Reconstructing a media group for positive change

He will be one of several international speakers at the FIPP World Congress in Toronto, Canada from 13-15 October 2015. Find out more about the Congress here. Klein spoke to FIPP Congress contributor Jon Watkins.

What type of business was Ebner traditionally and when did you decide to change the business model?

We are a very old company – nearly 200 years old – and we were traditionally a specialist media company with around 70 magazine titles across topics ranging from B2B titles to magazines for musicians. That was our traditional business but we understood where the digital revolution was taking the industry. We identified that it is not possible to reach every part of your audience through print alone. We also recognised that we were losing ground to those publishers who were moving into digital and that, if we wanted to target specific audiences, we would have to evolve. I was brought in to implement the change in 2008. That’s when it started.

What was your strategy?

While we were not the first adopters of digital in the market, we did recognise early on that change was not about digitalising your business by simply building up web pages of your content and going into social media. We recognised we must crush the old organisation, take it back to zero and build it up again from scratch. That was essential as it allowed us to change the whole structure of the company. It was essential to stop people thinking that we produce magazines. We produce content. We start by identifying our target groups, finding out what they want and how they want to receive it, and then we create the appropriate content. We have a lot of digitised methodology so we analyse them, where they go and how they receive their content. Then we decide what we want to offer to sit in amongst that. If you rely on the sentiment and feelings that your editors have, no matter how experienced they are, you are lost.

What did you change at a practical level?

We knew that the change was going to be big for the business and it was going to impact a lot of people. The first thing we did was to take our editorial staff and divide it. We did that because we identified that we had two types of editor. The first is the transaction editor. The transaction editor’s role is to deliver a transaction with the reader. They have to produce content that brings the user or the reader to a call-to-action, so they do stuff with us or buy stuff from us. The second type of editor is the content editor. Their responsibility is to provide normal educational, informative, entertaining content. Was there resistance to change? Sure, they all wanted to kill me. There was a lot of resistance and a lack of buy-in to change because it wasn’t a proven direction and because we were still making money. But we had taken a longer-term view and we understood the value in starting early. It took a long time to convince people of the value – and for those who couldn’t, they had to go.

How important is data to your new organisation?

Data was absolutely central to our decision to change. Without it, none of this would be possible. We said from the beginning that we will change the company into a shop-centric organisation where the ecommerce function is our shop window and the currency return is data. That data is then gathered into a central system from which we can make decisions and identify targets. Out of the shops comes the data of the people and that is invaluable.

Where has the change taken you? How do you look now in terms of print versus digital?

We do not analyse our business in terms of print versus digital. Those are two types of the same coin. We ask ourselves simply: ‘How are we doing with content?’ We look at if we are making money with content, regardless of whether it is distributed through print, digital or social. The second thing we consider is how we are doing with advertising. The third is events. We also look at how much we are making through ecommerce and licensing. Those different pillars are an example of just how far we have come from print and advertising.

What results have you seen?

The benefits have been quite impressive. We have seen tremendous growth in our reach. Reach was the first thing we needed. If there is a target group out there that is 100%, we cannot be satisfied if we get 5-10%. We have to come close to 100% using every method of delivery. The reach could not be more important. That is why we do not talk about magazines anymore – we talk about target groups. As an example, we do a market-leading magazine for firefighters where the reach is dominated by events, digital and social – which make up around 90%. Only around 10% is through the printed matter. Of course, the greater the reach, the greater the advertising income too. On another publication, we know that our reach has grown 40-50 times since we moved to this model, so the results really do speak for themselves.

One of the specialist brands in the Ebner Verlag stable is WatchTime, which in many ways were used by Ebner (a FIPP member) to experiment and provide a road map for change. In a separate discussion with FIPP’s Cobus Heyl, Klein explained that this was a strategic decision. WatchTime is headquartered in New York, and Klein felt the US provided a media market in many ways ahead of the curve. Learning lessons there could then be applied across the rest of the business.

Ebner’s international director and publisher of WatchTime, Dominik Grau, will also be at the Congress to explain actions implemented on a brand-specific level. Read an earlier Q&A about WatchTime with him here

The FIPP World Congress

Join us at the FIPP World Congress in Toronto, Canada from 13-15 October for more stories like this, from around the world. The FIPP World Congress offers you 4-in-1 events, with the Worldwide Media Marketplace on 13 October, the DNF (content on the move) on the 14th and Innovation Forum on 15 October, the latter two running as streams in the main Congress programme.

You have the following booking options

  1. All inclusive Congress ticket, which gives you access to all of the above (WMM, the main Congress programme, DNF and Innovation Forum)
  2. Congress only, which gives you access to the main Congress programme, DNF and Innovation Forum
  3. WMM only, which gives you access to WMM and DNF

Go to the registration page to book your place today and save while the Congress Early Bird option still applies.

Who has booked so far?

CEOs and other C-suite executives, managing and other directors, publishers, editors-in-chief and departmental managers.

Programme and speakers

A top-notch speaker programme will feature more than 40 leading international speakers, across three broad themes:

  • Global perspectives on industry innovation and transformation
  • Company-wide innovation and transformation
  • Brand-specific innovation and transformation

See the speakers so far confirmed, and a preliminary programme draft (subject to change) here.

Networking and FIPP Fringe social events

The Congress will offer networking (throughout the Congress) and FIPP Fringe social opportunities, including spouse tours on the two Congress programme days and a separate tour to the Niagara Falls following the Congress making for a fully immersive experience.

Read more about the social events here

Perhaps as important as programme sessions, this will provide delegates with the opportunity to meet, share ideas, build relationships and actually do business. 

It is not often that you will have the opportunity to join so many of the world’s leading magazine media executives in one place, at once.

So think about joining us in Toronto…but not for too long if you want to save money on your booking with our Early Bird offer. Register now or visit the FIPP Congress website ( to find out more.


If you want to organise a delegation to the Congress, get in touch with Claire Jones

FIPP Contacts

  • Event and delegation enquiries: Claire Jones, head of events
  • Sponsorship and exhibition: Andre Glazier, commercial manager
  • Programme enquiries/suggestions: Cobus Heyl, chief content officer and marketing manager

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