Participating in INMA had significant impact on Funke Medien Gruppe’s digital strategy, Berndt Röttger, deputy editor-in-chief of Funke’s Hamburger Abendblatt, told the crowd of media executives at the Media Innovation Week Monday morning.

After the 2017 Media Viking Week in Oslo, Funke launched the Oslo Project to focus efforts around its digital subscription strategy.

Though she joined Funke after the launch of the Oslo Project, Ruth Betz, head of digital transformation, said by reconsidering its publishing strategy, the editorial team was really reshaping its mindset to be about readers.

“All of that we call user first: It’s not about which one is the best department to do it, which is the best product, which is the best workflow, because it has been there for 10 years. It’s about what is best for the user,” Betz said. “We need to think of the user again. Most meetings, when we go in, we start with the user.”

Ruth Betz tells INMA members how Funke reshaped its publishing strategy to be reader-first.
Ruth Betz tells INMA members how Funke reshaped its publishing strategy to be reader-first.

As a publisher, Funke should not focus on print or digital specifically but serving readers with the best experience possible wherever they want it. With “user first” at the core of its strategy, the editorial team reimagined its workflows. The shift toward digital revenue also gives editors a role in the sales process, Betz added. Paywalls mean articles become potential conversion points.

“That means an editor is now responsible for selling,” Betz said. “And on the other hand, the sales department can’t just do a sales campaign based on a pay model. They need to know what editorial is doing.”

Dashboards and a new quality article score system currently being tested with a small group of editors should provide data that helps inform these important editorial decisions.

Beyond its publishing strategy, Funke has outlined 10 hypotheses to test in its roadmap toward the future, including winning back subscribers and putting an emphasis on newsletters. Giving a more detailed look at one of the company’s brands, Berndt Röttger said Hamburger Abendblatt has already identified the top 10 topics that drive people to subscribe. More specifically, theater and concert reviews consistently generate subscriptions. Building on this success, Hamburger Abendblatt is using this format in other ways, launching “Hamburg’s Best” lists and love letters to the city written by the editorial team. The brand also recognised the value of its existing offerings.

“We saw that our regional editions — we have four around Hamburg — are much more important than we thought,” Röttger said.

Berndt Röttger tells the audience how Hamburger Abendblatt identified the top 10 topics that drive people to subscribe.
Berndt Röttger tells the audience how Hamburger Abendblatt identified the top 10 topics that drive people to subscribe.

Hamburger Abendblatt is also growing its content and engagement strategies. The brand’s nine podcasts have more than 500,000 downloads and generate more than €250,000 in revenue. Newsletters and Instagram are providing new ways to reach its audience, and events are providing opportunities to touch base with subscribers in person. Maybe the most exciting shift, Röttger said, is the return of the evening newspaper. The e-paper is published at around 10:00 p.m. and offers daily market research into how users are interacting with content.

Betz said tangible results are encouraging the teams to move forward, because digital transformation is a difficult process, especially with the culture shifts it demands from Funke’s staff. The early results are also a reminder of how far the company has to go.

“This is good. It shows we are going in the right direction, but we need 10 times more and we need it fast.”