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[Video] New FIPP Chairman on industry challenges, opportunities ahead

Ralph Büchi is the COO of the Ringier Group and CEO of Ringier Axel Springer Switzerland, and now also the newly appointed Chairman of FIPP. He’s been on the board since 2008 and sees collaboration as the key to a healthy industry. We spoke to him on the sidelines of the recent FIPP World Congress about the current industry landscape and the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Please introduce us to your history with FIPP…

“I think I joined the board of directors in 2008 for the first time. Since then I’ve been on the board of directors, I’ve been President and Vice Chairman, and now I think that in these times platforms like FIPP are more important than ever.”

With issues facing Google, Facebook, and retargeting platforms around the wider digital ecosphere, are we seeing a new period of opportunity for traditional publishers? 

“Well let’s be honest, naturally there is a challenge. There is an economic challenge for many of our member companies here, coming from the advertising market mainly, but also coming from shrinking circulation figures. But on the other hand, yes, I think the digital transformation that we can observe – not only in media by the way, but in the whole economy.”

“The life of the people is giving us a lot of opportunities. Let’s just take our core activity: journalism. The possibilities we have today in executing our job, in being journalists, in reporting on news, offering entertainment or services via text, via videos, via pictures, with the unlimited space that we have in the online world is incomparable to anything we had before. So it gives us a lot of opportunities and it is I think up to us to be creative enough and to do good and build products out of it.”

In today’s climate of fake news and user generated content, is quality journalism more important than ever before?

“No doubt at all. It’s essential for the functioning of a democracy and an open society. And with all the tragic and also difficult events we see from terrorism down to the election of the US President, or the political developments in Turkey for example or certain Eastern European countries, people realise more and more what independent journalism stands for and how important it is.”

“This is a unique opportunity for us towards our readers, but also towards the advertisers. More and more the advertising industry, our clients in the advertising world are starting to realise that it’s not completely unimportant where their message is distributed and in what kind of context – if it’s a context of fake news, if it’s an environment of hate. So brand trust, brand safety, contextual safety is a key element in the competition I’m sure in the next couple of years and we should make use of that.” 

What are some of the key challenges and opportunities facing publishers right now, and how can the industry grow together in the current landscape?  

“Well let’s talk about FIPP. Because in the industry there are many, many opportunities and challenges – that’s the topic of the Congress – but if we look at FIPP we have three main targets that we should follow. Number one, we should really play this role of an industry platform, of a platform where people can exchange their experiences, can learn from best practice cases. And we should play this role in a much more active way, so becoming better at what we are doing. Because once again, I believe that this role of a collaboration platform in the media in the media industry is presently more important than ever.”

“The second thing is that we absolutely have to communicate that in an even better way than we have done in the past. We have done this very well up to now, but we have to be very transparent, we have to be offensive in the way that we say what we are doing in order to retain our existing members, even if some of them face certain cost restrictions in their budgets, and we have to gain new members in the digital world.”

“And certainly we have to take care of our people and our talent. What I’ve heard on the scene here several times at the conference is that what really matters is people, people, people. So keep people in this industry, keep journalism attractive to young talents – that’s one of the key things. And by the way with these awards we have for the Rising Stars, for the young talents, FIPP can play an important role in this too.”

Why is an organisation like FIPP so important to the industry debate?

“Again because we need each other. We need to learn from each other, we need to collaborate. When I came to the board of FIPP in 2008, my colleagues on the board told me you will see this is a place where you can do business from day one on. If I look here at the Marketplace here of FIPP, I see that people are still doing business, but even more important they talk to each other. They talk about their experiences, they go for dinner tonight, they try to see if cooperation is possible from one company to the other, from one market, or country, to another.”

“The good thing is that we are only in a few cases direct competitors. We still do have, and we will have in the future, national markets, geographically different markets. So most of us are not direct competitors and there’s absolutely no hurdle to collaborate and that’s what we want to promote here.”

And finally… a word of positivity about the future of media?  

“Yes I think, let’s embrace the future, let’s look at these challenges. I heard that also from a speaker this morning in an enthusiastic way: sad people, worried people, are not able to sell anything - so let’s be happy!”

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