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Axel Springer head of data and tech: Media culture overhaul needed to save journalism

It is not only necessary for media companies to change their work cultures to fight for the future of journalism, the media industry needs to work closer together to change the collective culture of the publishing industry as a whole. This was the keynote message from Stephanie Caspar, president of technology and data at Axel Springer, Germany, who opened the first day of the annual Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin.

 

Stephanie Caspar ()

 

Stephanie Caspar, president of technology and data at Axel Springer, has witnessed astounding growth within the digital space at Axel Springer, despite the many challenges experienced by publishers worldwide. Caspar told 500 media executives from 40 nations that Axel Springer has been working very hard and been extremely successful at achieving organic growth in digital revenue.

Many of the successes came about because they spent a lot of energy on understanding what they were up against. This included understanding and developing the underlying technology needed for growth, placing the customer at the centre of innovation and sticking to business models that actually work.

Caspar said tech development is so rapid, that most companies battle to keep up. “Something new turns up on the horizon all the time and we question ourselves if we are still on the right track. It is expensive to stay on top of the technology and to have the right people that can stand up to these challenges.”  

 

Technology ‘can make it happen’

She said they were lucky at Axel Springer because the company is big enough to build the technology themselves. And, when a challenge is too big, there are always people out there that can do it for you if you find the right partners.

“We take the technology part of the business really seriously. It will have an impact on your results. Great ideas cannot be implemented if you do not have the tech to make it happen.”

One of the other lessons they have learnt at Axel Springer, she said, was that media companies generally were pretty bad at putting customers at the centre of their business. Breaking down silos between parts of the business and bring cross functional teams together to solve complex problems, such as understanding customer behaviour.

“With the constant changes in technology it is hard to get the timing of new innovation right. When we think about product innovation, the question should always be: is this right for the customer? Is it the right time to role it out?”

To answer these questions publishers need to test as much as they can, they need as much data as possible and they need to be aware that they constantly need to change the culture of their business to be agile and sensitive to change. “We need to change the culture of how we work within the company. It’s a journey and we are not there yet.”

 

Stephanie Caspar ()

 

Strong leadership

There is also the continued need for strong leadership to drive reinvention. Good leaders within a culture that can embrace change should promote better purpose, align incentives to specific goals, promote agility through cross functional teams, encourage participation and take active steps to communicate constantly.  

She said it is not enough for companies to strive to reach these goals and be successful individually to promote and invest in the future of good journalism. It is also necessary for the industry as a whole to work together to reach goals for the improvement of journalism, collectively.

Apart from being a member of FIPP, the network for global media, Axel Springer recently also hosted the "International Paid Content Summit" where more than 90 experts from leading international media houses from 14 countries met in Berlin in February. During the two-day event, the participants exchanged experiences in the implementation and further development of digital payment models.

Caspar said those companies that have managed to build strong brands, now have the opportunity to diversify revenue, from paid content to e-commerce and events. Developing a diversified income stream business model comes with various challenges but as far as embracing paid content is concerned, “we are finally getting there,” she said.

 

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