Cross-company collaboration helps media companies reach subscription goals

By Jessica Spiegel


Portland, Oregon, United States


Three panelists representing countries and publishers of varying size shared what they learned about promoting collaboration to get things done during this week’s INMA Media Subscriptions Town Hall.

During the Town Hall, INMA shared learnings from the European Subscriptions Academy 2022, featuring thought leadership from Google News Initiative and FT Strategies. The recording and presentations can be found here and an overview of the Town Hall can be found here.

Panelists from Der Spiegel, Ringier Axel Springer Schweiz, and La Repubblica discussed their experiences promoting collaboration among their teams while particpating in the academy.

Der Spiegel updates its North Star goal

Valentin Espagné, Der Spiegel’s senior manager for testing and growth, explained that Der Spiegel’s original North Star goal, set a few years ago, was to reach 200,000 digital subscribers by 2025. At their current growth rate, however, they’re likely to hit that goal by the end of 2022 or early 2023 — so they needed to set a new North Star.

Valentin Espagné, Der Spiegel’s senior manager for testing and growth, shared the company's North Star goals.
Valentin Espagné, Der Spiegel’s senior manager for testing and growth, shared the company's North Star goals.

Over the past few years, Espagné said there have been a lot of changes at Der Spiegel, particularly in the expansion of the digital product, Spiegel+. With digital subscriptions making up a bigger and bigger part of the company’s total revenue, they’ve been able to move toward being less ad-focused and more user-focused.

The Subscriptions Academy was, he said, “a great opportunity to update the North Star.” The ambitious new North Star is to have €75M in revenue, which means about 500,000 digital subscribers, by 2025. Going through the Subscriptions Academy process also helped them see some aspects of internal structure they needed to rethink to most effectively align teams to implement any further changes.

Ringier Axel Springer Schweiz creates cross-department collaboration

Getting the whole team in a large organisation on the same page and involved in the change process can be a huge challenge, observed Greg Piechota, INMA’s Readers First Initiative lead and the host for the Town Hall. He asked Michael Moersch, Ringier Axel Springer Schweiz’s chief digital officer, how his organisation managed this.

Michael Moersch, Ringier Axel Springer Schweiz’s chief digital officer, shared how the company created a more decentralised structure.
Michael Moersch, Ringier Axel Springer Schweiz’s chief digital officer, shared how the company created a more decentralised structure.

Moersch said that because Ringier Axel Springer Schweiz is a multi-brand media house, with 20 different brands, “we can’t actually align everyone across brands.” Instead, they had to define strategic initiatives, North Stars, and goals for each brand.

“We have a monthly meeting with a town hall presenting all the approaches, all the OKRs,” he said, adding they repeat the North Star constantly. But because Ringier Axel Springer Schweiz is a matrix organisation, with departments like marketing and tech working across all brands, it wasn’t as simple as just letting each brand align internally.

Each brand has a management team, Moersch explained, with OKRs broken down by each department. Then, they’re free to decide what they’re going to tackle to achieve those goals. During the process with FT Strategies, he said, they realised they had to restructure the organisation away from the centralised matrix structure to a more decentralised structure. Now, each team has its own development team to fulfil OKRs.

Piechota said it sounded like dividing the teams rather than integrating them made the process faster, and Moersch agreed. If they had not done this, Moersch said, some brands might end up waiting too long for their turn in the process, which wouldn’t be fair: “Smaller brands may never grow” in that situation, “even if they’re ambitious about what they want to achieve.”

They decided to stick to a quantitative approach for their North Star goal to make it easy for everyone to understand, Moersch said. They set a North Star of becoming the leading business insight destination in Switzerland by 2027, measured by digital subscriptions. It’s a straightforward goal so it’s “easy for people to know what they need to achieve.”

When asked about the impact of dividing teams on operating costs, Moersch said they didn’t increase the number of developers. Instead, it was all about prioritisation.

“The pie isn’t getting any bigger,” he said, “so what we did was sort of a side benefit of having a North Star metric. We just stopped doing some stuff that isn’t necessary for growth across initiatives.”

Newsrooms help with subscriptions at La Repubblica

Turning to Italy, Piechota noted that La Repubblica is famous for its independent-thinking newsroom. How, then, does Filippo Davanzo, La Repubblica’s head of digital, get the newsroom to work with him on subscriptions?

Filippo Davanzo, La Repubblica’s head of digital, explained the company's Revolution Project.
Filippo Davanzo, La Repubblica’s head of digital, explained the company's Revolution Project.

There are two sides to the process, Davanzo said: one for people who work in the digital company and one for the newsroom. Within the digital company, he said, they’re organising a project called the Revolution Project to address and lead the change they’re undergoing.

Davanzo explained the four pillars of the project:

  1. Vision: “Everyone needs to be aware of the vision of the company, of who we are and what we’re doing to become a digital-first company.”

  2. Training: “We want to have the best employees, so we provide courses for them both for tech skills and soft skills.”

  3. Work/life balance: “We provide tools and processes to help make sure our employees are able to work better.”

  4. Process for performance and feedback: “Employees are aware of what they’re assessing, and they have clear goals and clear paths to success.”

In the newsroom, however, they take a different approach.

“Transparency is key,” he said. “We have a weekly meeting with the newsroom to discuss digital performance, the tests we are doing, the projects and ideas that we have. We have this review every week about what we’ve done and then we decide how we can do better.”

In the past, there have been a number of metrics used to measure success in the newsroom, Davanzo said, “because we were trying to manage too many goals.” Now, he said, they’re trying to move toward measuring what he called “quality reads” or “quality views” — essentially judging an article by engagement and conversion rates.

Piechota raised the question of appealing to younger generations of readers using social media, since La Repubblica is particularly well-known in Europe for being active on sites like TikTok.

There’s a lot of debate on this topic, Davanzo said, but if media companies want to involve young people, they must change their language, their format, and the way they produce news.

“They’re still interested in news,” he said, “just not necessarily the newspaper” that we know today.

Through experiments on a platform, Davanzo said, “you find a final product that will become the newspaper of the future.”

About Jessica Spiegel

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