The news media industry relies on its relationships, both with audiences and ad partners. In the INMA Low Lands Innvoative Media Study Tour, participants on Monday and Tuesday visited media companies across Amsterdam to learn how data, creativity, and strategy impact the relationships companies are working diligently to build.

Kicking off INMA Media Innovation Week, 30 participants took part in the two-day study tour, visiting 11 innovative news media companies and support companies throughout the city. Stops included NRC Media, Vice Media, De Persgroep, Blendle, Yipiy, Nwzer, Newsadoo, twipe, Wayne Parker Kent, Telegraaf Media Groep, and WeTransfer

Thirty participants took part in the two-day study tour, visiting 11 innovative news media companies and support companies throughout Amsterdam.
Thirty participants took part in the two-day study tour, visiting 11 innovative news media companies and support companies throughout Amsterdam.

Advertisements can impact the audience relationship, study tour participants heard on the tour. Ensuring ad relevance is not only crucial to how subscribers experience your news experience, but also to how your advertisers value their partnership with your brand.

At NRC Media, advertisers only pay for an ad that a customer reads for 15 seconds or longer.

It’s a big risk, said Rien van Beeman, the company’s chief executive officer, but it works out fantastically: “We really want to make sure no one feels trapped. That’s a strong kick in the relationship economy we are trying to build.”

The relationship between a media company, advertisers, and users are sometimes ephasised in a company’s internal ideological mission.

File transfer company WeTransfer aims to inspire its users as they pursue their own creative endeavors. While users are uploading their work, a “wallpaper” appears featuring either a still, moving, or interactive ad from one of their partners. These ads are high quality and artistic in nature. WeTransfer also gave 7 billion free ad impressions to artists around the world last year.

“We’re not a simple file transfer company,” said Rey Caacbay, sales director Benelux at WeTransfer. “We also help inspire and help people share ideas.”

Where creative ads are meant to inspire other creatives on WeTransfer’s platform, the concept of experts crafting ad content that speaks to a unique target audience is at the heard of what media company Wayne Parker Kent does.

With 19 publishing verticals of its own, the company has the editorial knowledge to help ad partners said Slaven Mandic, Wayne Parker Kent co-founder and chief executive officer. He added that all publishers are uniquely poised to help advertisers drive their digital transformations.

“Publishers should get in that game,” he said. “We as an industry are extremely effective in creating content, in creating stories.”

Storytelling has been key to Vice Media’s own success with Millennials around the globe. The company’s non-judgemental editorial voice acknowledges audiences’ understanding of the subjective choices that go into reporting, said Lisette van Eijk, managing editor at Vice Media in Amsterdam.

“Instead of telling the audience how they should feel about something, we try to show them different perspectives and trust that they are smart enough to make up their minds,” van Eijk said.

Serving audience needs and preferences takes the form of personalisation at news aggregation company Blendle. This personalisation is the product of both human editors and an algorithm. While the algorithm assembles human-read articles in a personalised filter bubble for each user, editors then break that bubble by sending selected articles to all users that may not fit in their pre-selected preferences.

“We tried to serve you stories you would never select for yourself but do match your interests, or reach the end of your interests,” said Kim Einder, editor at Blendle.

Most Blendle users prefer to receive their articles via newsletter. Since its launch in 2014, Blendle has sent out 3.7 billion newsletters. With the rise of mobile and the ever-fragmenting attention of news readers, newsletters and other compact content editions are a good way to cut through the noise.

Danny Lein, founder and chief executive officer of digital publishing company Twipe, said digital editions can be powerful vehicles to package information for readers. On-the-go news adds a convenience factor subscribers value.

“This is what a lot of people appreciate,” he said. “And if you appreciate something, you are willing to pay for it.”

At NRC Media, strong audience relationships are built inherently in the subscription length. Guided by data and testing, the company has taken a big bet on its relationships and introduced long-term subscription contracts while also ending all forms of trial subscriptions.

“These are people willing to build a relationship with you from the beginning,” said Matthijs van de Peppel, director of marketing, data, and service.

So far in this experiment, the company has seen 126% growth in acquired contract volume.

Like at NRC, data has become the foundation for a host of decisions at news media companies. Reliance on data does bring its own risk, said Roy Wassink, De Persgroep’s insights manager. Too much data can beget more data, and raw numbers are meaningless without interpretation, he said.

“There can be too much data, especially if it doesn’t really match your process,” Wassink said. “Actually, in most situations, that means you should give them less figures, and more advice.”

The company uses a tool that interprets data into actionable suggestions, such as pointing out when an article is being widely shared on Facebook but was not published on the company’s page. The tool also suggests when a headline or content could be improved to reach more people.

“It’s not about numbers,” Wassink said. “It’s about alerts to inspire.”

Data interpretation is one of many innovations that can help a news media company better serve its audience and bottom line, but Telegraaf Media Groep’s chief executive officer Marc Vangeel cautioned study tour participants that innovation implementation is fruitless without staff support.

“It’s possible that your strategy is quite complex, but please tell it to your people simply,” he said, adding that if a member of your team cannot explain the strategy to a significant other at the kitchen table, it will cause more harm than good.

A strong team of what Xavier van Leeuwe calls A-players is crucial to the future of a media company. Innovation comes from a great team, Telegraaf Media Groep’s director of customers said.

“A-players attract A-players, and B-players attract C-players,” he said. “Just give me fewer, better paid, better trained people.”