The publisher operates 140 businesses and 110 brands in Europe and Africa, and employs over 6,400 people across the media, technology and marketplace verticals. Consistent transformation in recent years helped them generate 79 percent of its EBITDA from its digital activities in 2022. This journey continues.

“The developments in the media industry over the past decades have shown that growth is anything but automatic. However, we’re confident we can grow, even in this challenging environment,” said Ladina Heimgartner, Head of Global Media and CEO of the Blick Group – Member of the Ringier Executive Board. She was speaking at WAN-IFRA’s recent World News Media Congress 2023 in Taipei.

She said Ringier’s belief in a sustainable future is indeed grounded on functioning digital business models, but that same belief extends to the importance of its journalism, the necessity of strong editorial voices, the significant role of media in the spirit of democracies and its great relevance for the empowerment of society.

The pillars of media’s growth strategy

Heimgartner said the company has developed and implemented a specific framework for its concentrated growth in the media sector, while adapting to customers’ constantly changing needs. Ringier has done this on three core pillars, she said:

The company has implemented a subscription model that complements its established, significant digital advertising business. One significant part of meeting customer needs has been a clear focus on video content, evidenced by the launch of BLIC TV in Serbia.

The company has also invested in the commerce sector. For instance, Box by Blick in Switzerland has become a seamless part of consumers’ daily lives, she said.

Last year, the publisher took a leap in establishing the third pillar of its growth framework with sports – Ringier Sports Media. It also recently acquired the Portuguese sports newspaper, A BOLA.

“We strive to offer the best possible experience to sports fans and advertising partners. Our focus on this growing segment has secured us a strong position in nine countries,” she added.

“But before we can grow new pillars, we have to do our homework. The integration of state-of-the-art technologies is crucial. To name some aspects – first-party data, scale technologies across brands, and provide personalised experiences.”

AI – boon or bane?

With personalisation and recommendations fast becoming instrumental in the media landscape’s rapid transformation, Ringier has been actively implementing and pushing it in all its markets. 

With the recent adoption of AI in journalism, the company sees the challenges that accompany it but also views its developments as opportunities while assiduously incorporating them into Ringier’s workflow, Heimgartner noted.

They do so in three steps:

Opportunistic: Use cases emerging from hackathons like AI-Week.

Systematic: By improving existing processes.

Transformative: By thinking about new business models or complete new user journeys based on AI products.  

The brand’s recently installed AI Board and guidelines help the teams keep up speed while ensuring prudent and responsible actions, she said. 

But what does growth truly mean?

While reach is an important growth metric for any media company, Ringier has looked beyond that to develop and implement the 5R framework. 

The five Rs include: 

Reach: Real user gap vs competitor, monthly share of users > 4 sessions, ranked print reach 

Relevance: Weekly online reach, social engagement

Reputation: Brand trust, core web vitals

Resilience: Significant revenue streams, logged in sessions/total sessions, average time spent, healthy traffic

Revenue: EBITDA margin (%), ARPU, revenue growth, print revenue growth

These parameters and their interactions are backed by clearly-defined KPIs to enable data-driven decisions and make growth measurable, Heimgartner said.

The company has defined Resilience as its North Star. “Crises in recent years have shown us, without mercy, that excessive dependency on single revenue streams massively increases vulnerability,” Heimgartner said. “In all our markets, we strive for three to four substantial revenue streams, which means accounting for 10 percent or more of total revenues.”

An example that illustrates this development well is that of Blick in Switzerland. Along with striving for greater reach and strong digital growth, the Swiss-German daily newspaper has also focused intensively on increasing the relevance and depth of its content. 

“The enhanced journalistic relevance, built on the existing values and strengths of Blick, allows for a repositioning in the market,” she said. “This step not only positively influences the dimension of relevance, but also reputation and credibility. The increased reach, relevance, and reputation have effective value only when they can be monetised.”

“Which is why Blick relies on a clear and consistent implementation of our funnel logic in our markets, where specific measures are assigned to each step in the funnel to edge the user towards becoming a loyal subscriber.”

For instance, at the top end of the funnel, the brand employs measures such as branding, SEO, newsletters or social media to target new audiences. In the middle range, it focuses on increased “verticalisation” on its platforms and the use of gamification to push logged-in usage.

“And of course, we employ retention measures for existing subscribers. To be clear, our goal is not only to push users down the funnel. We want to do the best ever job on every single level of the funnel if it comes to monetisation,” Heimgartner said. 

Prioritising a massive brand portfolio

The five Rs have become a language in Ringier’s newsrooms. Heimgartner cited podcasts, which are important but not always a revenue case, as an example. 

M&A transactions in the media industry are not easy since the KPIs are not well defined, she said.

“We don’t dismiss podcasts as a non-revenue case. We look at it as a reputation and relevance case.”

With 140 businesses and 110 brands, Ringier’s perspectives on a company’s health go beyond revenue performance, she said. A company might not shine in terms of revenue but it might have the other Rs. 

“And then you see that’s a healthy media company because the other dimensions are well on track, broadening the horizon and perspectives. It’s the main base when it comes to decision making in where to invest in-house, build cases, but also buy cases,” she added.

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