As you read our annual report (online version available on afp.com), you will discover what 2013 was like for us day to day – how our committed, well-organised teams handled the most critical, most intense news stories. In the context of a worldwide print media crisis and a real or imagined overabundance of news, AFP accomplished all of its missions. But these achievements are not enough - we must continue to invent and to innovate.Our strategic orientations have been established: to accelerate image production and step up the internationalisation of our sales. Live video, which we will continue to develop in the coming months, is a requirement from now on. In sport, where AFP excels, a new offering has been launched under its own brand -- AFP Sports -- comprising applications and a stand-alone sports wire. These products are destined to grow in 2014, to meet the many and varied needs of the market. The development of our English language product – an indispensable condition for increasing international sales – will open new horizons, just as our Arabic and Portuguese language products have done. AFP teams are deployed on every continent to ensure ever better coverage of the news, enhance the agency’s reputation and take advantage of new opportunities. We have adopted an offensive position, we are playing an offensive game and we are implementing an offensive strategy. Thanks to major efforts by all concerned, the accounts are balanced and the investments indispensable to AFP’s future are provided for. All of our text and multimedia teams around the world now work from our multimedia production system, Iris. 2014 will see the deployment of AFP-Forum, a multimedia content delivery platform for our clients. And we have never had so many clients. AFP is gaining ground and building new relationships. AFP Dialog – a tool enabling permanent dialogue between our clients’ editorial departments and our own – is one example of this. We are launching new partnerships, penetrating the editorial web animation territory thanks to our subsidiary AFP-Services. Above all you will discover, through a few emblematic (or in some cases anecdotal) editorial coverages, how all of the agency’s teams – the editorial network of course, but also the technical, legal, marketing and commercial, communication, financial and human resources services -- are deployed. You will discover their capacity to adapt and respond, to apply their outstanding skills to delivering accurate, authenticated and independent news. In 2013, AFP’s teams demonstrated their unparalleled strength and commitment, confirming our place in the top world ranks. Missions accomplished! You are in for some fascinating discoveries and some very enjoyable reading.
What is your assessment of AFP’s coverage in 2013?
2013 began with Mali and ended with Mandela. While the preceding years had been more about the Middle East, with the wave of Arab springs and the war in Syria – which is still keeping us busy – 2013 was an African year, marked by very big stories in Cameroon, Niger and Kenya and then by the conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Despite the tight budgets that are affecting all of the news media, we sent large numbers of journalists to cover the stories on the ground, including twenty-one specials for the death of Nelson Mandela. Africa will continue to be one of our priorities in the coming years. Besides the conflicts that are going on across Africa, it is a dynamic continent where rapid economic and social change is taking place. In terms of both news and development, Africa is a growth area where there’s real demand from the media, specifically for content delivered via mobile phones. In 2014, we hope to further improve our Africa coverage, especially that targeted at African media. We need to use our long experience in Africa to consolidate the editorial and commercial advantage we have there, both in the French speaking and English speaking regions.
The public has an appetite for information and explanation extending far beyond the top breaking news stories of the day. We are devoting more and more time and resources to different lifestyle themes, for example with the global monthly multimedia lifestyle package via all of our available media -- text, photo, video and infographics -- in formats geared to online, smartphone and tablet consumption. These packages on so-called “cold” topics like education or health have to be visual, they have to tell a story, they have to be global as well as regional. Because of AFP’s extensive presence, our multilingual network, the scope of our capabilities and our multi-media platforms, we truly have a winning hand in terms of providing original, accurate, lively coverage of these topics. In 2014 we will be accentuating this trend in the areas of sport and culture. AFP has a responsibility to educate, to provide depth and explanation. And there is a demand for this. The more they are flooded with information, on Twitter for example, the greater our clients’ needs in terms of organising this information. The news agency’s role can no longer be limited to delivering news and delivering it fast. We supply content, but we increasingly supply services as well. This is what makes us indispensable.
On what types of news does AFP plan to focus its development in 2014?
In 2013 we saw enormous growth in video, in terms of the number and variety of productions and live broadcasts. AFP-TV is now present on all of the major breaking stories throughout the world, from the Philippines to Brazil. We increased our focus on live video in 2013. Over the year, our various live video coverages were done in a range of very different journalistic and technical contexts, adding up to some very rich experiences – in Saint Peter’s Square for the Pope, in Qunu for Mandela and in Caracas for Chavez. We must continue to move forward with live video not only for breaking news, but also for sport and lifestyle stories. A news agency must operate in a context of immediacy, on all of its platforms and in all of its formats. This is what we have set out to do and what we must continue to build on in 2014, including in areas considered in the past to be “cold” news.
AFP launched a number of major projects in 2013. How are they progressing?
We have spent the past year working on projects that will be decisive for AFP’s future. In 2013, we not only built up our products, our offer and our development strategy, we focused on acquiring new clients and strengthening our relationship with the French government. Although the seeds we have sown will not come to fruition right away, everything is in place to ensure the implementation of the 2014-2018 contract of objectives and means.
What are the underlying orientations of the agency’s development strategy?
Our strategy is underpinned by a set of development orientations that have been identified based on the markets we want to conquer both in France and internationally. Asia and South America were targeted at a very early stage. The broadcast sector is another priority: whereas before it was small Internet clients, now it’s time to seek out opportunities with television channels. Our development strategy is largely based on building up our video production, our sports offer and our Arabic and Portuguese language services.
Does AFP see video as a priority area for driving growth?
Video has boosted our revenues, and our 2014 budget allocates 20% more resources to video. While text journalism is still our core business, it is losing ground to photo and above all to video. Unlike the other big news agencies, we are developing video within our editorial structure, with our own video teams and with the contribution of our writers and photographers on the ground, who may also record video material.
Is the new sports offer part of this development policy?
Our ambition is to become the go-to agency for sport. In a year whose highlights include the Sochi Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, we want to give clients a clearly identified sports environment where they will find the news and related data they need, for different platforms. With a dedicated sports wire and second screen applications, we aim to respond to demand from both editorial clients and non-media clients. In parallel, we are pursuing our international development with our sports wires in German and Arabic.
What about the agency’s contractual relationship with the French government?
A new relationship is taking shape. Starting in 2014, it will have two components. Under the missions of general interest, we will have a financial relationship with the government that will determine the net cost of this activity. A commercial relationship will also be established, and will lead to an overall contract. We have completed our discussions with the French government and our discussions with Brussels regarding European laws on competition. Everything is in place for a decision to be handed down in 2014. We are ready for it.
In a context of long-term crisis, did AFP continue to invest in 2013?
We pursued our investments and at the same time made progress in identifying our needs. The agency has also been investing in client relations, to give our clients a better understanding of how we work and the service we deliver. The building renovation project is almost completed. The renovation strengthens the company structurally, besides saving us nearly two million euros over a full year.
AFP has also launched a major overhaul of its staff policy. Why?
It came to our attention that there are 119 different agreements governing AFP’s relationship with employees. This creates a great deal of legal uncertainty for both the employees and the company. The negotiations under way aim to re-establish a greater degree of transparency and equity, so that each individual can be sure of where he or she stands in the agency and plan for the future. This discussion is also an economic necessity, as we must ensure that our staff costs do not rise faster than our revenues.