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BurdaInternational: Bringing The World Of Magazines and Magazine Media To A Global Audience – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Frances Evans, Director of International Licensing & Advertising, Burda Media

November 20, 2015

From Germany with love…

“I really like magazine media. I’ve loved it forever. And I really want our brands to succeed and I believe that magazine media is an excellent platform to reach consumers because it’s trusted quality brands that they love and I like to be in that value chain.” Frances Evans

IMG_9545 Burda Media is a German magazine publishing company that started back in 1898 and BurdaInternational, one of its subsidiaries, currently publishes different magazines in 20 markets internationally. They are the licensures for brands such as Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Elle and many others throughout the world.

Frances Evans is the Director of International Licensing & Advertising with Burda and also a woman who is passionate about innovation and all of the brands that she handles and works with. From Asia to the U.K., Frances has her finger on the pulse of what’s going on around the globe with each of her titles, providing support, encouragement, innovation education and a strong team spirit that reverberates back to each and every member of Burda’s wide-reaching family and the audiences that love their magazines deeply.

I spoke with Frances during the FIPP Congress last month in Toronto, Canada, and we talked about Burda and the many titles they have. About the support and open communication she gets from the powers-that-be at the top of the company chain and how much she loves magazines and her job. It was a truly delightful conversation.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman who knows her way around the globe and also around the world of magazine media, Frances Evans, Director of International Licensing & Advertising, Burda Media.

But first, the sound-bites:


IMG_9543 On an introduction to BurdaInternational:
BurdaInternational is a subsidiary of Burda Media, which is the holding company and the main company. Burda has four main platforms and one is the publishing business in Germany, so we have many brands in Germany, such as Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Out, Playboy, but also digital brands like Huffington Post and we also have a lot of digital properties attached to the magazine brands. The second part of the company which is the printing business is the legacy part of the business, so we have printers in Germany, France and a very big printing company in India. Then we have the digital business with brands such as the German version of LinkedIn, which is XING.com; a German version of something like TripAdvisor, it’s called HolidayCheck.com; we have brands that are related to computer sales, such as Computer Universe and Cyberport. And then we have a lot of VC capital invested in digital and technology properties.

On how easy or difficult it was to move from that legacy business of printing to where Burda is today:
I would say that the start was very difficult. Not many people really like change. You can’t always affect change with people who have been there for a long time, so yes, there was some changeover with the managers, but also in the way the managers were then briefed. So, a lot of change had to come from the top.

On that “aha” moment when she realized it wasn’t either/or, print or digital, but both:
The last two or three years have been a huge learning curve for all of us. The more we’ve done; the more we’ve seen what used to be those ancillary revenues grow and in some cases the magazine is the ancillary revenue and the other business is the revenue model and I think with some titles that’s happened.

On why it took so long for media professionals, described by some as some of the “smartest people on earth,” so long to realize the truth about print and digital, that they must both be utilized in this day and age:
It’s very simple actually. Media owners were used to making money with their eyes closed. And when you have your eyes closed, you don’t see change coming. You don’t see it because you’re not looking.

On the most pleasant moment she’s faced over the last three to five years:
There have been a couple of very pleasant moments. And they’ve all been emails. I had two emails this year from one particular editor of a brand and I’ve known her for a very long time. I spent a lot of time training her 10 years ago and she went off and went to work for another company, but now we’re back together again in way. I spent a long evening explaining to her pretty much what I’ve just explained to you, and if she wanted to not be obsolete that she would need to learn Google Analytics because it would help her to create better content for her title. We had this discussion in Paris on a Wednesday night. She got back to her country on Friday and on Friday one week later, I got a message from her saying that she had just completed a Google Analytics, Google Trends and Facebook training and she’d also had her team to do it and how amazed she was by this data. And what it could do for her, so that was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Having these conversations and being able to explain to people that they can do things differently and then affecting change.

