuity at the top, but I am totally reliant on my management.’

‘I will come in on the strategies, but the day-to-day running of the business is done by the managers and supervisors. That is our strength. We have very good people and we are still run like a family business and that is essential.’