2021 was another successful year for Sanoma even though the pandemic continued to have its impact on our teams and smaller parts of our business. The Group’s net sales grew by 18% and operational EBIT excluding PPA even more strongly, by 26%. In addition to the successful integration of our recent acquisitions, I am particularly encouraged by the strong organic growth of 7% in both Learning and Media Finland. This proves that our focus on the customers, the digitalisation of our offering and our increased scale are successful contributors to our organic growth in sales and improved profitability. In 2021, we also published our updated Sustainability Strategy and upgraded Sustainability Report for 2020. The more structured approach and improved transparency increased our ESG ratings significantly and can attract new impact and ESG investors on both equity and debt sides. The positive impact that our learning and media businesses have on society is more clearly reflected in our ESG ratings than ever before.
Focus on integrations and strategic development
During 2021, our operational focus was largely on the integrations of our recent acquisitions. We acquired Santillana in Spain on the last day of 2020 and worked the whole year to successfully integrate the business into Sanoma Learning. We also worked hard to finalise the integrations of the regional news media business, acquired on 30 April 2020, into Sanoma Media Finland and Iddink into Sanoma Learning. I am proud to say that these integrations have proceeded according to our plans, and we have been able to reach the synergies we aimed for. Due to the different nature of the businesses and their market position, the synergies are particularly sizable in the Finnish media operations, where they will be even slightly above the originally planned annual level of EUR 13 million.
Digitalisation will continue to have a central role in transforming our businesses and supporting margins. Thus, in parallel to the integration processes, we have worked on significant development projects related to digital learning platforms, content and user experience of our digital media products, finance operations and systems as well as sustainability. With these projects, we aim to be even better prepared for the ever more digital future with increased attention to sustainability. This is true especially also for future acquisition opportunities, for which we have an attractive pipeline that we are actively and continuously working on.
Great team effort in the midst of the pandemic
The lives of all of us in the world, including our customers and our teams, and our ways of working continued to be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, although every one of us expected and hoped this time last year, that it would be over by summer 2021. In our key businesses, the operating environment and market demand were relative stable. In learning, the usage of digital learning platforms grew. The demand for learning materials was largely unaltered, and in some market segments even slightly enhanced due to the pandemic, even though our commercial and logistics operations were hampered by the safety measures. In our media business in Finland, the pandemic continued to have a significant impact on our advertising sales during the first half of the year, and throughout the season on our events business.
Across Sanoma, our employees have again shown extraordinary agility, persistence and resilience in serving our customers throughout the pandemic, and at the same time demonstrated utmost respect for each other’s and our business partners’ health and safety. We see in our employee engagement survey that the pandemic is creating hardship for our teams, and at the same time, the only minimal decline from our top performance last year, shows continued strength of our organisation. I would like to extend my warmest thanks to each team member for their commitment and energy in making the year 2021 another success, even under these complex and constantly changing circumstances.
We have seen competition for talent accelerating during the pandemic, especially when it comes to certain scarce skills and know-how. Sanoma wants to be able to attract and retain the best talents. Our purpose and the positive impact of our learning and media business on the lives of millions of people every day is something that motivates many of our employees. As an employer, we are committed to doing the best we can to support work-life balance and well-being, provide attractive development opportunities and enhance diversity and inclusion at work – we will continue to promote these themes in 2022 and beyond.
Sanoma is a sustainable investment
During the year we have again very clearly seen the increasing impact and meaning our purpose-driven learning and media businesses have on people’s lives and societies, every day. Sustainability was one of our key focus areas during the year, and a very visible topic both externally and internally. In March 2021, we launched our Sustainability Strategy, which compiles the six key sustainability themes in which we have the largest impact – Inclusive learning, Sustainable media, Trustworthy data, Valued people, Vital environment, and Sustainable business practices – and the ambitious targets set for each of the themes. To emphasise our impact and position, we committed to several global sustainability initiatives, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Global Compact and the Science Based Targets Initiative.
During the year, we have actively enhanced our Sustainability Strategy across the business. In addition, we have further developed our transparency and reporting, and these developments are well-reflected in our improved scores in different sustainability ratings, including MSCI, Sustainalytics and CDP, which are already at a very solid level. We believe that our purpose, Sustainability Strategy and ESG performance are not only critical in attracting and retaining key talent, but also play an important role in attracting both new equity and debt investors to Sanoma.
We are committed to create shareholder value by successful execution of our long-term growth strategy and targets
After a successful year 2021, we are in good positions and eager to grow Sanoma further. Our focus continues to be in growing our K12 learning services business – printed and digital learning materials and digital learning platforms for primary, secondary and vocational education − both organically and through M&A in Europe and beyond, for which we have a solid balance sheet. In the Finnish media business, we will continue on our successful path of digitalisation in our three strategic strongholds − news & feature, entertainment and B2B marketing solutions − thus improving margins and ensuring its sustainable future.
I want to thank our customers, shareholders, partners and especially our teams for their continued trust and commitment in 2021. We will continue to develop and grow our businesses, our positive impact on the societies in which we operate, and our shareholder value.
President and CEO, Sanoma
For further information about our sustainability actions and performance, see our Sustainability Report 2021.