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At the new Gruner + Jahr the only constant is ongoing renewal

As one of Europe’s leading publishing houses, Gruner + Jahr has been through a period of major transition. Julia Jäkel, CEO, sets out how the business has managed that, and outlines the path for the future…

She spoke to FIPP contributor Jon Watkins ahead of the 41st FIPP World Congress, where she will participate as a speaker. 

G+J has seen fantastic transformation in recent years, moving to a more digital focus – including with the digital innovation lab. Can you share an overview of the change, what drove this strategy and what you set out to achieve in terms of the structure and focus of the business? 

We are a publishing house that creates media products for a digital society; our core publishing markets are Germany and France, while our digital ventures are globally aligned. And we live and breathe journalism. We have spent the last few years significantly expanding our digital business, while always remaining firmly committed to creating high-impact magazines. This is the embodiment of the G+J strategy, based on two pillars: continuing to be the best magazine maker, while powering digital business for our strong brands. 

G+J’s digital business is split across two areas: digital publishing and ad tech. On the digital publishing side, we are the market leader in Germany in the women’s, food, living and parenting segments; we also have a strong foothold in people and news. One of our titles is Brigitte, a major women’s brand which has more than 60 years of history and has become the number one portal for women online, while in France we are now one of the leading providers of video content. 

In terms of our second key digital business, ad tech, we have become Europe’s biggest supplier of native ad solutions through Ligatus, and AppLike – a G+J start-up which is available in 15 countries around the world – and represents the fastest-growing ad tech company in Germany. Our Greenhouse Innovation Lab is dedicated to developing new ideas and new business models such as AppLike. 

Overall, digital business represents around a quarter of our business and is growing strong. However, our goal is not to become the most digitised publishing house, but the most innovative one, and so we are equally thrilled when the 25 magazines we have launched since 2015 are successful. 

 
Julia Jakel ()
 

***Jäkel will be our opening keynote on Day 2, 11 October, of the FIPP World Congress. Visit fippcongress.com to find out more, or to join her, more than hundred other speakers and some 700 delegates from 40+ countries in London. The Congress takes place from 9-11 October***

 

How have you managed the transformation at a practical level – how has it changed the management/structure of the business, how have you managed cultural and skills changes, and how have you measured progress? 

Transformation begins in your mind: with convictions, with culture, with a willingness to change. Over the last years we gave a lot of responsibility to talented managers, who have been second in line to prominent seniors for a long time. Today we are much faster and more hands-on when it comes to launching new magazines. We have proven to everyone that innovation in print is possible. That has a strong impact on a company. At the same time we have hired digital talent and invested in our digital business; also we have completely changed the way we communicate. Today we always address our employees first, not only when it comes to delivering good news, but also when something does not go according to plan: in November, we will hold our second “fuck-up night”, all about learning from our mistakes. This new culture makes us an attractive employer for young people. I believe the spirit within a company plays a key role in its success. 

Where have you got to so far? How far in your evolution are you and what results are you seeing in the business? 

We have achieved a great deal over the last few years: G+J has become more digital. We have shown how new magazines can achieve six-figure print runs and be profitable in year one. We have ventured into totally new business segments – we run academies, we build furniture, we organise culinary guided tours. But we’ll never reach a point where we say: “We’ve done it, this is the new G+J and this is how it’ll stay”. 

 

G + J homepage ()

 

How does this approach and your drive to a more digital business set you up for your future goals – and what are those? What’s the bigger picture? What, for example, will the business look like in three years from now? 

Digital society is only just getting started, and no one really knows the true impact that artificial intelligence, for example, will have on our lives and on our industry. G+J will remain agile – and will continue to be a publishing house. As to where this evolution will take us; who knows? What I do know is that how far we get, and the level of success we achieve, is down to us. 

As the business becomes more digital-focused, what new challenges do you face – in terms of revenue generation and your competitor set, for example? 

One of the biggest challenges for us – like so many other industries – is the supremacy of a few digital enterprises. They communicate and manage more data than any other company or government in the history of humanity. Every other dollar of global advertising revenue flows their way – plus 80 cents of every new dollar spent on advertising. I really hope we all find a joint solution here. High-quality journalism is a key constituent of any democratic society. 

Meet Julia Jäkel at the 41st FIPP World Congress, taking place from 9-11 October in London. Visit fippcongress.com for more and/or to register.

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