NEWS IN ENGLISH | Axel Springer presents future strategy for BILD and WELT
Axel Springer presents future strategy for BILD and WELT
2023-02-28 11:21:00

Axel Springer
Axel Springer prepares for further growth of its German media offerings and a purely digital future for BILD and WELT by adopting a brand-focused structure.

The course was already set at the end of last year with the decision to create entrepreneurially independent units for BILD Group and WELT Group. Now, CEO Mathias Döpfner (60), Claudius Senst (37), CEO of BILD Group, and Carolin Hulshoff Pol (44), CEO of WELT Group, informed employees about a five-point strategic plan as well as the goals and planned measures derived from it for the two brand groups and the individual service areas.

The core topics of their explanations were how the full transformation to a purely digital media company will be achieved. They advocated a fundamentally new understanding of quality journalism in the digital age. They also provided information on the new organizational structure and made it clear that cost cuts and investments must be made at the same time in order to secure growth and profitability. They also explained what these plans mean for employees in concrete terms.

CEO Mathias Döpfner affirmed, "Our goal is 'Digital Only.'" At the same time, he emphasized that the full conversion would not take place in the short term. "Print is still profitable today and indispensable for readers and advertising clients. That's why the complete switch to digital will still take a few years. But we have to prepare for it and actively tackle the transformation." Axel Springer has already successfully shaped two phases of the digital transformation with BILD and WELT. In the first step, digital offerings were built up to complement print offerings, and in the second step, digital subscription offerings were established. He made it clear that the same determination was needed for the third stage of the transformation, which is now beginning.

Döpfner underlined that in the digital age and due to the increasing importance of automation and artificial intelligence, journalism will be even more crucial than before. "Journalistic creation is becoming the core of what we do. Journalistic production is becoming a by-product, more and more technically supported and automated. This means a reorganization of newsrooms and shifting of staff and costs. Understanding this change is essential to a publishing house's future viability." He elaborated that creating exclusive and attractive content remains irreplaceable and will become even more critical to success for media houses. "Only those who create the best original content will survive."

Carolin Hulshoff Pol presented her goals and personal aspirations for the WELT Group. "WELT is to become the first journalistic brand in the world that comes from print, will be purely digital, and will also be more economically successful and relevant than in analog times." She added that the WELT Group will focus on strengthening its premium brand economically as a pluralistic investigative and debating medium, growing in the digital subscription business as well as in the premium advertising segment, and further expanding its TV success. The clear focus for WELT, she said, is stable digital subscriptions.

Claudius Senst said his mission was to achieve further growth for BILD Group and to use BILD's exceptional reach primarily in advertising. Reach means relevance, journalistically and in the advertising market, he said. He said his goal is to achieve more than 20 million digital visits per day on the platforms by 2026. Senst: "BILD is Germany, BILD is number one. It has to stay that way."

The new organization of BILD and WELT will be managed in a more decentralized, independent, entrepreneurial way, with more proximity to the market and customers. We don't believe in centralism, more synergies, more matrix, Döpfner said. "Instead, we want and are implementing more entrepreneurship. More responsibility." Both brand groups will be supported by a strong marketing unit, headed by Christoph Eck-Schmidt and Julia Wehrle. The supporting central functions, consisting of Finance, Controlling, Human Resources and Legal, will be significantly leaner under the leadership of Ralf Hermanns. Technological Product Development, headed by Samir Fadlallah, is moving even closer to the brands to the newsrooms to enable the best possible cooperation between editorial staff and developers.

Döpfner announced that, in order to grow, both investments and cost cuts will be made at the same time. The goal is to improve earnings by around 100 million euros over the next three years through revenue increases and cost savings. The conviction prevails, media companies that want to continue to produce independent and critical journalism in the future must also demonstrate economic success. Investments will be made primarily in digital projects, first and foremost in journalistic quality and in technologies for contemporary production. He did not conceal the fact that the restructuring will also involve job cuts. This will particularly affect central functions. In the newsrooms, savings will primarily be made in production and in functions that will become leaner or completely redundant through the use of modern technology. The management did not give a specific figure for how many jobs the publishing house intends to cut, as it is not a question of reducing a certain predefined number of positions.

No cuts shall be made to the number of reporters, authors, or specialist editors. In order to be able to maintain journalistic quality standards, BILD and WELT intend to invest in these areas. At the same time, management made it clear: "This is not a job guarantee. We will part with colleagues in the editorial teams if certain profiles no longer fit the required skills." Efforts are being made to avoid involuntary terminations. To this end, management is close to signing a voluntary redundancy program with the Group Works Council.

Döpfner concluded his internal letter to the workforce as follows: "Axel Springer is a truly digital, transatlantic media company." He said he wanted to make the next decade a decade of accelerated growth and accelerated change for Axel Springer. "We are firmly convinced: free democratic society needs smart, critical and independent journalism. Ensuring its journalistic and economic success in the digital future is our aspiration."