Edible newspapers and 9 other creative ideas from Axel Springer

By Stefan Wiemann

The best is yet to come,” writes Mathias Doepfner, CEO Axel Springer, in an essay about the print crisis in Germany published at the end of November 2012. 

There is a huge opportunity to overcome the media crisis through creativity and the will to change. I want to share 10 ideas our company developed during the last few years.

1. First special print issue in 2008 — BILD am FEIERTAG.

Everything started several years ago, when we had the idea to create a very special issue for the Day of German Unity (commemorating Germany’s reunification). This national holiday occurs on October 3, when usually no newspapers or magazines are published in the entire country. 

At the beginning of 2008, Axel Springer Media Impact and one of Germany’s largest car companies, Volkswagen, thought about a special issue of BILD, Europe’s largest newspaper, published on this day. We developed the issue together with the editorial team of BILD. 

Volkswagen used the special issue to launch the introductory campaign of the new Golf VI. The issue became a great success – and not only in business terms. It won several prizes, including the German Media Prize in 2009 in the print category. The so-called Bild am Feiertag (Bild on a national holiday) had a circulation of 1.2 million copies. It was the only newspaper to be published and available at kiosks around the country on this day. 

From this day forward, special print issues became a relevant product in terms of advertising and image for Axel Springer.

2. Toward new technologies — 3D Bild.

2010 was the year when 3D made a comeback. Several electronic companies produced 3D TVs for the worldwide market. There was hype around 3D. 

The question was how Axel Springer could participate in this trend as a media company. 

We decided to produce a newspaper completely in 3D. On Saturday, August 28, 2010, the 3D Bild appeared in Germany. For the occasion, 5.5 million pairs of 3D glasses were produced and delivered with the newspaper. We also cooperated with the TV-channel ARTE, which broadcast 3D films the same day. 

Readers also had access to many articles, videos, and specials on our Web site in 3D. The advertising prices in the print issue were 10% above average due to the technical requirements. 

It was the first time in Germany that a daily national newspaper was produced in 3D – both editorial and advertising.

3. Big, bigger, biggest newspaper ever — XXL Bild.

What could come next after the 3D Bild? 

At the end of 2010, we established a regular discussion on special print issues for our titles and met in so-called “creative workshops” with the editorial teams. We discussed new ideas and ways to create special issues in small groups of five to seven people from the editorial and advertising divisions. 

What about an edible newspaper (e.g.,for environmental issues), a newspaper that glows in the dark, or a newspaper that doubles its size? And what about the biggest newspaper ever? 

XXL-Bild was born. 

In 2011, we produced the Bild newspaper at double its normal size. Each page had a length of 77.7 centimeters (30.59 inches). This was the world’s biggest daily newspaper ever, and we won our first entry into the Guinness Book of World Records

We set the advertising prices at 30% above average, and sold the newspaper’s entire advertising space.

4. Exkursus “creative workshops.”

The “creative workshops” held in conjunction with the editorial team have become a constant source of new idea generation. 

My team develops ideas in advance as a basis for discussion in the workshops. What are the new trends? What is the unique selling proposition of the title? What would we like the brand to do? 

Normally, we generate 10 to 20 initial ideas. We present them to the workshop participants over 60 to 90 minutes. When one comes in with the idea of an edible newspaper, you break the ice and the other participants think more freely. There are no limits to imagination. 

With these workshops, we developed some relevant ideas for several titles in our group.

5. The highest circulation ever — 60th anniversary special free issue.

In one of our creative workshops, we came up with the most gainful idea: Bild was close to celebrating its 60th anniversary in June 2012. We needed something extraordinary, something really new. 

What is the first thought that comes to your mind for an anniversary? Of course, you have to bring a present. 

So why don’t we give a present to every single German on this birthday? 

The editorial team gave a free special edition of Bild to every German household on this special day. 

But how to print and how to distribute the almost unbelievable quantity of 41 million copies? 

We encountered many logistical questions at first, but we found a partner to take care of the circulation – The Deutsche Post (German Postal Service). It took three weeks to print all those copies. But on June 26, 2012, the free copy of BILD was distributed to all German households. 

It was the highest circulation ever achieved by a daily newspaper, and this is how we accomplished our second entry into the Guinness Book of World Records

The advertising space in the issue completely sold out.

6. “Artist Edition” – Die Welt.

But Bild is not the only newspaper in the Axel Springer portfolio that creates special issues.

In 2010, the national newspaper Die Welt started with a special “Artist Edition.” 

The first issue was devoted to Georg Baselitz, a famous German painter and sculptor, who became the art director of an exclusive edition for collectors. Baselitz himself designed all the illustrations in this issue.

Moreover, the newspaper reached a new target group of advertisers. The success of Die Welt’s first “Artist Edition” led to another in 2011, this time dedicated to Ellsworth Kelly. In 2012, one of the most famous visual artists of Germany, Gerhard Richter, designed all the images in the “Artist Edition” and, of course, the discussions for another edition in 2013 are already underway.

7. Special advertising in magazines.

Axel Springer’s magazine titles have done and continue doing a great job in special advertising, too. For example, for Skoda, we developed a special full cover and big online special for the introduction of the new Skoda Citigo city car. 

8. Tailor-made ideas and solutions for clients.

What becomes increasingly important for our sales and marketing units is the creation of tailor-made ideas and solutions for our clients. 

The clients’ needs must become the focus of all our marketing and sales work. That means forming a relationship that goes beyond media sales, to one that is in tune and involved with clients’ needs, competitors, and marketing strategies. 

It means transforming from a classical media player to a cooperation partner who is very close to the clients’ needs and expectations.

9. The way to 360° campaigns.

On our journey to become a partner for our clients, we are moving toward 360° campaigns and delivering a one-stop-shopping solution. Beyond print, online, and mobile, we must also be able to offer videos, out-of-home media, or events that contribute the original marketing idea. 

Strategic alliances with other companies and start-ups are becoming increasingly relevant. This is the chance for everyone in the media business to overcome borders and develop new creative concepts. 

The best is yet to come.

About Stefan Wiemann

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