Invest in Talent, Think Global, Target New Generations

Invest in Talent, Think Global, Target New Generations

By Louis Dreyfus,
CEO of Group Le Monde,

Upon facing the momentous task of writing this piece, most media executives have probably, like me, wondered if our strategies still deserved to be highlighted at a time when most of our targets have been hindered by the ongoing global health crisis. Surprisingly enough, 1 would say YES! Odd though it may seem, the current crisis reinforces some essential connections that I would like to share with you, as well as a few statistics related to Le Monde:

•    Over the years, and more than ever in this period of exceptional crisis, readers have shown a tremendous appetite for rigorous, unique, quality news. This strong appetite isn’t going anywhere. Between June 2015 and June 2020, paid circulation for Le Monde has surged by 51 percent. And during the lockdown period, Le Monde broke a historic record with a 30 percent increase in our digital audience, while tripling the growth of our digital subscription portfolio, and even our newsstand sales went up.

•    What is “rigorous and quality news”? Along with our shareholders Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse, we strongly believe that quality news can be defined by the independence of the journalists producing content, as well as by the strength of the relationship between the reader and the media outlet. Without trust, we will not keep our readers, and they will not pay for content. That’s a timeless principle that we all must keep in mind.

As Sylvie Kauffmann, our previous executive editor, put it: “A newspaper that can’t be independent is not a good newspaper.” Finding Le Monde once again at the top of the ranks among French media in this area in the 2019 Reuters Institute report is a source of pride and reassurance for our entire team.

This article appeared in the 2020 special edition of the The Innovation in News Media World Report. Get your copy of the report today.

•    Over the last few years, and thanks to the growing success of the likes of Amazon Prime, Netflix and Spotify, people have shown a surprising capacity to subscribe to content providers, as long as they can be guaranteed exclusive and quality content. In this context, and for the first time in the last twenty years, targeting higher circulation revenues from our readers has become a possibility, even as a legacy media company. In 2020, Le Monde’s digital subscription revenues will be higher than our advertising revenues for die very’ first time. This will strengthen our business model and gives us more reasons to invest in satisfying the demands of our readership.

•    As strong as this growth might be, it would be pointless to try to recruit a significant volume of digital subscribers without a major investment in talent. In the past decade, Le Monde has increased its number of on-staff journalists by more than 50%. We strongly believe that this investment is at the heart of Le Monde’s current momentum. And thanks to this major investment financed by its shareholders, Le Monde Group has been profitable over the last five years, after a decade of losses.

•    To invest in talent doesn’t just mean increasing the payroll but also building a better working environment for our staff. In that respect, I must emphasise the necessity of absolute coherence between the values promoted by top management and the issues raised by editorial staff. For us at Le Monde, closing the salary and career gaps between women and men within our staff was one of our top priorities. Our next priority is to seek greater ethnic diversity among the journalists we recruit. We believe that these efforts should not only be a matter for human resources but are, above all, a way to build a better working environment, and retain our top talent. Our new headquarters, recently built in central Paris, is another example of our efforts to provide the best possible environment for our staff.

Investing in talent gives you the resources necessary for your editorial staff to spend more time on their stories and to produce excellent journalism, including high-quality long-form pieces.

•    Investing in talent gives you the resources necessary for your editorial staff to spend more time on their stories and to produce excellent journalism, including high-quality long-form pieces. Such formats help you build your identity and are highly valued by the audience. For example, last year twelve Le Monde staff journalists worked full time on investigating what we called in French “les feminicides” that occurred in France: the murders of women by their spouses or exes. This inquiry’, focused on the 120 murders that took place during 2018, was made into a documentary and provided many stories in print and digital during that year. Access to additional talent also gives publishers the capacity to develop specific areas of expertise and, if need be, content verticals that can be monetised among niche audiences.

•    When we imagine the future of our industry, we must keep our attention and focus on the formats and new platforms that attract the daughters and sons – or the granddaughters and grandsons – of our traditional audience. Le Monde’s efforts with Snapchat Discover over the past two years significantly contributed to building a younger audience with more than 4 million subscribers (most of them teenagers) to our daily7 Discover edition. We hope that our current experience with TikTok will do the same, as well as our initiatives with podcasts. And for each of these projects with new media formats attracting new generations, we will make sure to respect Le Monde’s high editorial standards.

If at Le Monde we have promoted an ambitious strategy of investment, I will conclude by underlining some warnings:

•    This growth in fixed editorial costs will not have a positive impact on our business model if we can’t expand our international audience. At Le Monde, we have invested heavily over the last five years in our coverage of Africa, through Le Monde Afrique, to become the first independent French-language media outlet on the African continent Growing our audience beyond our traditional boundaries is key,

•    We must invest in talent; we must invest in technology; we must get to know our audiences better. But we must also learn, over time, to be more frugal with regards to the rest of our cost structure. If the reader cannot benefit directly from an investment, that investment is not worth it

•    Lastly, 1 strongly believe that part of our future success lies in our will and our capacity to form international alliances with significant resources to cover topics that are relevant in each of our territories at a global level. I see most of our media counterparts abroad more as potential partners than as competitors.

Those are the connections we are using to prepare our group for the coming decades. A few years ago, our executive editor Jerome Fenoglio and I set a goal of reaching one million subscribers by 2025. This goal to be one of a handful of trusted independent sources of new s in the world is reachable. It demands ambition, rigour, talent and investments, but under those conditions I don’t see any reason not to be optimistic for Le Monde, and for our industry Let’s rock! •