Willem-Albert Bol – De Persgroep

Willem-Albert Bol – De Persgroep

Willem-Albert Bol is Director of Business Development at De Persgroep, the biggest (multi)media company in the Netherlands. Willem-Albert is responsible for establishing more, big and impactful partnerships with clients, other (media)companies and agencies.

Main ingredients for brand growth

Willem-Albert explains that De Persgroep’s main KPI for brand growth is P times Q. “P stands for margin per product. Q stands for volume, how many people are we reaching with that brand, product or solution. When you look at all our activities combined, we grow on average 5-10% every year, in both profitability and turnover. Instead of thinking in channels, we have to market differently, which is a big change from how it used to be. Hybrid is our best-selling product right now, which is a combination of both paper and digital.”

According to Willem-Albert, De Persgroep’s main ingredients for growth are profitability and guts. “Being able to change, costs money. If you don’t realise a profit, you can’t afford those changes. If you don’t have any room for investment, a company that’s already struggling, can’t transform themselves digitally. The second ingredient is guts. Change always comes with some sort of cannibalism. You will see changes in turnover, and that’s terrifying to a lot of companies. Aside from that, you also need scale. In a market that’s changing it’s usually the big companies that win. We are by far the biggest news domain in the Netherlands. A small player will never be able to change the market or change the rules.”

“Companies that successfully innovate are able to break through conventions on a structural bases”

Innovating the core

Willem-Albert: “If you look at innovation, I feel that short-term changes are overrated, while long-term changes are underrated. We refer to these short-term changes as hype marketing. These changes need to be done yesterday, and people make decisions without thinking about them. When it comes to innovation, you can either innovate what is already there, or innovate the new. The first one has to do with innovating the core of the company. Something you have been doing for years, and are now e.g. transforming digitally. The second one is introducing something new, whether that being activities, products or services. And you need to do both. You can never get away with just innovating your core. We are always adding services to our portfolio. For instance, we bought Independer, which is a service we didn’t provide before. When innovating something new, you have the choice of developing it yourself, or speeding up the process by buying a service or creating a partnership. Companies that successfully innovate are able to break structural conventions, the most important driver of this is mentality.”

Main source for innovation

“We look at 3 sources when it comes to innovation. Research among a large target audience, insights and data. To me, data is not significant, you need to make the difference by translating research to insights. One of the most famous examples is asking someone with a horse and carriage if they want a car, and they would answer; no, a horse and carriage is fine. You can’t learn from large target group surveys what people really want. You need guts to look at the customer journey and gather insights. For years we have tried to let people pay for digital news, but people weren’t ready for it. Until Netflix and Spotify came around and charged consumers with subscription fees for their music, movies and shows. They educated the consumer that digital services don’t come for free, and a digital subscription fee exists. Is that innovation, being persistent or educating the market? The only way to find out about these things is by using research, gathering insights and testing them in the right way and using data to help measure and optimise. To me, it’s 50/50. Half is rational; using data, research and insights, and the other half is mentality.”

Willem-Albert explains that De Persgroep measures the success of their innovations by looking at attention. “How often do people come back, and when they do, how long do they stay? With news, we look at how many articles they’ve read or how much time they spend on the website. We earn money with attention. If we are able to let consumers stay longer and spend time with us and appreciate us, we can always look at targeting that attention through our business model.”

To follow or not to follow

According to Willem-Albert, it is not in De Persgroep’s DNA to be first to market when it comes to innovation. “We are early adopters. We don’t lead the way. We follow developments closely, and get inspiration from abroad. When programmatic was introduced in the advertising market, we were not the first. The same with online video, and we are experiencing it now with voice. We have a couple of podcasts, but we test everything out first. At De Persgroep people get the freedom to test things out. When we see it moving towards early/later majority, we will set-up a dedicated team and develop or buy something.”

Willem-Albert shares that the goal and the channel are often confused, and not everything should be followed without thought. “Take influencer marketing for instance. It’s as old as time, but we make it out to be something completely new; hype marketing as I’ve mentioned before. The channel is different, but whether you have someone in a magazine displaying a product or on social media, it’s no different. It’s part of the marketing mix, not a stand-alone activity.”

Biggest challenges

Robotization, artificial intelligence and internet of things are the biggest trends in innovation right now, according to Willem-Albert. However, they all need to be driven by consumer need. Willem-Albert: “At the end of the day, there needs to be a need or latent need from the consumer. This need might surface at a later date, because it was simply too early. Everything is based on trust. There needs to be a balance between introducing something new, the trust of your target audience and the need of the consumer. I believe that retail could make a come back in the future. E-retail isn’t the answer to everything, which leads to for example a company like Zalando having an enormous return rate. It always comes back to consumer need.”