When Orkla Media took over Det Berlingske Officin (Berlingske) in December last year, the Danish media group was able to present a clear strategic plan. In the course of three years, Berlingske intends to double its earnings without compromising editorial quality. Are the Danes finding inspiration in their new owners?
Joachim Malling, Group CEO of Berlingske answers a resounding "Yes!"
"Cooperation with Orkla Media gives us greater strength. We have common problems and have quickly entered into constructive dialogue. We feel welcome at Orkla and hope that Orkla feels welcome at Berlingske," emphasises Mr Malling.
Contrary to Berlingske's expectations, Orkla Media's takeover of the Danish media group has not led to heated debate in Denmark.
"This shows that the publishing tradition is more important than the nationality of our shareholders. Only Politiken has referred to us as 'the Norwegian newspaper that is published in Danish' - but I regard that as a humorous comment," smiles Mr Malling.
In the current strategic period, Berlingske is focusing mainly on turning around negative circulation growth for the tabloid newspaper
B. T., improving operations at the regional newspaper Århus Stiftstidende, developing and rationalising the printing plants and making the group's online services profitable.
To achieve its goal of doubling earnings, Berlingske has demerged Berlingske Tidende, the tabloid newspaper B. T., the weekly newspaper Weekendavisen and the printing plant Avedøre Avistrykk and made them independent limited companies. Employees will have stronger ties to their own company and attention will be focused on individual products. In this respect, Berlingske has been inspired by Orkla's branded product approach.
"We intend to utilise our brands better. No branded product is greater than an editorial brand. As a publisher, you 'own' your readers' mind space in a unique manner. Herring and newspapers are totally different types of branded products, but the basic thinking is the same. Orkla has a great deal to contribute to us in this area," says Mr Malling.
As regards the development of production and distribution systems, Mr Malling believes Berlingske has a great deal to gain from cooperating with its competitors.
"Moreover, this sector should join forces for the future in radio and television and on the Internet. We have the necessary general core expertise to run radio and television. We have a sensible editorial mix that can be combined with advertising. We don't necessarily need to own the whole production apparatus; we can, for example, commission programme production. We must have the ability to distinguish between two worlds," says Mr Malling.
Berlingske came late to the Internet in comparison with its competitors and the market in general, but has now entered the scene. At the same time, the market has stagnated.
"We still regard Internet services as an integral part of our vision for the future. The trend is towards fewer activities that are utilised commercially to a greater extent. We want to create a sound balance in our Internet activities so that we will earn money," says Mr. Malling.
How can Orkla Media influence developments at Berlingske? Joachim Malling believes that the Norwegian media group can bring new attitudes to Berlingske. The Danes want to establish an operational culture in order to improve productivity and the utilisation of capital.
"Orkla Media has great traditions of being able to handle such challenges. From an editorial point of view, I don't believe we have much to learn from, or contribute to Norwegian local newspapers, for example. But closer cooperation with the Polish newspaper Rzesczpospolita is one of the possibilities," says Mr Malling.
Peter Wivel, Editor-in-Chief of Berlingske Tidende chimes in. "A delegation from Rzeczpospolita has already visited us to establish cooperation," he informs us.
The main challenge for Berlingske Tidende is to earn money while maintaining the newspaper's editorial and technical quality. "We are already achieving Orkla's profit target, but we also want to ensure future earnings. The advertising market is changing, so we must adapt our product and find new markets," says Mr Wivel.
Berlingske Tidende has been a limited company since the beginning of the year, and this will change the forms of cooperation in this traditional newspaper. "We must learn to cooperate in a new way. The advertising department and the editorial staff must work together more closely, and this break with tradition has been difficult for some people."
Peter Wivel finds it exciting to be owned by Orkla Media. "I am pleased that a major Norwegian group has realised that Berlingske is good business. Orkla Media will help to professionalise our operations."
"So far, we have not noticed any significant difference since Orkla Media came on the scene, but it will be interesting to see what kind of signals we receive if things get tougher on a declining newspaper market," says Marianne Bom, who represents all the employees at Berlingske Tidende, Weekendavisen and Scanpix/Nordfoto.
Ms Bom praises both the management and the employee representatives at Orkla media for the way they have been received and tells us that cooperation with employee representatives in Norway is well under way. She is critical of the restructuring process at Berlingske.
