How Prothom Alo covered the Bangladeshi national elections

Focusing on the digital side of the business

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Jabed Sultan, digital business manager, Prothom Alo at Digital Media India 2019.

Bangladesh conducted its national elections in December 2018 and Prothom Alo, as one of the country’s biggest newspapers, covered the event aggressively with comprehensive and dedicated online coverage for the first time. Prothom Alo’s digital portal (www.prothomalo.com) is the world’s largest Bengali web portal in the world with more than 13 million regular readers. The web portal gets more than 350 million page views every month with average time spent per visitor of more than 11 minutes. The newspaper is also very active on Facebook where it has 14.5 million fans.

At the WAN-IFRA Digital Media India 2019 in Mumbai on 19 and 20 February, Jabed Sultan, digital business manager, Prothom Alo, shared the strategy that the newspaper’s digital portal adopted during the December 2018 elections to cover the elections comprehensively, disseminate all the relevant information and generate revenue during the process.

Prothom Alo created an exclusive website for the election coverage (https://election.prothomalo.com/) which was data heavy with all voter-related information pertaining to all the 300 directly elected seats to the National Parliament. The website included profiles of all the 1800 candidates who were in fray. The election portal carried more than 5,000 hyperlocal news content with interactive navigation. It also had a database for the last five national elections.

Interaction was the key

According to Sultan, it was clear from the very start that active interaction with the online audience will be the key if the election coverage was to be a success. With this in mind the portal established a dedicated chat assistant to respond to thousands of queries that were generated before the day of the election. There were daily quiz, polls and Facebook Live sessions as well.

In order to make its target audience aware of the new website and the kind of coverage it will have, Prothom Alo started by putting several banners on its main website about 45 days before the elections. It undertook extensive social media campaign, launched a big SMS and eMail awareness program, relied on word of mouth and issued print advertisements, Sultan said.

A very innovative step that Prothom Alo took was that of using tea stalls as a platform to launch focused communication. Just like in India, Bangladesh too has a culture where a tea stall is a place where people gather and discuss politics. Prothom Alo posted more than 1,000 QR codes in tea stalls across the country. Scanning these QR codes took the reader to the election portal. According to Sultan, more than 150,000 individuals scanned these QR codes posted at the tea stalls.

On 29 December, Bangladesh’s telecom regulator ordered mobile operators to shut down high speed mobile internet services until midnight of 30 December, the day of the national elections. This impacted the Prothom Alo website as well. So, in order to continue covering the elections, Prothom Alo got connected to half a million people through mobile value added services (VAS).

In all this planning, revenue generation played a vital role as well. The website carried hyperlocal advertisement targeting constituencies and sub-districts, placed interstitial advertisements on microsite and got section-wise sponsorship.

A successful outcome

All the planning and strategizing that Prothom Alo undertook to the run-up to the national elections resulted in massive success for its election portal and overall digital footprint. The website engaged more than 10 million visitors who generated close to 200 million page views. The unique Facebook reach was 21 million while duplicate Facebook reach was 502 million. All these numbers that the website notched up also translated into higher revenues.

The revenue grew 47% over November 2018 and 56% over December 2017, Sultan shared.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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