On the biggest stumbling block she’s had to face:
People. (Laughs) People don’t like change, in general. Most people find change difficult. It’s normal and it’s human nature. You have to create an environment where change is a part of the fabric of the society you’re working in and as I said earlier; people were used to making money with their eyes closed. So, it’s not always that easy to persuade people to do something that they don’t know how to do. You need to review short-term conflicts and medium-term conflicts that might arise during an innovation process. In an innovation process there will always be conflicts; there will always be areas where people are uncomfortable.

On whether she has a favorite country or magazine to work with out of all the international brands Burda owns:
No, not really. I like working with most of them actually. I have maybe a few brands that I work on more than others. We have four editions of Marie Claire and I like working with those guys, because Marie Claire is quite a difficult magazine. It’s not as easy to do as something like Cosmopolitan or maybe even Elle, because they’re very well-established brands. Marie Claire is also very well-established, but it has a much more journalistic approach to it. And it’s not always the number one brand on the market, so I like to work with those teams because they try really hard to innovate.

IMG_9544 On anything else she’d like to add:
We’re not really a top of mind licensure; we’re not somebody you’d come running to for content, because it’s German. But what we’ve seen in the last couple of years is that people will come to us for many other things. What we’ve done in the past few years is get people to want to partner with us or collaborate with us and that’s something that’s very special about the company, because I think we’re seen as a very collaborative and good partner.

On what motivates her to get out of bed in the morning:
I’m stubborn. (Laughs) I’m stubborn and I don’t give up. I really like magazine media. I’ve loved it forever. And I really want our brands to succeed and I believe that magazine media is an excellent platform to reach consumers because it’s trusted quality brands that they love and I like to be in that value chain.

On what keeps her up at night:
Planning my next diving holiday. (Laughs) I’m an avid diver and I spend hours researching dive sites and livable dive boats and where I’m going to find some hammerhead sharks. You have to have a nice balance and a couple of years ago I did my first professional qualification in diving, so if it all goes wrong with magazines I can always go and work as a dive master.

And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Frances Evans, Director of International Licensing & Advertising, Burda Media.

Samir Husni: Introduce me to BurdaInternational and tell me about your tagline, “Burda Magazine Media and Beyond.”

Frances Evans: BurdaInternational is a subsidiary of Burda Media, which is the holding company and the main company. Burda has four main platforms and one is the publishing business in Germany, so we have many brands in Germany, such as Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Out, Playboy, but also digital brands like Huffington Post and we also have a lot of digital properties attached to the magazine brands.

The second part of the company which is the printing business is the legacy part of the business, so we have printers in Germany, France and a very big printing company in India.

Then we have the digital business with brands such as the German version of LinkedIn, which is XING.com; a German version of something like TripAdvisor, it’s called HolidayCheck.com; we have brands that are related to computer sales, such as Computer Universe and Cyberport. And then we have a lot of VC capital invested in digital and technology properties. And I think I mentioned that we do Huffington Post Germany; we also have one of the biggest news sites in Germany called Focus Online. And so we have a very large digital section of the business.

And the fourth part of the business is BurdaInternational, which is all of the publishing activities outside of Germany. BurdaInternational is in 20 markets, ranging from Central and Eastern Europe, so Russia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, Poland, Czech and Romania, to Brazil, Spain, Portugal, France, the U.K., India, five other markets in Asia, Turkey and some small startups in China as well.

So, we have all different types of businesses. Some of our businesses are crafting-related businesses, or food-related; so very small and very focused on verticals. And then a couple of our markets are big companies with a wide range of service magazines; also luxury and fashion titles. Just a wide portfolio like we have in Germany.

Our Asian business is based on high net worth individuals. They’re data-based driven products that are aimed at multimillionaires and their individual experiences and individual products aimed and geared at that very high society.

So, because we try to be a media and tech company, we’re trying all of the time to move beyond magazines and we’ve moved beyond magazines into magazine media quite successfully. A lot of our brands are really working in a 360° way. We have a very strong event business; in some cases, some very strong digital platforms and apps and all kinds of different things.

Now we’re trying to move into the next phase where we’re having really strong digital platforms with transactional capabilities. We want to be the electrical current between the advertisers on the one hand and the consumers on the other hand. So, we want to be in that value chain and be the connecting wire, but taking money out of the value chain as we go along.

