Madelon Fortuin – NRC Media

Madelon Fortuin – NRC Media

Madelon Fortuin is the Commercial Director at NRC Media, a Dutch media group and the news publisher of NRC Handelsblad,, and Het Blad bij NRC. Within the subject of growth NRC believes strongly in her way of working. Madelon explains that NRC has been following the same beliefs ever since they were written down when the company was founded in 1970, the year that NRC Handelsblad was born by the fusion of “Het Algemeene Handelsblad”, founded in 1828 en “The Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant”, founded in 1844. “A lot of companies today are trying to grow their brand, and looking for a social significance. To me, the words credibility and truthfulness are very important when it comes to building a brand. You could describe purpose marketing as the why, and the why should be embedded in your company’s DNA. In my opinion, this makes or breaks your success. Building a brand is about consistency, which is what we’ve been doing for almost 50 years: NRC is always looking for the truth and the story behind the story. We want to provide in depth information for an audience that is willing to enrich their knowledge. High-quality investigative journalism, revealing journalism is the most important element of NRC. Reliability, independence and expertise will always be more important than any commercial objective.”

“You can have a tremendous number of subscribers, but if those subscribers don’t pay, what have you got? You have growth in reach, but you don’t have growth in what a healthy business is all about.”

Main KPI’s for growth

According to Madelon, NRC wants to grow in the number of paying relations. “In this past year, we have realised a growth of 10% in paying subscribers. Which is an achievement when you no longer offer a free trial, and people who commit to us, for at least one year. We were the first (in publishing) to stop offering free trial subscriptions. We have a target audience that chooses our revealing journalism, and is willing to pay for it. And it’s working in our favour. A product like investigative journalism costs money. We have taken a hit in reach as mentioned in NOM, but we are doing better than ever. You can have a tremendous number of subscribers, but if those subscribers don’t pay, what have you got? You have growth in reach, but you don’t have growth in what a healthy business is all about.”

Madelon explains that NRC has the courage to make decisions and statements which fit their vision: “When we say our product is investigative journalism, we take that seriously. Which is why our cookie notice clearly states; journalism is our product, not your data. We offer trust and want to offer it to both our readers and advertisers. And trust is one of the reasons we pulled out of open exchange of online advertising space. We want to make sure that we will not have advertisement on our platform that is fraudulent (think of the illegal use of John de Mol his name) nor drops retargeting cookies. However, when you make these choices it does mean closing the door on a sales channel, which doesn’t fit growth. But we believe in our brand, building the most important associations of our brand like trust and therefore being honest and truthful to our subscribers.”

Innovating in the news domain

“We uncover stories that haven’t been told yet, and have been doing so all these years”, Madelon continues. “The innovative part is how we bring the story to the reader. It’s still on paper, but it’s also online, video’s, liveblogs and podcasts. NRC Vandaag is an incredibly successful podcast. We have been able to create a new ‘front page’, where one single story is discussed in-depth in 20 minutes. NRC Weekend has a reading time of around an hour. Which makes it all the more special we have a podcast discussing one single story in a third of that time. Resulting in truly involving the consumer. Which leads back all the way to the choices made in 1970, which we still carry out consequently. We’re not the channel with fast news in quick and dirty newslines, we’re the channel of in-depth stories.”

Madelon: “Next to that, innovation is often talked about as creating something new. But innovation is also choosing to do the things you do well. When it comes to my department, it’s developing a new business model. When you say you stand for quality and creating fantastic stories, both on paper, online and in podcasts, it’s a strange thing to say; we look at views alone. That’s why we’re focusing on reading time within branded content. We call it the quality view, which means that every single reader should at least be active within the story for at least 15 seconds. The communication goal, the communication solution and the accounting model should all be on the same page. If you want to create an impact in the mind of the consumer, whether it’s brand preference, consideration or any other association, you have to make sure your story is read. It has to be relevant and interesting enough for the reader. So, it doesn’t make sense looking at views alone. As an advertiser, you want to be looking at reading time. Advertisers know we will do our absolute best to create the best story possible. It’s a continuous optimisation process. When we publish a story, we carry out a/b testing for the headlines. Which headline is the most striking? Is the layout correct? We’ve experienced times where the story didn’t do as well. By then, we start over. That’s the risk we take, and the advertiser doesn’t pay for that because we assure them the best story. And that’s innovation too. Introducing a business model that wasn’t there before. For that, you need courage and common sense.”

Fake news

Madelon explains that in the time of fake news, there has never been a greater need for a brand that represents trust. “I think that fake news is positive for us. More and more consumers are doubting what is fact or fake, what is true or false, and long for brands with authority. I think we’ve built that over the years. But it’s not just about fake news. Fake news has been around for a long time, the distribution of it, however, has increased tremendously through new technologies. We are now able to let people say things, they haven’t even said, through technologies. Think about the deep fake videos. The ‘infocalypse’ has taken over, and in a time where people can’t tell the difference between what’s true and what’s false, it has helped our brand.”


Madelon describes a big trend within the news domain: “Nowadays you can tell your Google assistant to set your alarm or to call someone. Screenless is also a big development in journalism. People don’t have to read a story on their phone or laptop anymore, they can be in the car, be at the gym or even do some ironing with their cordless headphones and listen to a podcast. Screenless is definitely a development to keep a close eye on.”