Sometimes niche publishers think about technology as the one thing that will transform their business and boost revenues. The reality is much more complex. The bottom line is that growth and transformation is really about strategy and communication.

So we interviewed Gerrit Klein, President of Ebner Ulm Publishing. He knows the technology game very well after having led a series of strategic transformations within his own media company. His approach is adaptable, practical, and profitable. We asked Gerrit to share some guidelines about how to manage this process internally for maximum return.

Let’s talk about strategic transformation within organizations. In your experience, what are some lessons learned? What should publishers avoid?

Gerrit:

  • First of all don’t assume that there is a technological silver bullet. Technology can only support you, but it will not replace a solid strategy.
  • Be aware of the old proverb of Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Old workflows and procedures are extremely sticky, therefore don’t try to innovate within old structures.
  • Avoid being too appreciative with your staff. Clear announcements are necessary.
  • Only explaining is not enough, you have to control and measure your staff’s output.

Developing a technology strategy is all about asking the right questions first. What three things should publishers keep in mind, above all else?

Gerrit:

  1. What is our real asset? (The really real asset – that’s probably not our magazine!)
  2. It’s all about the target audience – but how exactly do we know this audience?
  3. How can I familiarize my staff with the new strategy – without my people’s collaboration, nothing will happen.

Can you share a couple of real-world success stories of how to manage tech transformation internally? 

Gerrit: Extremely important: educate, educate, educate. We established an in-house academy for all our employees. Webinars, seminars, bootcamps, a knowledge blog, visits to international conferences. Today every employee knows exactly what is requested and what they have to do to achieve these goals.

We established a special operation force at day one of the process. We took 25 editors and assigned to them a new job description: Transaction Editors. Their job changed tremendously. Instead of just producing content it is their job to trigger transactions. These people transferred the new techniques and goals into our  editorial departments. Today every editor has to master these skills. Our transaction related turnover grew significantly compared to three years ago.

Some control mechanism is necessary. You know: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Just to hope that the people will do what the strategy requires is not enough, you have to enforce this process and control the results. We wrote a software program which is deeply integrated into the editorial workflow. This Ebner Content Planner allows us to monitor the whole process of content development, content production and content distribution. Furthermore it measures the results and allows us therefore to regulate our editorial capacities. The result is a dramatically grown reach.

And of course, we changed the revenue mix. 4 years ago it was all about traditional advertisement and subscription income. This year we will generate 35% of our income from new business activities. Mainly through re-purposing and re-using of content.

Editor’s note: Gerrit Klein will be leading the session, Adaptable, Practical, Profitable – Media Technology Transformation, at the 2018 Niche CEO Summit, Jan 17-18 in Ft Lauderdale, FL.

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More about Gerrit: Gerrit Klein is CEO of the Ebner Ulm Publishing Group – an e-commerce, service and content company for niche audiences, headquartered in Germany. He spent 5 years as Managing Director with Vogel Business Media, a B2B publisher for the machine building and automotive industries. Before that he ran the technical magazines division of Deutscher Fachverlag, a B2B publisher for trade and the food industry.

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