‘Going public’ How Südkurier handled this essential TSE step

Context

Südkurier is a regional daily newspaper based in Constance in the south of Germany. The paper is published six times a week, and has a circulation of around 115,000 copies. There are 11 local editions and 15 local offices. Part of the larger media company Pressedruck, Südkurier has around 700 employees, about 100 of whom work in editorial. The publisher joined Table Stakes Europe as part of the paper’s mission to transform from a print-focus to an audience-based one and to help achieve their goal to triple the number of their digital-only subscribers by the end of 2021. For Südkurier, joining TSE was an extension of an internal initiative called the Shift project, with an emphasis on loyal readers, subscriptions and digital.

Choices

“It was a good decision for us to go public very early,” says Julian Kögel, who is responsible for digital products at Südkurier. “The programme started in October last year in Paris, and our second meeting in Lisbon was in December, and in between that, we went public.”

Kögel says he felt that Südkurier had a big advantage compared to other TSE participants because they had already organised a joint management group from both the editorial and the business sides. This group had unified goals and was holding regular meetings before TSE started.

“So we were really quick in developing our challenge and developing the mission ahead, what we wanted to achieve. For us, that was to triple the number of digital only subscribers until the end of 2021, and to develop from a print-focused publisher to pioneer audience-based publishing,” he says.

In terms of “Going public,” the Südkurier Table Stakes team had a series of three meetings shortly after the first TSE session. A first meeting with top leadership for their approval, then a meeting with the management team for their feedback. After that, they held a big event they called “Future Day” for all editorial staff as well as those who work closely with them from IT and the business side in marketing and product.

“We all gathered in a town hall, if you will, and had a big presentation, where we as a group presented who we are, what our mission is and how we wanted to proceed from there,” Kögel says.

Adds Chief Digital Offcer Matthias Kiechle: “We as a team, eight people, represented different parts of this strategy and what it means in practice. This was a crucial moment for us because we didn’t know how people would react to it.”

Going public to everyone at once was helpful for a number of reasons. For example, Kögel points out it eliminated the possibility of rumours that otherwise might have spread. “So that went away because everybody knew,” he said. “I think it really helped us in the process moving forward. Of course, the work just started there.”

While holding a big event basically worked well, Kögel says there were a lot of questions.

“Looking back, it was the right decision to have a big event and gather all the people. And to accept that there will be questions that we can’t answer yet. But everybody was prepared that at some point in time, the transformation, the challenge will arrive on his or her desk,” Kögel says.

Outcome

As TSE coach Alexandra Borchardt notes, Going public isn’t something that happens once, it’s an ongoing communication process within the organisation to keep everyone focussed on achieving the goals.

With a targeted goal that still has more than a year remaining of it at the time of this writing, Südkurier has taken several steps to keep the Going public process active.

For example, after the Future Day presentation, the team spoke with key influencers within Südkurier. These are people who don’t necessarily have a management position, Kögel says, but they are well respected and when they say something, their co-workers usually listen. On a recommendation from Table Stakes architect Doug Smith, they made a list of influencers and gathered them together to talk about their opinions about the mission.

“That was very important in leading the opinion within the organisation,” Kögel says. Otherwise, he adds, “you present something, and the next day people go back to their office and it’s all the same.”

Südkurier also created an editorial development team, which helps the organisation’s various offices to manage the challenges.

“We have a dedicated team helping with this transition, so we are able to say to the local editorial office in whatever town, ‘You will have support from the editorial development team in four months and this change will arrive at your desk,’ ” Kögel says.

They have also implemented tools, such as a dashboard, so staff members can easily see current numbers to know how things are going.

Says Kiechle: “Our main dashboard shows how many users we had on the paywall. This is a crucial number for us, getting more people on the paywall, because we have a metered paywall. So it’s important in getting more readership, making them more loyal and bringing them through the paywall.”

The dashboard also tells staff how many subscriptions were sold the day before, how many subscribers were active, and what articles have helped to sell the most subscriptions, he said. The focus, though, and the number in the middle of the dashboard, is on the new subscribers.

“When you look at Schibsted or Amedia that have big sales numbers, they are focussing on retention and churn prevention. But we are at an earlier stage,” Kiechle says. “For us, it’s more important to get more people to subscribe. This is the main thing we are talking about.”

Adds Kögel, “I’m a marketing guy, and today, it’s not me who asks ‘How many sales did we make with this article?’ The editors are asking each other that. I don’t have to be in the room to make the discussion sales driven. That is something I’m very proud of and very happy about.”

Kögel’s advice for Going Public to publishers just starting out in Table Stakes is: “Don’t wait too long. Don’t wait until you have all the details, all the answers. You will not ever reach the point where you have a perfect preparation for an organisation larger than 100 people. So just storm out of the gates and involve the organisation. And also, very important, one of the really essential things from Table Stakes is that it’s not solely an editorial project, it’s not a solely business project, it’s ‘How can we save journalism and our business model for the future?’ That is something that concerns all the silos. And when you get on stage, use people from all silos.”

Another key way Südkurier keeps the communication process going is through a monthly newsletter that Kiechle writes. “This is a personal email from me to the entire newsroom and the people around it who are working directly with the newsroom, and it’s mainly about efforts and success stories,” he says.

“This is the main channel where we are constantly giving information and bringing the people onboard, but it’s not the only one,” he adds. “We have things like team rounds and Zoom calls so we are speaking with different groups.”

“Try to use every touch point you have to talk about your challenge,” Kiechle adds. “Touch points can be some usual group meetings, displays in break rooms, or wherever people meet, showing our daily performance. These are real numbers so people can make their own image of where we are, and what things they can do.”

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