Feature

Fiji Sun 20th Anniversary: The Inception of the Fiji Sun

The story of one man’s dream and courage to step into unknown waters and succeed
30 Sep 2019 17:02
Fiji Sun 20th Anniversary: The Inception of the Fiji Sun
The production team at work at the Fiji Sun Print Centre in Walu Bay.

Sundip Patel and I were partners in an advertising agency, M&C Saatchi, an international group. It was to become the biggest agency in the South Pacific.

I lived next door to the Patel family home in Waimanu Road and Sundip had come back from university in Australia to run the family business.

We used to sit on the balcony overlooking the harbour and discuss the advertising business.

Sundip had no advertising experience but he was a very fast learner and saw the opportunities an agency offered any brand marketer.

We kept talking and one night Sundip raised the question of starting a second newspaper.

The Daily Post had recently closed, leaving only the Fiji Times in the market.

At that time, Fiji Times was owned by Rupert Murdoch under News Limited, a large international media business and he saw the potential for costs to increase in a monopoly market.

As by then, CJ Patel was one of the country’s biggest advertisers, he saw the need to open the competition.

Decision Made

He mulled it over for some time and talked to a lot of people (Sundip was an excellent listener and could sift the wheat from the chaff of all the advice he received).

He talked to some people working in Fiji who had the necessary expertise to run a daily newspaper, and took the decision to move ahead.

He bought a printing press and installed it in the same warehouse where the agency had started, (we had moved out to Waimanu Road), an old CJP warehouse in Walu Bay, put in was the latest technology for pre-press work.

He then set about getting together a staff of mainly local people and used his amazing charm to get some of the best journalists in Fiji to come and join him.

He also spoke to a number of other people who were running business that would be impacted by a closed newspaper market and sought their support in the venture.

Fiji Sun staff members celebrate 20 years strong. The daily newspaper founded in 1999 by the late, visionary Sundip Patel leads the Fijian market in  readership and key advertising indicators. Photo: Ronald Kumar

Fiji Sun staff members celebrate 20 years strong. The daily newspaper founded in 1999 by the late, visionary Sundip Patel leads the Fijian market in
readership and key advertising indicators. Photo: Ronald Kumar

Fiji new first

We talked to a lot of people in the newspaper business overseas and sought information in what sort of editorial material worked, what overseas sources for editorial material were available and information on coming technology in the industry.

Eventually we were of the opinion that to succeed the majority of the editorial material had to be Fijian and that there was a real opening for a newspaper that gave Fijians the news they wanted.

The paper was firmly based on this policy of good Fiji news first.

Ready to go

Now the Fiji Sun was ready to go. It was named after a previous paper that had done very well in the market but closed in 1987.  We had a little party with some of the press room staff and Sundip stepped up and pressed the button.

There was a lot of whirring, rattles and shakes that were the hallmark of old offset presses at that time and away it went, all of us standing expectantly at the business end waiting for the first papers.  Out they came, all nicely folded and collated but to our surprise, totally blank.

Revenue generation measures

Two more months was spent getting everything set and making sure that we could produce the right number of papers and we could do it every day, on time and to a good quality.

During this period we approached lots of advertisers, we developed a lot of features for the editorial content, we negotiated a distribution network (with some difficulty because the Times at that time had a lot of power in the market) and addressed the many small things that would be critical to success.

We also developed the concept of magazine inserts into the paper, planning at least one insert every day on different subjects.

We also developed a policy that provided flexibility for the advertisers, allowing them to do things with their material that had not previously been available.

We developed new features that were specific to certain advertising categories or interests and promoted these to the readers.

From the first day, we put the paper out until now, the Fiji Sun has not missed hitting the streets even during cyclones.

There were many difficulties in the early days, mainly production-related and there were a number of mistakes made due to the lack of expertise in some areas.

From day one Sundip had insisted on quality reporting and a high standard of editorial integrity, getting involved to create improvements in editorial presentation, but also ensuring that the paper was solidly built on a sound financial base.

Overcoming challenges

We tried many innovative marketing strategies for the paper, some of which did not work or performed poorly.

There were issues with maintaining quality staff, especially publishers, because as the reputation of the Fiji Sun grew, offers were made from overseas publications that looked attractive.

Throughout all the years Sundip never faltered in the belief that the Fiji Sun would gain the Number One position.

He steadily invested in the technology to enable the production of a quality paper and in the development of the people that could produce quality editorial.

The Fiji Sun is now regarded as at the leading edge in the production processes and a lot of international expertise has been used in presentation.

Printers at work at the Fiji Sun Print Centre in Walubay.

Printers at work at the Fiji Sun Print Centre in Walubay.

New Publisher to grow the business

Peter Lomas was asked to join Fiji Sun by Sundip as the Publisher, and the day he walked into the office he commissioned a very wide-ranging research study to determine what readers wanted and establish is they were getting it.

This was a far-reaching exercise that allowed the editorial staff to fully understand the opportunities and the needs in the market.

The Fiji Sun instigated the findings and the results in readership numbers were immediate and have continued to grow.

Many editorial firsts can be claimed by the Fiji Sun, and the readership loyalty is impressive.

From that study the editors paid attention to ensure that every sub-target was provided with material to encourage continues readership and to grow weak areas.

From left: Fiji Sun managing editor Digital Rosi Doviverata, senior journalist Shalveen Chand, managing editor production Ranoba Baoa and managing editor training Nemani Delabatiki during a meeting in the newsroom.

From left: Fiji Sun managing editor Digital Rosi Doviverata, senior journalist Shalveen Chand, managing editor production Ranoba Baoa and managing editor training Nemani Delabatiki during a meeting in the newsroom.

Result of one man’s dream

From one man’s dream and the courage to step into unknown waters and support the paper with continuing investment, a truly great newspaper had grown.

It now has significantly more readers than the opposition and firmly believes in the slogan “More Fijian news than any other newspaper in the World”.

Many of us who were involved in the early development see the Fiji Sun as a monument to Sundip Patel and his unique gift for marketing.

I do know that he would be proud of how his dream has developed.

  • John Ross is a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in Fijian market and links with the launch of the Fiji Sun.

Feedback: johnrossfiji@gmail.com

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