How iconic news brand Zeit Online is bonding with millennials

“We believe that one can’t do enough for millennials. With this, we are achieving a rejuvenation of the entire Zeit publishing group,” says Zeit Online CEO Christian Röpke.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | March 16, 2017

Many legacy publishers are struggling to reach out to millennials, but with topics young people care about as a core part of the editorial strategy, Zeit Online has been able to attract and retain a young readership.

Thanks to its broad offer for students, it’s become a go-to source for those wanting to find out more about, among other things, what university is right for them, which courses and subjects they should take, and what life after graduation is going to be like.

In recent years, Zeit Online has been expanding that offer, introducing more editorial content and other services, and even launching a separate portal for millennials.

Paywall, registration launch

This year will see Zeit Online continue with a focus on millennials but, more importantly, it also marks the introduction of the brand’s registration and paywall system.

In this interview, Röpke, who will also be speaking at our upcoming Digital Media Europe conference (#DME17) in April, shares insights into what kind of content the 80-plus editorial team produces for younger audiences, what new projects the brand launched in a bid to connect with millennials, how the group is improving its position in the advertising market through an alliance, and what can be expected from Zeit Online in 2017.

WAN-IFRA: What are some of the things you’ve done and projects you’ve launched to attract and reach out to more millennials?

Christian Röpke: At Zeit Online, we have had a very young readership for many years. But since 2010 in particular, we are constantly developing new content services for this target group.

During this time, we have developed a wide range of services for study orientation, accompanied by a lot of editorial content that is of interest to young people.

In the past year, we have significantly expanded this with Campus Online.

In a sense, this was a relaunch of the study area at Zeit Online under the brand Zeit Campus with a clear expansion of the editorial content and significantly stronger ties between the editorial offer and the content designed to help students and young people with planning their studies.

Last but not least, with Z2X, we organised a remarkable conference dedicated to 20-year-olds on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Zeit Online last year.

Along with more than 500 participants, we discussed problems in the world for two days; how to solve them, and what topics matter to us all. It was a really great event, during which, of course, we also celebrated together.

You launched a new platform for millennials a little while ago. What was the thinking behind that?

We founded the website two years ago, a partner of Zeit Online, which specifically addresses this target group with its own approach and own content.

This platform has its own editorial team, and there are special marketing approaches, especially in the area of ​​Native Advertising.

In addition to our established media channels, we wanted to launch the experiment of building a new brand, which is strongly anchored in this target group.

We believe that one can’t do enough for millennials. With this, we are achieving a rejuvenation of the entire Zeit publishing group.

Is it worth investing so much in the younger audiences? How have these efforts paid off?

The younger audience is immensely important to us in order to bind them to the brand and keep to them in our channels in the long run.

In recent years, we have successfully developed and expanded various monetisation models, such as classic advertising, our job portals, or special subscription offers for students.

Ultimately, these efforts are paying off in many places.

At we see, for example, that we can experiment with new things that work well in the field of Native Advertising. But we will also become more active in the field of recruiting events.

And employer branding is becoming increasingly important in the classic advertising market.

In the face of mounting skill deficit and increasing competition for employees, companies are striving to reach these young target groups and to best position their strengths and offerings among them.

In addition to continued efforts surrounding millennials, what are your other priorities for this year?

2017 marks the start of our registration and payment barrier on Zeit Online. It’s a very significant and crucial step for us because it more or less affects all areas of the company.

It is a hybrid model with a freemium approach combined with metering for articles that require registration. It is extremely flexible and takes into account our strengths and our different business models, thus fitting particularly well with Zeit Online.

We need to ensure that the model we have chosen, and which we are very convinced of, also achieves a balance between the reach-based model and the increasing revenue streams from paid content.

This will be very exciting for us and we will have to experiment a lot and constantly optimise further. I am very confident, however, that now is the right time for this change.

A few years ago you founded the Quality Alliance with a few other newspapers. What is meant by that, and what was involved in accomplishing it?

The Quality Alliance is about the classic marketing by our marketer iq digital. Four years ago, we joined forces with other quality news portals, and Zeit Online, FAZ [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung] and Süddeutsche Zeitung created this alliance by becoming minority shareholders at the iq digital in addition to the majority shareholder Verlagsgruppe Handelsblatt.

It is a strategic alliance of leading news portals in Germany, which pays off by the clear positioning in marketing.

In the classic advertising market, I believe very much in clear positioning. It is possible to achieve range leadership or cost leadership or quality leadership – and the Quality Alliance is clearly the leader in quality.

You mentioned once that you were not particularly worried about the shift to mobile although this is something many other publishers are struggling with. How come?

Mobile growth – at times to the detriment of the desktop range – is simply a fact and that we have to face and try to think and set up our content and the marketing in the future always platform-neutral.

For this reason, we have been trying to build a good advertising model along with the other partners of the Quality Alliance and the marketer iq digital, in which we have the right advertising formats, while at the same time encouraging the customers to view total reach of Zeit Online – desktop and mobile – as the relevant reach and book that.

In two years, we hopefully won’t even talk about desktop reach and mobile reach, but only about the total reach of a medium.

That, of course, extends across different channels, but advertising partners should understand that each channel is relevant and has its strengths.

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