Earlier this year, Belgium's Mediahuis group, which owns a variety of media properties in its home country as well as the Netherlands, acquired Dublin-based Independent News & Media, the leading newspaper and online publisher on the island of Ireland, whose publications include the Irish Independent and the Belfast Telegraph.
Peter Soetens is the Chief Digital Officer for Mediahuis, which he joined in 2011 (and was then known as Corelio). Before that, he held a number of management positions at VRT, the Flemish Radio and Television Broadcasting organisation.
Ahead of his presentation at our Claves conference in Madrid in December, Soetens told us about his responsibilities, the group's recent successes and its plans for the coming year.
WAN-IFRA: As Chief Digital Officer, what are a few of your main responsibilities?
Peter Soetens: I’m responsible for making sure we realise a successful digital transformation of the company across all countries.
"By sharing knowledge, technology and processes we should be able to more successful, move faster and be more cost effective."
I’m also responsible for our technical teams building the digital products.
What are some of the key ways Mediahuis is driving digital growth across brands?
We focus highly on the transformation of the newsrooms by bringing data and insights to our journalists on how they are performing and building efficient workflows to combine digital and print.
Our belief is that the biggest leverage for digital growth is producing journalism that works in the digital era.
Bringing the right content, to the right person at the right moment in the best possible format is the key. Personalisation also plays a big role in this.
Next to this, we try to experiment as much as possible with our paywalls to optimise conversion, and we try to make the user experience of our products best in class.
Earlier this year, Mediahuis acquired Dublin-based Independent News & Media, what does this mean for your overall digital strategy?
For our company it is a big change because we enter the highly competitive English-speaking market.
"The dynamics in this market are different from our native Dutch-speaking environment, so it will be interesting to learn how we can compete well in a such a market."
It also a step that brings us to a scale were we have to organise ourselves better on a group level and share knowledge and technology more intensively as the benefits of sharing increase. This will be my biggest challenge during the next years in the group.
As we near the end of this year, what have been a few of Mediahuis’s biggest digital successes in 2019?
We are proud that subscriptions across almost all our titles (excluding INM) are now showing growth due to the success of our paywall and digital newsroom strategy.
Obviously, we are also very proud to welcome INM in the group this year, and we look forward to making a turnaround there as well in 2020.
What are some of Mediahuis's top digital priorities for 2020?
Making our subscription growth "stick" will be a first big challenge.
"We are very optimistic given the figures we have now, but we will need to keep investing to keep these growth figures as both advertising and single copy sales are expected to decline further."
Next to this, managing the growth of the company will also be challenging: we have quadrupled our turnover in the past six years so handling the increasing scale and maintaining agility and speed is not easy.