Axel Springer shakes up media brands, aims to unify tech across titles

No stranger to major transformation projects, late last year, Axel Springer began a massive new initiative that will see the media company, one of Europe’s largest, move from a brand to a market-based focus.

by Brian Veseling | April 10, 2018

Photo by Rasmus Flindt Pedersen for WAN-IFRA. All rights reserved

“We’re reorienting our publishing structure into groups that focus on Digital News Media and Print News Media,” Stefan Betzold, Managing Director Digital at Bild, told participants at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Europe conference last week in Copenhagen.

In terms of the company’s news brands, he said this is the biggest transformation they’ve ever done.

However, he said this project doesn’t include Springer’s editorial teams because they are already working for both digital and print.

In some ways, Springer’s initiative suggests the extension of a trend that Schibsted has also undertaken with its media brands in Sweden and Norway, moving towards greater collaboration and efficiency among their titles.

Rebuilding to maximise sharing and efficiency

As part of this transformation initiative, Betzold said Springer is rebuilding the very foundations of its brands so they can all work efficiently and share as much technology as possible, such as having the same ad tech running across all titles and products.

While Axel Springer has several market dominating brands (Bild, for example, reaches half of Germany’s population at least once a month) that are continuing to do quite well both in terms of reach and sales, Betzold pointed out that, like most publishers everywhere, they see the overall advertising market continuing to change in ways that overwhelmingly favour the large social media platforms, while the share for media publishers continues to shrink.

One of the aims of the transformation is to build up global user profiles across all Axel Springer brands.

“In the past,” he said, “we were grouped in terms of brand-oriented publishing groups, so we had the Bild group, there was the Bild editorial team, digital publishing and print publishing. Then we had Die Welt group and the special interests group, still under one roof, but not really using synergies. The brand always came first, and then maybe the synergies from Bild and Welt. And it depended on people and if they work together and cooperate and not so much on the incentive.

“And that’s why we’re now going through this reorganising the whole publishing division, and regrouping it to a digital group and a print group. And we’re integrating all the media brands,” he added. “That’s a heavy, heavy reorganisation for us.”

Springer wants to further empower its brands with product and technology across a broad number of areas, including:

  • Distribution
  • Advertising
  • Single sign-on
  • Data and Analytics
  • Subscriptions and Payment
  • Culture

Among the changes they’ve already made is the establishment of a central single sign-on for all user services, Betzold said. Initally, Springer developed its own single sign-on, which was called mypass, but eventually decided this was not enough.

“We realised that we need to create cross-industry log-in alliances,” he said. “We decided to join Verimi, the log-in alliance that is also supported by Lufthansa, Daimler, Deutsche Bank and Telekom. And if you group this together with all of their identity data, even with stronger sign in credentials, which are needed for banking, it can be a very powerful answer to all the log-ins that Facebook collects,” Stefan Betzold, Managing Director, Digital – Bild

At our Expo last October in Berlin, Mathias Döpfner, Chairman and CEO of Axel Springer, discussed their decision to join Verimi this way: “The idea is to create a European alternative for consumers to have a single sign-on entry point to the digital world that is user-friendly, but is also transparent, fair and attractive. We want to satisfy consumers, but we also want to make money.”

In addition, Springer has developed a central ad tech layer based on App Nexus.

“In the past, we were using a lot of Google ad tech infrastructure, and in Q4, we migrated everything to a central layer from App Nexus in order to be more Google agnostic and independent,” — Stefan Betzold

Revolutionising article production: From 80 steps to 10

Furthermore, he said Springer has built a platform they believe is best for their editors, which focuses on three areas.

Betzold said Bild has 500 journalists, there’s another 3-digit number of journalists at Welt and the company’s special interest titles.

“If we can find ways to create more efficiency, more synergies or a better product for our editors, then we can succeed in the long run,” he said.

“We decided to invest in tools and products and technology for the editorial workflows and to create an own-editor, which we plug into the CMS structure, with three different layers.”

These layers are:

  • Content discovery – what’s trending, etc.
  • Creation – everything from starting to write to embedding photos, etc.
  • Distribution – making this more efficient

The goal, Betzold said, is to make it as easy to work on an article as it is to use an iPhone.

In the past, Springer’s journalists needed up to 80 steps to write an article. “We’re working on getting it down to fewer than 10 steps,” he said. They are now alpha testing the product.

The company is also in the process of building a new headquarters in Berlin near its existing one that is designed to accommodate 3500 employees and create a more open culture that will increase sharing, collaboration and working together, he said.

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