FIPP meets…Robert Müller, international managing editor at Burda International

Müller is based in Munich, but his job brings him into contact with colleagues from around the world. He has been managing editor within Burda International’s licensing team since 2013 and was previously senior text editor of the German editions of Joy, Shape and Cosmopolitan and editor-in-chief for the music magazine Metal Hammer. Here, he talks about working across borders, where he uses the Cyrillic alphabet and why he loves to “get his hands dirty”.

Describe your job

I am an editorial consultant to local editorial teams, but also to CEOs and business unit leaders. I help with re-launches of magazines and with the implementation of modern, 360 degree approaches to publishing.

I manage all the workflows around Burda’s licensing business, do training with licensees to help launch new products and improve existing editions.

I am also deeply involved in technological issues especially concerning digital asset management, which will be the most important tool for content sharing.

What do you like about your job?

The different challenges, building relationships and cooperating with so many people from different backgrounds. I like the fact that my work is sometimes purely creative, and at other times very technical.  And I love the fact I am part of growing a business.

Naturally, language plays an important role in creating magazines. How do you handle language barriers and how do you organise cross-border communication and teamwork?

When I started at Burda International I was surprised to find out how international it truly is! Everybody up to CEO level makes a big effort and we generally all communicate in English. Obviously, dealing with magazine features and cover lines in all these different languages, is a different matter. But then again, the topics we cover in our more than 300 titles are universal, so the concepts and journalistic approaches are easy to grasp and work on.

The rest is a mixture of Google Translate and putting in some extra time for example to learn reading Cyrillic. For communication we use all available channels: email, calls, video conference, travel – whatever is the most efficient tool for the task. Although I have to say that nothing beats visiting the local editorial teams and getting my hands dirty with the details to really form a working relationship that delivers results.

Colleagues around the world have to work in a challenging economic situation. What contribution can editorial teams make to cope with this?

The editorial teams have to understand that the way their content is consumed has changed, so they need to be part of changing the journey of the content from first inception to its appearance on a multitude of platforms. Understanding the value chain, the sources of revenues, is really important. We always teach the teams to investigate consumer needs, to work with market data, and to create content that works in all the different channels. It is important that editorial people talk to and cooperate with the other international teams also facing similar challenges: digital, ad sales etc. The big goal is the same for all our markets: The transformation of a legacy business into something relevant for the digital age. 

From your experience, what skills do we need to produce content that can be used in 360-degree models?

First and foremost I think it is entrepreneurial thinking on all levels: The products that go into 360-degree revenue chains need to come from integrated teams that understand the brand values and know the ways to turn ideas into money. Journalism, the story telling, is just one side of this.

We already have editors that learned to shoot instructional videos. We share successful event models between the different countries, where local teams adapt them to their brands. We build brand eco-systems around social media and consumer databases from the interaction that comes through these communities. And if I say we, I mean editors as much as marketing people. I mean everybody, because we are all in the same boat. The currents that draw us to the future are strong and we need all hands on deck to remain afloat.

You took part in last year’s FIPP Magazine Brand Management Course (MBMC). What were the most valuable learnings for you?

Getting the big picture was invaluable. Now I understand how all the different wheels in publishing turn to move the whole business – from strategic planning to finance to leadership and change management. And of course listening to ‘war stories’ and the best practices while facing challenges in a deeply disrupted market, was both inspiring and instructive.

How did the course help you with regards to meeting the challenges in your day-to-day work?

First and foremost it gave me a toolkit, what I would term the ‘state of the art’ in running our business. And the understanding that when going for the next editorial project with one of our local teams, it is all about the business even when I am talking cover design with an art director. Since doing the MBMC, I make sure to always talk to all the people that count, from sales teams to the production team, to properly understand where the actual challenge lies – quite often it is not what I thought it would be in the beginning.

What kind of training do you think editorial teams will need going forward to arm them for a digital future?

They need to hone their storytelling skills, to learn how to create content that is relevant on the many consumer touch points we have in a digital age, and how to adapt it to these media channels. There is still a great hesitation among traditional print journalists to embrace skills like SEO and to accept the fact that from now on their work will be exposed to immediate and unfiltered feedback. Training can give them the basics and will most likely take away the fear of the unknown. But to be successful in the digital future you have to live the digital life. I think editorial people have to go where the consumer goes; they have to engage on the relevant platforms and participate in the communications. And frankly, no one should need any training to do this.

Burda International is a FIPP member company.

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