Funke Mediengruppe focuses on new content projects during COVID lockdown

By Ruth Betz

Blue Engine Collaborative

Hamburg, Germany


Going from one day to the next is no longer like what it used to be.

On March 13, Funke Mediengruppe informed its employees that the mobile office would be the new normal. Within a few days, thousands of Funke colleagues were working from home. New hardware was bought, software adjusted, workflows changed — and many colleagues became experts in video conference systems, camera settings, and online sharing options.

Even though Funke employees were ready to keep production up and running, other obstacles showed up. Ad bookings reduced dramatically, forcing all publishers in Germany to develop new sales concepts. Main-Echo, for example, offered a 50% discount on ads, promising we’d “get through this together.”

Even then, with the ad business shrinking, we saw the light on the horizon. People in urgent need for reliable information about COVID-19, the economy, schools, and risk areas turned to publishers, editorial Web sites, and daily newspapers. During 60 days of lockdown and restart compared to the 60 days before the pandemic hit, Funke Mediengruppe generated more than twice as many digital subscriptions as before.

In March, Tagesschau, Germany’s prime television news platform, had 17 million viewers — 10 million more than normal.

With the tailwind of this newly awakened interest in quality journalism, Funke has since taken the opportunity to offer new product developments and make fundamental adjustments.

The coronavirus monitor is being used by renowned international institutions.
The coronavirus monitor is being used by renowned international institutions.

As coronavirus data became the new currency to understand infection processes and health hazards, the Funke Interaktiv team, a subdivision of Funke’s central editorial office run by INMA Board Member Carsten Erdmann, developed a coronavirus monitor to make it easier to understand coronavirus-related data:

How fast do coronavirus infections accelerate — in Germany, in Europe, and worldwide?

Which events influence the reproduction number?

How many new infections have there been in the last seven days (in Germany, a regional lockdown is implemented in the event of more than 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants)?

This investment in data journalism has found recognition: With more than 300 million page views at this point, these have become Funke’s most successful articles ever. Johns Hopkins University chose the Funke coronavirus monitor as one of its sources.

Other product offerings were also developed and have received a wide response. Since March, there have been free coronavirus newsletters for all Funke daily newspapers, which offer and organise the most important news about COVID-19. These were initially sent twice a day, then once a day or as pop-up newsletters when the news is particularly interesting.

Obviously, those newsletters responded to a pressing wish: Funke saw 65,000 coronavirus newsletter subscribers within six weeks with 60% of those subscribers registering for the first time.

Funke grew its newsletter business after this success from a one-hit wonder to a sustainable business. New editorial formats have been developed that focus on users’ needs and offer unique, curated, and targeted content.

As COVID-19 became our new normal and we struggled to keep up our hopes, we thought it was about time to offer another view into the world focused on good news. On July 17, we started a new newsletter called Good Week. From Hamburg to Erfurt to Braunschweig to Essen, subscribers could now read the good news of the week and start the next week with a little smile.

Taking what we learned from our coronavirus-related newsletters, we launched this new product with tailor-made measures: marketing campaigns with emotional ads and top target groups, frictionless registration forms for desktop and mobile, and recommendations within other high-performing newsletters.

Not only have the number of registrations grown quickly, the opening rates are also impressive. To this day, we see 40% to 70% opening rates. And we get touching feedback from readers.

A note from a reader: “Dear OTZ, This is a really nice idea, finally something good to read! Does it stay free even after the free registration or what does it cost?”
A note from a reader: “Dear OTZ, This is a really nice idea, finally something good to read! Does it stay free even after the free registration or what does it cost?”

As many scheduled events were cancelled, Funke editors developed several new digital formats. These included live-streamed concerts, fact-checking Web sites, living room concerts, neighbourhood help portals, picnic blanket concerts in the football stadium, and charity projects like “Together Against Corona,” which enabled Hamburger Abendblatt to distribute food vouchers worth more than €1.3 million.

New topics started, like secret escape spots and school updates, and funny sports news like nicknames of athletes surprised readers and gained lots of attention.

Other publishers have enforced audio offerings like Ruhr Nachrichten, which attracted 2,000 listeners for its new coronavirus podcast after a short time. And Straubinger Tagblatt offered premium articles for registration only with no cost for six weeks; after switching to payment, it saw a higher retention rate than expected.

At Funke Mediengruppe, the product and editorial topics changed but our communication and listening developed further. COVID-19 asked for social distancing, and Funke teams enforced listening:

  • Surveys asked readers why they stopped reading Funke brands, and how they liked the Funke newsletters. Based on the answers, our strategies changed: WAZ is offering a new subscription model with 70% fewer ads.
  • With new digital solutions like digital townhall meetings, virtual lunch breaks, and chat and collaboration tools, we have internally strengthened communication and cooperation between the teams.

After the crisis will not be the same as before the crisis. We see a future with new editorial topics, formats, communication and collaboration tools, and engagement strategies. It has always been the strength of publishing houses to observe, analyse, and explain developments. This ability has enabled German media and publishing houses worldwide to change fundamentally.

As we keep adjusting to the new circumstances, we discover the opportunities that lie in the crisis.

About Ruth Betz

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