Samir Husni: How easy was the transformation from the legacy business, which was printing, to where you are today, the 360° way of conducting business?

IMG_9542 Frances Evans: I would say that the start was very difficult. Not many people really like change. You can’t always affect change with people who have been there for a long time, so yes, there was some changeover with the managers, but also in the way the managers were then briefed. So, a lot of change had to come from the top.

And there was a lot of training involved and discussion and communication involved. And best-practice changes involved as well. Not only was it quite hard-going, but it was also quite expensive to train everyone and to communicate on a regular basis how to do things; to get people together to see what other people were doing.

Eventually, we managed that quite successfully, especially with some of our vertical brands. With those titles like BurdaStyle magazine, a magazine that is our legacy brand and was launched by the mother of our company’s owner, Hubert Burda; the magazine is very close to his heart, so we have to take great care to do any changes in a very good way. And for him the most important thing with the brand is to make sure that it transitions into the future. Now, if we don’t do anything with the title, it won’t transition, so it’s clear that we have to do certain things and it’s also clear that not everything we do will work immediately. So, there’s a lot of tweaking and testing that goes on.

With a lot of the digital products that we’ve tried, or certain platforms that we’ve tried, they might work for a while, or maybe that don’t work and they need a bit of tweaking and testing and rearranging. And then you learn because you have new partnerships, so you bring new things to the table and that helps you to improve.

I think to answer the question; what we’ve done is a lot of collaboration and training; a lot of communication and there’s been quite a few exchanges of people in certain roles. That doesn’t mean they’ve left the company, but they’ve been moved out of maybe that innovation role and other people who have been more innovative have taken over naturally as well.

For some people and in some countries it was harder, but then in other countries, they’ve had no choice. In the Ukraine, where 90% of your advertising revenue disappears in months, weeks or days, then you’ve got no choice but to innovate really fast and try to find revenue streams wherever you can and that’s not necessarily going to be a classical advertising revenue and it’s also most probably not going to be in distribution revenue, so it’s events or it could be all kinds of different things, trunk sales for fashion clients or doing innovation days for clients and helping them to innovate, doing shopping events or entertainment events; just a host of different things.

Samir Husni: Can you recall that pivotal moment or that “aha” moment where you said it isn’t either/or, print or digital, but rather we have to be involved in all of it?

Frances Evans: The last two or three years have been a huge learning curve for all of us. The more we’ve done; the more we’ve seen what used to be those ancillary revenues grow and in some cases the magazine is the ancillary revenue and the other business is the revenue model and I think with some titles that’s happened.

I’d say the last two or three years we’ve been working very hard. We knew that it had to be done and there have been quite a few changes within our company and in how our company has been set up in those last few years. So, that’s what we’ve been pushing significantly and no we have a lot of proof cases so there’s no way out for people who aren’t doing it any longer. There are proof cases for everything in all of the verticals and in all of the segments and now it’s the case of just getting stuff done.

I’d say the last three years have been instrumental, but I’d also say for the last 18 months of that we’ve known exactly what to do. And then going forward, there will be other things that we’ll need to do because the speed of change isn’t going to slow down according to Moore’s Law. It’s only going to get faster and faster.

Actually, one of the things that we try to preach to everybody is the way that they work today is going to change, more than what they’re doing, but the way that they do their work. In 2010, 100% of someone’s time was print-focused. And we have a paragraph now when we’re training someone that reads they need to be spending 40% of their time on print, which means they’re going to have to let stuff go, so we talk about decluttering quite a bit. Letting go of old projects that might not be as important and not focusing on that high quality project that isn’t as beneficial to them as spending another 20% of their week on Instagram and social media would be, and developing ideas for online.

I also think a significant part of the time that we spend nowadays has to be on education and on how to develop you. If you don’t learn what’s going on in the market and you don’t learn about technology, data, analytics and conversions, you will become obsolete. So, an essential part of what we do today is educating ourselves.

