Advancing news sites and apps is just as much about people and collaboration as it is about technical solutions.Head of Product Rene Kleizen understands that very well - he thrives on making personal and professional connections. From small talk to hefty discussions: Rene handles it with ease and thoughtfulness. So it’s about time we feature him here; let’s meet and greet!
Rene Kleizen is a Tukker - the Dutch nickname for people living in Twente. Tukkers are known to be proud of their region and culture. For Rene, the sense of pride also applies to his work. Young Rene already took an interest in business information technology. “I never was a die-hard developer. I’ve always operated somewhere in between programming and business strategy. Preferably on visible stuff, on the end-user side of digital. That’s something I’ve always enjoyed.”
And it’s what ultimately led Rene to DPG Media. First as an online consultant, then as a Product Owner, next as a Platform Manager, and now as Head of Product for Freemium. Freemium? Yes, DPG Media’s websites and digital products are all maintained on different platforms. One is the Freemium platform, used by brands focused on popular news like Het Laatste Nieuws, 7sur7, Algemeen Dagblad, and all its regional titles.
Head of Product sounds like a fancy title, doesn’t it? But what does Rene do all day? Honestly, looking into his calendar, it’s meetings, meetings, meetings. “Yes, that’s very true. Probably 80% of my time,” Rene laughs. “But it’s necessary; stakeholder management is a huge part of my job. I can’t do that without talking to people, and on top of that, we all work in different offices in Belgium and the Netherlands and remotely. But I must admit that sometimes I wonder if I should attend all those meetings.”
The main challenge Rene faces is juggling the needs of ten brands, both from a business and a user perspective. One platform and ten brands equal countless ideas and opinions. And you can imagine that the teams want to develop features that are beneficial to all brands. Rene: “Sure, there will always be exceptions. Sometimes because of cultural differences between the Netherlands and Belgium, and sometimes because of the content offering of a brand. But even if we build an exception, we always ensure that other brands can benefit from it in the future too.” It’s a balancing act. Take Regio 2.0, a project to provide regional content to both AD and HLN readers. HLN already had that on offer, but AD didn’t to that extent. So for HLN the concept wasn’t new, but the renewed systems are for sure a shared benefit.
So now and then, Tukker Rene has to do some polderen: seek compromises with the stakeholders, which pulls him into yet another meeting. As meetings are about interacting with people, sociable Rene doesn’t mind them at all. But the best work days are the ones he spends at the office. “I like the liveliness of the workplace, the opportunity to just walk up to someone and have a friendly or work-related chat. Sometimes it’s easier to figure something out face-to-face than via e-mail, calls, or Slack messages. But the social aspect is the true stand-out for me.”
We’re moving from an output-driven approach to an outcome-driven approach. We’re not fully there yet, but we’re well on our way.
Collaborative mode: activated
“As a Head of Product, I’m the linking pin between the tech teams and the business, and with business, I mean marketing, sales, and the editorial staff. We jointly work on the vision and strategy for the platform, short-term and long-term. Where do we want to go, and how do we get there? It’s my job to discuss that with the business and explain it to the teams.” Rene doesn’t think you need a strong IT background for the role, but it does come in handy when people request certain features, as he can think ahead regarding technical solutions.
The word ‘Head’ in his job title implies that Rene is a leader, but he doesn’t like to see it that way. “Yes, I have some people ‘reporting’ to me, but I truly see it as a team effort to improve our platform. The Product Owners and I are the Product and IT representatives, and we have someone representing marketing, someone from sales, and someone from the editorial team. Together, we give direction, but it’s not a hierarchical oligarchy. I wouldn’t want to work like that.”
Rene also keeps in touch with the other Heads of Product. They have meetings to learn from each other, help each other, and run through the metrics of their platforms. “Let’s say we see a huge drop in traffic on all platforms; then we’d want to figure out why that’s happening and what we can do about it. But our meetings are also about bettering the craft of product management. So we might discuss learning and development options, for example."
Fail fast, succeed faster
Rene’s been with DPG Media for almost ten years already, and he’s not thinking of leaving anytime soon as he still takes pride in his work. It’s the product's visibility - 8 million unique visitors per day! And it’s the constant focus on the users that keeps the product moving forward. “We want people to come back to our app more often, and we want them to spend more time in the app. We must figure out how to make that happen, but with the user in mind.” Initiatives only make it onto the roadmap if the business case and user tests look promising.
In 2022, the Freemium platform has seen some major improvements. A big one was the new navigation in the AD app. User research showed that people sometimes got lost in the app and that there was a need to access more content more easily via the navigation. Rene: “It’s not like we made it up. We saw a common thread in the feedback in the app, and we worked closely with UX Researchers to confirm or disprove our assumptions.”
Experiment design plays a crucial role in improving the user experience and thus boosting the reach and use of the Freemium products. “We’re moving from an output-driven approach to an outcome-driven approach. We’re not fully there yet, but we’re well on our way.” A clear example is the evergreen content now offered on specific subjects on HLN, like HLN Eten and HLN Geld. With the content experts, the team tests all kinds of hypotheses through experiments. Sometimes directly in a live environment, but on a small scale, or by conducting interviews - whatever method is most appropriate to the experiment.
Play AD is another big project that came to life in 2022. People come to Algemeen Dagblad for the news, obviously, but also for entertainment. The platform already offered puzzles and some videos here and there. “We looked into ‘snackable’ video content as an extension of the news. We investigated video formats, type of content, timing, et cetera. It was an intensive collaboration between us product people and the entertainment teams.”
It’s basically a constant quest to deliver the most value with the least effort. Over the years, this experiment and value-driven mindset has slowly become part of DPG Media’s DNA and way of working. It fits Rene well. “I enjoy how little tweaks can make a big difference. The solution is not always technical. It could also be that the editorial team puts in a lot of effort to produce high-quality content. Everybody understands improvement is not about requesting one feature after another; all of us contribute.”