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Prisma Media transformation chief: ‘Nothing will ever be the same again’

Philipp Schmidt Prisma Media ()

In the fast-changing publishing space, transformation is more complex than ever before. Philipp Schmidt, chief transformation officer at France’s Prisma Media discusses how his business is implementing change – and sets out his views on trends in the French market.

Philipp, who will be a speaker at the 41st FIPP World Congress in London in October, spoke to Jon Watkins to tell us more.

Prisma Media is one of France’s biggest magazine publishers, employing more than 1,400 and with revenues over EUR €400 million. And you’re seeing growth. So tell us about the focus and philosophy of Prisma Media…

So our core mission at Prisma Media is to anticipate French reader expectations and needs from a content and services point of view – in all different fields. We cover all different segments, be it women-related topics, premium target groups or entertainment – basically all French consumer-related targets. We anticipate their needs and expectations regarding content services and, once we have done that, our job basically is to find the most appealing and disruptive media concepts to win the battle of attention. That’s because, from a big picture point of view, a consumer nowadays – be it in France, the UK or anywhere else – is exposed to maybe between 150 and 250 brand messages every day. They only have 24 hours minus sleep, so how can we get their attention? How can our content, our services, appeal in a way that they are willing to spend time with us? Time is even more precious than actually money or even data because you only have so much. So you want to spend it well. That’s the big picture.

In a nutshell, our job is to transform touch point into trust point. You can always touch somebody at one point, in some non-secured context. Our job is really to create connections – strong relationships between brands and readers and consumers.

Prisma brands 2 ()

Photo: prismamedia.com

Communications and media nowadays is so fast, super conceptional and super technology-driven. As a benchmark, we consider how you create a trust relationship between a person and another person?  When you meet a person for the first time, you don’t ask them 150 questions on everything about their life. You have to first prove yourself – that you’re relevant for them, that you’re respectful to them, that you can bring something to the table. Only then, little by little, you create a trustful relationship. That’s the right order to do things. You start with trust points to create a relationship, and you can build upon that. That’s what gives us a point of differentiation.

As a chief transformation officer, are you seeing a shift in the focus of transformation and transformation strategies within our industry?

Well, to begin with, we don’t have a chief digital officer anymore. That’s very important to what I will say next. Digital business disruption is everywhere – and it forces people to look deeper into transformation. But transformation for us does not only concern digital. Transformation is basically the acceptance that nothing will ever be definite anymore. So once you’ve accepted that, you’ll be constantly able to adapt to the context of the circumstances. As you mentioned, transformation first of all aims towards culture – company culture, corporate culture – and gives people the keys to master that transformation in three different fields. The first is the intellectual – the rational comprehension, why people should be agile and move and adapt. The second part, which is almost the most important, is the emotional engagement in it – not only that you know something is good but also that you really feel it in your guts and your heart. You get emotional and you want to become a hero in a story of transformation. The third is the operational – the action plan that gives you the keys to do the job. 

How is that playing out at Prisma Media?

The rationale is obviously that if you don’t move, you will be marginalised by other players who do. It’s like an opportunity to do better your job – the digital opportunities and data help you. So that’s the rationale behind it and we have many examples in the business – be it our approach on data, our more personalised content approach, our advertising sales house, where we really use digital to grow, be it in programmatic or video or mobile. In terms of the emotional part, we use a lot of communication. We have collective intelligence projects, meaning people from different departments get involved in different things, not in a hierarchical way, but in a way that they can really move things along because they feel empowered and motivated to do things. We also have a training budget that is three times higher than the industry average because we know it’s the most important thing. Your own people will always do a better job when they learn themselves than when somebody else comes in and does it instead.

What other qualities make for a successful transformation?