Samir Husni: Why do you think the “smartest people on the face of the earth,” as journalists and media professionals have been described, took so long to realize this stage where we are now, that print and digital must both be utilized and work together in this day and age?

Frances Evans: It’s very simple actually. Media owners were used to making money with their eyes closed. And when you have your eyes closed, you don’t see change coming. You don’t see it because you’re not looking.

Samir Husni: That’s a great answer.

Frances Evans: I think that’s actually it.

Samir Husni: In that three to five year journey, what was the most pleasant moment that you experienced and what was the biggest stumbling block you had to face and how did you overcome it?

Frances Evans: There have been a couple of very pleasant moments. And they’ve all been emails. I had two emails this year from one particular editor of a brand and I’ve known her for a very long time. I spent a lot of time training her 10 years ago and she went off and went to work for another company, but now we’re back together again in way. I spent a long evening explaining to her pretty much what I’ve just explained to you, and if she wanted to not be obsolete that she would need to learn Google Analytics because it would help her to create better content for her title. It would help her to create better content for her online products too. And she needed to learn how to use Facebook marketing and how to use Google Trends; to use data to create content and to understand her readership better. And it would help her to know if what she was doing was working or not and she could tweak and test accordingly.

We had this discussion in Paris on a Wednesday night. She got back to her country on Friday and on Friday one week later, I got a message from her saying that she had just completed a Google Analytics, Google Trends and Facebook training and she’d also had her team to do it and how amazed she was by this data. And what it could do for her, so that was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Having these conversations and being able to explain to people that they can do things differently and then affecting change.

Then I received a follow-up email from her two weeks ago where she told me that she had increased her Facebook likes and shares over 10 times. The change was enormous. They’ve managed to increase the traffic on their website by spectacular amounts with no money. They’ve spent no money; they’ve just done what they have done very well. And they’ve been watching and learning and then applied it. And it worked. That I think probably is one of the best things that has happened to me.

Another one was I recently did a bunch of trainings for our team in Thailand and they liked it so much. They don’t all speak very good English, but the CEO thought it was so useful that she translated the entire training program into Thai and redid it herself a week later. And they sent me all of these photos, which was quite awesome because it was very unexpected that they would feel so grateful to have had that training.

Also, I was asked to set up some kind of content repository for those practices and I spoke to a trainee in the company about it and he said that I should use “Slack.” I told him that I had never heard of it, but he encouraged me to try it. He did a five minute presentation for me and I said OK, let’s use this; it’s free, so let’s give it a go.

Within two months I had 450 people from a 2,500-peopled company, of which I would guess a significant proportion do not speak English, but they’re on there and the number of messages is growing every week and the knowledge transfer is growing enormously and they now write to each other. I’m watching, so I can see it. They’re asking each other things like: has anyone tested this tool; has anybody tested that software and so they now have a platform, it’s significantly used by the digital team, but the publishers and the marketers and the salespeople exchange best practices or if they crack a new client with a certain, really cool idea, they share it. And the others pick it up and ask.

So, trying to change the company from a push mentality to a pull mentality has been incredibly difficult. But that tool has been quite successful in a very short period of time to do that. I personally find that quite successful. But I think it’s working because we can see best practices being put into place in sales, distribution, product and digital. And when you start seeing the speed of change then there has to be some money behind it. So, maybe this innovation will turn into money; we’ll see.

Samir Husni: And what has been the biggest stumbling block you’ve faced?

Frances Evans: People. (Laughs) People don’t like change, in general. Most people find change difficult. It’s normal and it’s human nature. You have to create an environment where change is a part of the fabric of the society you’re working in and as I said earlier; people were used to making money with their eyes closed. So, it’s not always that easy to persuade people to do something that they don’t know how to do. You need to review short-term conflicts and medium-term conflicts that might arise during an innovation process. In an innovation process there will always be conflicts; there will always be areas where people are uncomfortable.

Even dealing with that can create other conflicts, so it’s difficult. And it’s very challenging because it’s very stressful for a lot of people. Where there’s that much of a stress level ongoing, it can create a difficult environment, which can always be solved, but it just means that there’s a high level of pressure and you can feel it.

