Straddling the divide between editorial and sales can be a gruelling job, even at the best of times, especially when the revenue model is completely advertising driven. But Justin Doebele—who carries the title of chief editorial advisor even though his remit includes overall management—feels that if you are the head of the office with a journalistic background, you have a better shot at it. “We have a very clear divide between our sales and editorial teams and in no case can one influence the other; the editor in me can never let go of that integrity."
This stance of Forbes has become its USP in a market where press junkets and advertorials have become an accepted norm. “We do not write a piece or take out a piece to placate any company or an individual. And thus, each word on 80-plus pages Forbes prints each month is relevant to its target audience. The consumers as well as our clients in Indonesia are astute enough to sniff out a good product.”
Doebele makes no attempt to hide his affection for Indonesia. For a republican who is Harvard graduate with a master’s degree in international journalism from Columbia and spent the first 15 years of his career in fast paced markets such as New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore, this love for the archipelago touted as “laid-back and inward looking” seems to be an aberration.
He, however, begs to differ. “The only thing that I find slow in Indonesia is the traffic. Indonesia is actually a group of very differing nations within itself and for businesses to do well here, they need to develop and execute strategies across these regions forcing them to be top of the top.”
“The market is becoming more prosperous, as different businesses are built, and people becoming more educated. It is one of the fastest growing economies in Asia and sits with the Top 20 in the world. While a lot of time and energy is focused on India and China, for an international media company the next story is in Indonesia. And we are already here telling that story.”
For someone who is credited to have predicted Alibaba’s phenomenal success long before it became a case study, Doebele is keeping his antennas up for the next ecommerce miracle baby and believes Indonesia has the right ingredients to nurture one. “There are companies that are doubling their size every six months and that is a big. I have my ears on the ground and am closely watching the space,” says Doebele.
Continuing with its commitment towards developing its international titles, Forbes launched its Indonesia edition five years ago, in partnership with PT Wahana Mediatama. The president director of the local partner, Millie Stephanie, has been instrumental in the success of Indonesian Tatler, pegged as the leading English-language society magazine in the country. With precedence set by Tatler, Forbes, too decided to go with an English edition. “Most of international titles in leading markets such as Korea, China and Japan are published in the local language. But our core audience here is fluent in the language and it is a decision we haven’t regretted.”
The target audience for Forbes Indonesia, as every other place the title is published, continues to be tycoons, business leaders and entrepreneurs driving the economy. “While launching the title in 2010, the then Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had told Steve Forbes that he hoped the magazine would be a part of their national development,” reminisced Doebele. “That is a tall ask. In every issue, we strive to inspire businesses and people by giving them ideas, motivation and examples of how to succeed.”
Forbes Indonesia claims to have 20,000 readers which when compared to the 50,000 readers of the 20-year old English language daily Jakarta Post, is an encouraging number, says Doebele. “We have a very well-defined target group and most advertisers looking to tap the richest and the most successful people in the country are mostly on board. The main objective of the sales team would be to nurture relationships with local advertisers who in the future are looking to build their brands globally.”
The advertiser set has also been resistant to the fluctuations seen in the belly of the market and Forbes, thus, managed to skirt the 12 percent decline in magazine revenue, according to Adex last year. “2015 was the best year for us. We are hopeful of Indonesian economy kicking right back this year. Most advertisers haven’t announced any budget cuts so far which is an optimistic sign.”
Doebele and his team are also eyeing greater investment in Forbesindonesia.com as well as in the recent brand extension, Forbes Life Indonesia, a lifestyle stand-alone magazine targeted at the affluent male.
“While in the US a significant amount of revenue for Forbes is off the website, the pool of advertising dollars available to drive forbesindonesia.com is still relatively small. 95 per cent of the budgets are still going towards mainline media in Indonesia, but the winds of change are here.
While keeping an eye on the digital medium, Doebele has built a solid revenue stream through events. “It is a very active and growing part of our business model,” he explained. “We host close to 20 events a year and signature dates like Best of the Best, Global Rising Stars and the 50 richest in Indonesia have become coveted and sought after sponsored events.”
While there is competition at every front and medium on the advertising side with everyone chasing the same advertising dollar, Doebele believes that Forbes Indonesia has no rival on the editorial side. “With the Business Week’s decision to shutter its Indonesian edition after printing 100 issues and Fortune, too, decided to exit the market, we stand alone in the segment,” says Doebele. “While we here are producing a great relevant product, a lot of credit goes to the mother ship in nurturing its young ones. There is clear guidance and full support from the US. And that is the strength of the Forbes brand.”