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Captivating an audience is a constant pursuit for any media business- and entrepreneur Daria Solovieva believes that perhaps, the best way to do so is through focusing on email newsletters. She points out how our inboxes are an integral aspect of how we consume news, and with the rise of fake news and diminishing readers’ trust becoming hurdles for media platforms, it’s now more essential for curators to establish trust with readers. Seeing the opportunity in the MENA media landscape, Solovieva launched ella Middle East, a curated biweekly newsletter providing news insights, featured stories and events in MENA specifically catered for women. Though a novel idea for the MENA region, if you were a keen news junkie, you would have heard about theSkimm and other similar curated news services. So what makes ella stands out? The founder points out as a female-focused publication, their focus is not on usual fashion and beauty tips, but rather to, “speak to young women directly, deliver relevant and timely information to them and connect them to other like-minded women… We’re speaking to their minds, what they want to do with their lives.”
Taking in her own 10-year background as a journalist for outlets including The Wall Street Journal in Moscow and Bloomberg in Dubai, Solovieva says she noticed the lack of quality content for young women in particular, and so her approach with ella was in consideration of the target audience’s interests. She notes how the young generation of women in Middle East, including driven women among the growing expat population, aren’t accelerating their career growth as fast as they should, and that perhaps, with the requisite information and inspiration, Solovieva believes they could be nudged to move ahead further. It’s with this mindset that ella has also started producing offline events and workshops for their readers to connect with like-minded driven people to further challenge them.
Curating news from print and online publications, local and international titles, ella’s subscribers are primarily expats, with readers in UAE, KSA, Egypt and wider MENA and other regions. Solovieva describes their readers as CEOs, managers, and women who have recently graduated, transitioning between jobs or seeking inspiration. It’s early days, but so far, the feedback has been positive- Solovieva says that readers recognize their “distinct editorial tone, how we take news content seriously, but have fun with it too.” As of last month, according to Solovieva, their readership has been growing “30% month-on-month,” with a particularly high Instagram engagement rate. Their offline engagement events have also been received with good response- the founder states how they had 25 people signed up within less than two days for their latest workshop on career development, all without marketing investment.
On the operations front, they bypass traditional website publishing almost completely, solely focusing on the newsletter and delivering content to subscribers twice a week and unlike traditional media settings, ella doesn’t publish on its website first. Another approach they’ve decided is directly engaging in platforms where their audiences are, which are Instagram and Snapchat. “[According to Digital Media Index], only 40% of news publications in the GCC are present on Instagram,” says Solovieva, and this, she believes, is a definite opportunity for them. The startup leverages this advantage by tailoring and producing stories specifically for those social media channels, which has proven to be a smart move as a lot of readers end up subscribing to the newsletter after discovering it on Instagram.
As for her personal motivation as an entrepreneur, Solovieva is definitely purpose-driven. “First, I’d like to see young women grow up and see more media outlets speak to them and engage them as smart, capable individuals, not shame them or tell them what they should look like,” she says. “There is a clear demand for smarter content, and we’re catering to this global demand that’s not specific to the Middle East. Secondly, wherever there is a considerable market demand and an engaged, fast-growing demographic, advertisers find multiple opportunities to engage and market to their target audiences. We’re just getting started, but what gets me up in the morning is to see a profitable, innovative media company that makes women a priority and caters to them every single day across multiple channels. Women are fighters, they are half the world’s population, and they shouldn’t be an afterthought.”