Interview with Erik Roddenhof, CEO DPG Media
“Corona underlined the effect and necessity of our transformation"
Firstly, as a father with four children, how was 2020?
“Not much different than for all those other colleagues who had to work at their kitchen tables and in their attic rooms. I also had important calls interrupted at the wrong time by my children or a ringing doorbell announcing the arrival of the umpteenth package. I got tired from talking to a screen for hours on end and I also had to teach my children at home when the schools were closed. When your private and business lives are intertwined all day, it takes some getting used to, but, at the same time, I haven’t seen any traffic jams in a long time and I saw much more of my family. That is also worth something. ”
And business-wise: were you shocked when the lockdowns were introduced?
“Of course the alarm bells were ringing loudly. We were not sure that it would work: letting all 6,000 employees work from home. IT has clearly been tremendous here. We make products that have to work 24/7 and have continuous deadlines which means that any malfunction in the process is serious. The shock came when advertisers cancelled en masse. But by paying close attention to our costs, we were able to absorb that blow. What has hit us hard is the death of a number of colleagues as a result of that terrible virus, people we will miss enormously.
We also quickly saw that the digitization of society accelerated due to corona. The reach of our news sites exploded, and with it our digital subscription sales. Our online services also sold very well, for example Tweakers. Sales there grew very fast because many home workplaces needed to be sorted out.”
Do you, as CEO, also feel proud about the role that DPG Media has played in these times?
"That pride is felt by everyone in our company. The pandemic fed the need for independent, reliable information, but also for comfort or a connection. Independent research* (DIGITAL NEWS REPORT REUTERS 2019, KANTAR COVID BAROMETER 2020) showed that newspapers, news sites and magazines are trusted the most, much more than social platforms, television, or even the government. That inspires trust and is a great responsibility. Through our media, we want to inform, inspire and entertain. That passion stems from a deep-rooted belief that well-informed people contribute to a better society. And that mission suddenly became very relevant. Not only because of the pandemic, but also because of the elections in America. Those developments underlined once again that facts and debate matter. The role of an independent and reliable media in this is crucial.”
On to the financial results. You could say that they are quite impressive.
“Although the advertising markets fell sharply and some business units could not survive without additional support, the interplay of our activities more than absorbed these blows through good results in our readers' markets, with our online services, and through our transformation strategy that proved more effective and necessary than ever. Apart from that, I am especially proud of our employees, many of whom have been working from home since mid-March. The strength and perseverance of our people has formed the basis of this success.”
Transformation, is that the theme that drives you?
“Not just me, I think our entire company is driven by it. The digitization of our society rumbles on. As a result, we also have to change and make our brands as successful digitally as they have been in recent decades or centuries. For example, the Brabants Dagblad will celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2021. So you can say that this is not our first transformation.
Transformation is often about digitalisation, but there are other transformations that I am very proud of. In barely two years VTM has transformed from a very traditional TV station into a dynamic TV and video company, with products such as Streamz and VTM GO. The TV station has become a real station family with VTM 1, 2, 3 and 4. We now have good products for everyone from Flanders, both on television and digitally. Another great transformation was that of Qmusic in the Netherlands which, very gradually, grew from being a newcomer to the market leader thanks to a strong line-up of DJs and programmes. Once again: transformation is not always digital. It's about making your brand relevant to your target audience so that they want to spend their precious time with you, online or offline. Our transformation strategy works. We use our scale to achieve synergy benefits and this gives us the space to invest extensively in digitisation. We are also expanding our digital portfolio with services that help people make the best choices for those sometimes difficult decisions, such as buying a car, phone, insurance or finding financing.
This allows us to diversify our income, something which proved very useful last year. At the same time, the brands make each other stronger. We will of course also continue to cherish our offline media. We also need to transform into print and make our journalism and the process around it smarter. Our strategy is therefore called a dual-transformation.”
But everyone is growing online, what gives you the confidence that DPG Media is growing enough?
The numbers don't lie. We grew in digital reach (10%), in digital subscribers (38%), in digital advertising revenue (3.7%), and with our online services (10%). And this happened while many of our offline media outlets held up well. This success gives us the confidence to accelerate further. In the coming year, we will invest in new digital platforms for our magazines and of course expand our existing platforms; with better journalism, more video and audio, and of course by further improving the ease of use.
We are also investing in our own advertising ecosystem. An advertising platform for local reliable media. With at least as much reach as on the global tech platforms, but without the fake news, fake ads or data abuse. We launched the platform in October and are now expanding it further – all very promising for consumers and advertisers.
In terms of our online services, we recently launched Independer in Belgium. We will expand on that in the coming year and will also launch a number of new platforms which will provide consumers with advice in the field of housing, cars and education. So we have lots of exciting plans. Time will tell whether they are successful, but I believe that success depends mainly on good people who work hard every day. My confidence in our people was already great, but it has grown even more in the past year. So I look to the future with plenty of optimism and confidence, but I do hope to be able to shake hands with everyone again soon.