In the last three years, especially for us because we have a lot of business in Russia and Ukraine, which have been very difficult markets, we have business in Thailand which continuously every year something happens. When you just get back up on your feet, it happens again. Turkey is very similar as well. This year Malaysia has been a nightmare with the exchange rates. The exchange rates in Brazil have been a nightmare too. So, you can be doing everything right and the world can be against you. The exchange rates just are terrible and so whatever you’re doing, it’s working in local currency, but when you have to bring the money home, it doesn’t make for a pleasant story.

Samir Husni: From all of the countries that you work with; is there one that’s a favorite or a dear to your heart country or a favorite brand?

Frances Evans: No, not really. I like working with most of them actually. I have maybe a few brands that I work on more than others. We have four editions of Marie Claire and I like working with those guys, because Marie Claire is quite a difficult magazine. It’s not as easy to do as something like Cosmopolitan or maybe even Elle, because they’re very well-established brands. Marie Claire is also very well-established, but it has a much more journalistic approach to it. And it’s not always the number one brand on the market, so I like to work with those teams because they try really hard to innovate.

Recently, I’ve been doing a little bit more in Asia than I’ve done previously and that’s been quite a nice experience because they’re very grateful for the knowledge-sharing, so that’s been great. But I also have very high quality team of peer colleagues, so working in that team with a lot of incredibly intelligent people who are very dedicated and who are all fighting for the company. That’s actually a real honor to work with a group of people who are really dedicated and very good at what they do across the board.

I think the headquarter team that we have, the regional director and everyone else, is really a strong team and that’s really nice to have. Having colleagues that you can exchange with and who bring so much to the table that you can learn from them is terrific. And no one is very proprietary about information; everybody is open and we have a lot of discussions, and a lot of arguments as well, obviously, as you would, but everyone pushes together to propel the company forward whether it’s from exchanging their best practices or whether it’s giving people content for free because someone else’s country is having real problems and they need content. And that kind of thing is very unusual and I think that it defines the way that we work at BurdaInternational; it’s trial and error and collaboration.

We know what we need to do; we just don’t know how to get there, but nobody does. I don’t think anybody really knows the route, but we do know where we need to go and so we work together to get there. And we have a vision of what we want to achieve and we have the commitment from a shareholder and a group CEO to support us to do that.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Frances Evans: I think that a lot of the big international publishers have really great, amazing brands. And at Burda we actually license most of those brands. So we have a lot of inbound licensing as well. And we learn a lot from our partners. We’re very lucky because we do a lot of cool things, but we also learn from a lot of cool people too. And what we’ve done is built a really solid base in vertical and food publishing and garden publishing, those kinds of areas; crafting and things like that.

So, we’re not really a top of mind licensure; we’re not somebody you’d come running to for content, because it’s German. But what we’ve seen in the last couple of years is that people will come to us for many other things. What we’ve done in the past few years is get people to want to partner with us or collaborate with us and that’s something that’s very special about the company, because I think we’re seen as a very collaborative and good partner.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Frances Evans: I’m stubborn. (Laughs) I’m stubborn and I don’t give up. I really like magazine media. I’ve loved it forever. And I really want our brands to succeed and I believe that magazine media is an excellent platform to reach consumers because it’s trusted quality brands that they love and I like to be in that value chain. I used to work for an advertising agency. And I’d do projects; the client would like it; the client wouldn’t like it, and I liked that working with media. And working with magazines; people love what you’re giving to them. From a work perspective, I love the brands and I think that there’s a real reason for us to be there.

Now, we have to be there in many different ways than we were before. And that challenge and helping people to develop those platforms, I find incredibly challenging and very gratifying when it works.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Frances Evans: Planning my next diving holiday. (Laughs) I’m an avid diver and I spend hours researching dive sites and livable dive boats and where I’m going to find some hammerhead sharks. You have to have a nice balance and a couple of years ago I did my first professional qualification in diving, so if it all goes wrong with magazines I can always go and work as a dive master.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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