Confronting cultural realities led to organisational changes at Ringier Axel Springer, the South China Morning Post, and RBS, according to presentations at the Brainsnack Seminar of the INMA World Congress of News Media Wednesday in New York.

Nina Ranke, managing director at Ringier Axel Springer, spent her seven minutes talking about how asking the correct questions led the way for needed change. 

Ringier Axel Springer reaches 240,000 print readers and 648,000 unique digital users in Switzerland with 650 journalists. 

“We needed to make our business thriving again,” she said. “That’s not easy with new business models. Before, we had no digital identity and a very low number of loyal users. We have a small market with limited scalability in terms of business models. We had a disoriented editorial team without a clear vision and hardly any collaboration between different titles or between print and digital. There were plenty of unsorted ideas being put on the table.”

Nina Ranke of Ringier Axel Springer discussed how the company is merging its different digital brands into one business platform to become a “one-stop shop” for business news in Switzerland.
Nina Ranke of Ringier Axel Springer discussed how the company is merging its different digital brands into one business platform to become a “one-stop shop” for business news in Switzerland.

Ranke was one of 15 news media executives from throughout the world who gave their short-form case study (thus, Brainsnacks) to 150+ attendees at Thomson Reuters headquarters in New York trying to keep up with notes and questions. She explained how the company decided to focus on its digital brand, involving the entire team and redefining its core: “To do so, we agreed on two fundamental principles: First, customer-centered, and second, content-first.”

Leaders at Ringier Axel Springer started asking questions: Who are our customers? How do we reach them? With which product?

“Only then will we know how to monetise them and set up organisationally,” Ranke said. “We wanted to focus on content rather than channels. And it was important for me to design a process that involves everyone, from management board to editors-in-chief.” 

A strategic task force, involving employees from all parts of the news media company (including journalists), was set up to refine the company’s core vision with three sentences: 

  1. We are the one-stop-shop for business and economics content in Switzerland.
  2. We cover the full range from B2C to B2B needs on one platform.
  3. We think in content, not in channels. 

From this, the business came down to these two models: free and paywall. Because of market size, all content went on one platform. Some is free, mostly curated news coverage. A second level — including content on which Ringier Axel Springer journalists are the experts — is behind a paywall. 

Korey Lee, head of data analytics at South China Morning Post, shared his story of “changing cultures to support new business realities at SCMP.” 

Korey Lee of The South China Morning Post discusses how his company has bent its culture to meet the new business realities and the practicalities on changing newsroom and business objectives.
Korey Lee of The South China Morning Post discusses how his company has bent its culture to meet the new business realities and the practicalities on changing newsroom and business objectives.

These changes include:

  • Infrastructure: The company had 40+ different platforms tracking information. Those were consolidated into one accessible data warehouse, one “source of truth,” Lee said.
  • Reporting and dashboards: Important reports often took a week or more to get to staff. “Now we have data generated for weekly/monthly reports a day or two after,” Lee said. “This has saved my team a lot of time. It’s helped the business become more agile. We also have self-service dashboards so departments can access their data on a real-time basis.” 
  • Building a data culture: “The first step is buy-in,” Lee said. “I sat down with each business layer and asked, ‘How can we create value for us? What are your KPIs?’ It was about self-empowerment and education. We aspire toward self-empowerment, that people can access data 24/7, on their own, without any intervention from us. We’re not there yet, but we aspire to that.”

Camilla Leaes, executive manager of strategy and digital development at RBS, has had similar struggles with agility at her 62-year-old news media company, where GaúchaZH is the main digital brand.

Camilla Leaes of RBS talks about the struggles that her company has had with agility in moving to digital.
Camilla Leaes of RBS talks about the struggles that her company has had with agility in moving to digital.

“In 2019, digital-only [subscriptions] will overpass print,” Leaes said. “That’s the reason we need to accelerate. We need to transform our revenues and profits, and we don’t have much time. Because of this, we are changing the way we work.” 

The company tackled agility in waves: “We started in the most critical areas to the digital transformation: the newsroom and the business areas. We created two tribes, one focused on systems and Web solutions and the other focused on the guys who make the money (sales).”

Now, OKRs (objectives and key results) must be common, measurable, and accessible for the entire teams: “All these changes had a deep impact in our work dynamic,” she said. “We now have a daily meeting, which is very important to our cultural change, especially for the newsroom. And we don’t have just the normal people there. We have an editor, data analyst, product owner, marketing analyst all there.”