By Franziska Kayser Jun 23, 2021

Axel Springer has transformed from a traditional print media company to Europe’s leading digital publisher with more than 16,000 employees globally. Since investing in 2019, we’ve worked closely with Dr. Stephanie Caspar, President of Classifieds Media at Axel Springer and her team. We spoke to her about the media company of the future, technology trends in the sector, and what her priority areas are in the year ahead.

What does the future of media look like? What is it about the business model of the media company of the future that interests you?

Media is one of the most fascinating products because it has such a great impact on the way people live their lives and on society. It can also make use of technological innovation in a very profound way. It’s not only the distribution of content. But we can now merge, video, audio, text, and interactive things all together into a completely new product. This is something that really fascinates me.

What I also find interesting is understanding how media consumption and preferences change, and the role technological adoption plays in that. Often, companies are too early in integrating new technologies into the user experience and the product. You see, for example, virtual reality being deployed, but few consumers are yet to use it because they still really like to do things the way they are used to. The media company of the future therefore needs to focus on customer-centricity and understand what fits their demands best at that moment in time.

Finally, many of the media companies made one big mistake early on in the Internet era by giving their services away for free and instead focusing on collecting as many views and clicks as possible. Many companies have since moved away from this model. I'm a firm believer in investing in good journalists and reporters – that’s what makes a brand unique and relevant. Consumers need to connect with content. Media companies will only be able to gain more readers through quality content, and grow their advertising and subscription businesses.

What areas of the business are you most focused on and what are you most excited about in the coming year?

With our new partners and the new shareholder structure, we have a more mid to long-term view on the business and a new strategy in place. We are now focused on executing it, investing in the things that will make a difference along the way: technology and data, brand and performance marketing, and getting the right talent for our teams.

From a product perspective – both in the area of jobs and real estate classifieds – we strive to better support the users in making the right decisions for themselves through technology. Whether it’s providing users with more data to support their career decisions, more listings, or more offerings, we want to create a better overall user experience driven by the needs of the consumer to make sure we’re creating a brand they love.

I’m also particularly interested in attracting and retaining the best possible people to form high performing teams. I challenge them, but also give them the support and the confidence to ensure we have positive energy and momentum in our organisation. I spend a lot of my time analysing why a team is successful or not – and how it can be improved.

What has KKR brought to the relationship with Axel Springer?

When we were developing our new corporate strategy, we got a lot of great feedback from the KKR team. They have an impressive network of experts who challenged us to develop the best possible output. The final strategy was better as a result.

The pandemic has been a huge stress test for Axel Springer as it led to the largest economic crisis I have seen. We spent a lot of time together thinking through all the different scenarios the pandemic could create and how they could play out. I am extremely glad that KKR supported our decision to take a differentiated asset-by-asset approach so that we could continue to invest in some businesses while cutting costs and minimizing risks in others. We continued, for example, to invest into our paid content business, which ended up really taking off. We similarly doubled down on our Live and video capabilities. Reflecting on our overall results in 2020 and our position now, I think we did a very good job in managing through the crisis.

Despite the challenges and while not seeing each other in person, the pandemic has brought Axel Springer and KKR closer together. We have ambitious goals and it's great to have a shareholder on board that challenges us productively.

What is the one piece of technology that has been most impactful in your life?

The one that I anticipate will impact my life the most is the mRNA coronavirus vaccine. Not only the speed with which it was developed is impressive, but also because I hope the technology that underpins it could possibly be a cure or preventative measure for cancer. Aside from that it is probably the combination of high computing power and the smart phone which influences many aspects of my life. My lifestyle is digital.