The first thing is enthusiasm. Why do you need enthusiasm? Because on the way you will hit so many roadblocks and obstacles that the enthusiasm helps you to keep moving. The second is humility, because when a transformation starts to work well you might be tempted to say, wow, I figured it out, we got it.  And ego is such a strong, evil enemy that can draw you into traps. Humility helps you to really stay on track. And the third thing I learned a lot in our transformational process is timing. Timing is so important because you can be advanced on a lot of things, especially in an advertising market where you are depending on advertisers and on media agencies. I always compare it to dancing with three parties involved. If you miss the rhythm you step on each other’s toes and so timing is very important.

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You touched on the advertising market. Is the dominance of Google and Facebook in advertising impacting your thinking around brands, audience platforms, revenue, etc?

Yes, absolutely. I’ve got a double mission. For four years I was really in charge of our media sales house, Prisma Media Solutions and I took on the transformational mission about a year ago. First of all, our media brand platforms have to be the strongest possible. The strongest means not having barriers in your head such as defining the work based on the work of your friends and enemies. We try to do the best for our readers. That is what helped us become the number one media company in print and digital in France – touching 40 million French people every month, which is three out of four. We do work on audience platforms, we work with local players, we work with technology partners, and once you have this tremendous reach and engaged audiences, then the second challenge is how to monetise that.

In terms of digital monetisation, especially in marketing, there are now clear winners and losers. There are clear digital marketing levers that help you to be a winner, and we have condensed those down into three must-win battles. The first is to be mobile-first. So we really make everything a beautiful, accessible, fluid experience of our brands on mobile. Second is video. Video becomes the number one narrative format, be it for editorial, be it for advertising, so our video reach and our video production capacity have really grown in the last couple of years. In fact, we’re now number one in monthly unique video viewer reach in France, before all of even the French TV companies. Only the two American platforms are in front of us. The third important area, which is super important, is data. We very, very quickly concentrated on smart data rather than big data, meaning very applied and applicable, concrete business-related data.

Prisma brands ()

Some of Prisma Media's brands in their different platforms. Photo: prismamedia.com

Video is obviously growing in importance, and you’ve talked about partnerships from a monetisation point of view. Are you focused on syndication partnerships, licensing etc from the video point of view as well?

Yes, absolutely. Nowadays we are building a lot of advertising partnerships that mean the advertisers’ marketing budget will no longer be a marketing expenditure but a marketing investment. So it basically comes from an opex culture to a capex culture, meaning I will help you to get owned media content, I will produce content, but it will be yours afterwards – so you will be able to talk about your product and your brand and bring sense to your consumers with the content expertise of Prisma Media. The second point is that I will help you catch data for yourself, to create a data asset for your company and even your balance sheet. Ten years from now you will say my company is worth more thanks to the marketing operations I did with Prisma Media.

Are you seeing a difference around general interest ad plays and special interest? And what differences are you seeing around different plays, such as native, for example?

That’s a great question. There are two big axes. Two thirds of the cake is everything that is flow-related or technology-based – programmatic activity where you don’t have a campaign philosophy anymore but a business partnership running on a flow-business base. On the other side you have all the different aspects of content marketing with content marketing being the alliance between advertising brand DNA and a media brand DNA, creating content – tailor-made communications solutions and all the combinations between those two. So as you say, one is rather a volume-driven business and the second is rather a margin-driven way of business.

Where does Prisma Media go from here?

Our growth strategy is both an internal and external story. Because what we learned is that even the best organic transformation will not be fast enough in the mid-term and the long-term. The external growth requires a strong alignment with your shareholders, meaning that they really understand your company strategy and don’t, in an allocation of investment budgets, prefer some other divisions, which are competing for the same investment budget. So for the Prisma Media case, we’re part of the Bertelsmann family. Bertelsmann has strong growth platforms in India and Brazil. They have invested more than €100m in the last five years in launching new brands and buying a dozen companies here in France. They were all digital and we bought a couple of digital publishers to enhance our reach and our relevance on the digital side for monetisation, but we also have really technology-driven companies for monetisation or for product development. So that gives you a strong sense of the direction we re going in from here.

***Hear more from and meet with Philipp at the 41st FIPP World Congress in London, 9-11 October***

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