"Unfortunately, we have not been adequately included in the decision-making processes in connection with the restructuring. We regret that the management has given us too little information during the process," says Ms Bom.
Berlingske Cross Media
Innovative thinking on content
Synergy is the key word for the new business area Berlingske Cross Media. The basic philosophy is to improve the utilisation and re-use of Berlingske Tidende's editorial know-how and sell it to internal and external customers.
"We have divided our editorial operations into the basic newspaper, which comprises politics, domestic affairs, foreign affairs, business, culture and sport, and other activities, such as weekly lifestyle sections, Internet activities, archives and a research unit," says Editor Søren Østergaard Sørensen.
Berlingske Cross Media will concentrate on niche areas and target new media and other channels.
"Berlingske Tidende is a strong brand that can be further developed. We shall have to have several legs to stand on and consider new possibilities. In twenty years' time, Berlingske Tidende may no longer exist in its present form. But the basic concepts of quality, seriousness and credibility will survive. In future, everyone may be his own editor. We do not have a patent on the dissemination of information, but we are good at processing information," says Mr Sørensen.
This commercial approach was apparently difficult for some journalists to swallow. However, Mr Sørensen believes that the newspaper's new financial objectives may strengthen the creativity of staff.
"I also find that this way of thinking has received a boost since Orkla Media took over," concludes Søren Sørensen.
The tabloid newspaper B.T. - a guide in daily life
The tabloid newspaper B. T. has been experiencing declining circulation for several years, but seems to have managed to turn the trend around this spring. "We now particularly target women and younger readers. The content must be action-oriented and concentrated. We want to guide our readers in their daily lives," says Editor Nina Vedel-Petersen of B. T.
"For the first time in ten years, we are bigger than EkstraBladet!" rejoices Editor-in-Chief Kristian Lund.
This year, for the first time, B. T. readers can have their newspaper delivered before breakfast. Moreover, subscribers with a special pass can pick up the next morning edition in the kiosk - free of charge. This edition contains updated news and sports results.
"We aim to always be first with the news, especially on the Internet. After all, we do register 1.5 million hits a week," emphasises Mr Lund.
According to Nina Vedel-Petersen and Kristian Lund, since the transition to a limited company, newspaper staff have a stronger team spirit.
"Staff work more wholeheartedly on their own product. And now we're doing so well that we'll have to employ more journalists," Mr Lund points out with a broad smile.
None like it
Weekendavisen has found its niche on the newspaper market: a weekly newspaper for readers who miss background material on European politics, literature and culture. Weekendavisen has been growing steadily for ten years and its readers are highly educated persons in a variety of age-groups.
"We have a majority of female readers, so we usually say that we write for politicians' wives," smiles Foreign Affairs Editor Martin Krasnik of Weekendavisen.
The weekly newspaper has retained its original three-part concept, which comprises books, politics and culture. The journalists write about the things that interest them and allow their own opinions and attitudes to colour their articles.
"Our newspaper is quite unique and it is only in recent years that other newspapers have introduced a similar focus on background and analysis. This has naturally increased the competition," says Mr Krasnik.
Det Berlingske Officin
- owns Berlingske Tidende, the tabloid newspaper B.T. and the weekly newspaper Weekendavisen
- owns interests in a number of regional and local newspapers
- owns five rotary presses
- is the main shareholder in Metropol Online
- owns a majority of shares in Scanpix Danmark
- has annual operating revenues totalling DKK 3 billion
- employs staff equivalent to 3741 man-years
- 1749 On 3 January, court book printer E. H. Berling publishes Kiøbenhavnske Danske Post Tidender.
- 1778 Elisabeth Berling takes over management of the newspaper. The expression "Auntie Berling" is said to derive from her twenty-year reign at the newspaper.
- 1859 Berlingske Tidende is given its present format.
- 1916 The first edition of the tabloid newspaper B. T. hits the streets.
- 1971 Berlingske Aftenavis is renamed Weekendavisen.
- 1991 De Jydske Tidende and Vestkysten merge to become Jydske Vestkysten.
- 1994 De Bergske Blade are acquired in cooperation with the three Stiftstidender.
- 1999 Berlingske acquires an interest in Århus Stiftstidende.
- 2000 Orkla Media acquires Det Berlingske Officin.