Kicking off the INMA European News Media Conference in Amsterdam, Christian Van Thillo, owner and chief executive officer of De Persgroep, shared the company’s strategy to reinvent its core.

“Today, reinventing the core is about going from print to digital, and more and more digital,” he told conference participants Thursday morning. 

The philosophy behind this reinvention lies in Persgroep’s passion, people, powerbrands, profit, and progress. 

Christian Van Thillo offered a vision of what the future looks like for media companies and his company’s strategies for staying relevant.
Christian Van Thillo offered a vision of what the future looks like for media companies and his company’s strategies for staying relevant.

Passion, Van Thillo said, has evolved from a focus on advertisers to audience: “We inform, we entertain, and we inspire. We help them in making difficult decisions in their lives.”

Efforts to build audiences were primarily driven by a desire for more advertisers. But even with its massive scale, representatives could not understand why this success did not translate to the company’s digital platforms. Now, Van Thillo said, he realises the struggle in the digital ad space was about data, not scale: “We didn’t have the data, we didn’t have the tech, we didn’t have the tools to tell them what their return on investment was.” That is not true today, he added.

Regarding De Persgroep’s investments, Van Thillo said investing in its people fuels company growth. “The people who make our media are at the heart of everything.”

De Persgroep has a democratic view on how it works with and invests in people, he said. By keeping  80% of net cash flow in the company for future investment, De Persgroep is both making a promise to its employees and ensuring it has the funds to stay a power brand in the market. 

“When times get tougher, people just stick with the brand leaders, and that’s really important,” Van Thillo said.

In terms of profit and progress, Van Thillo said De Persgroep’s success with great content and marketing will carry the company into the future. This also means staying responsive to customer needs, such as continuing to serve them on the platforms that best serve them.

“If the experience is better in print, we’ll still sell print,” he said. “We sell more than 1.4 million newspapers per day.” This does not mean De Persgroep is not focused on digital, he said, because future growth lies in digital.

After spending years with a passion for making the best print product possible, Van Thillo said digital success requires the same obsession in order to differentiate from other publishers: “After decades and decades of trying to make the most beautiful print products, let’s have the same passion when we make our digital platforms.” 

De Persgroep’s latest app innovation is The Cube, a four-in-one multi-revenue stream concept. Users can swipe across news, regional, video, and special topics sections, which offer revenue from subscriptions, advertising, online services, video, and entertainment.

“What you have to do in digital is kind of reinvent it and have many revenue streams, which is what we’ve done with The Cube,” Van Thillo said.

In his vision for De Pergroep’s future, Van Thillo said digital lost the mystery it had 10 years ago. Growth lies in technology and partnerships, and he sees an increasing willingness to pay from readers. “Digital growth will continue to accelerate,” he said. “We need world-class technology, user experience, and content. Willingness to pay will increase dramatically. Partnerships will become important. Facebook and Google will have to behave.”

If asked 10 years ago if he would buy a news title, Van Thillo said he would have said no due to the intense disruption taking place at the time. Now, the bright spots in digital advertising and subscriptions provide a positive future for media. “Even without diversifying into other media, news media have a very bright future.”