“The challenge now is not just to anticipate the future but to adapt to it”

interviews

“The challenge now is not just to anticipate the future but to adapt to it”

“The challenge now is not just to anticipate the future but to adapt to it”

Comments gathered by Alexandra Klinnik. Photos by Antoine Doyen
0

Since the year 2000, Thomas Karolak has devoted his career to bringing media publications into the digital age. Today, he is Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of Les Echos, France's biggest financial media group. For 18 months, he poured heart and soul into overhauling the group's website, an intense digital experience he shares with Story Jungle in this interview.

Four months ago, you launched the new Les Echos website. What were your goals and your guiding principles?

We are operating in what we call a VUCA world, a world full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. In such an environment, it is vital for us to position ourselves and firmly establish our status as a leading media player. Our number one priority is being a cutting-edge media organisation that constantly adapts to changing practices, helping our customers and readers in their own digital transformation.

To redesign the website, we analysed usage practices and consumption habits and came up with a list of 10 guiding principles. 

The first was to focus on the idea of routine, because people's long-term reading practices are shaped by the habits they form over time and the experiences they have along the way. We reviewed our editorial offering, introducing new regular features, more engaging newsletters, and exclusive news reserved for premium subscribers.
«People's long-term reading practices are shaped by the habits they form over time and the experiences they have along the way»
Our second guiding principle was based on the following observation: our homepages are our first point of contact with our readership, but, unlike our articles, these pages did not engage the reader. We therefore decided to move away from a click-oriented mentality and focus instead on keeping the reader's attention. That meant offering content-rich homepages with real editorial substance, rather than simple catalogues of content. 

Our second guiding principle was based on the following observation: our homepages are our first point of contact with our readership, but, unlike our articles, these pages did not engage the reader. We therefore decided to move away from a click-oriented mentality and focus instead on keeping the reader's attention. That meant offering content-rich homepages with real editorial substance, rather than simple catalogues of content. 

Newsletters are often a separate experience from the rest of the site. Since the overhaul, we now not only send out our newsletters by email in the traditional fashion, but also offer our readers daily newsletters on our homepage. We do all we can to make sure the user can cut to the chase, save time, and find what they are looking for as easily as possible.
«Today, value lies not in quantity but in quality»

What metrics did you have in mind?

We were looking to create engagement through two experiences. The first was aimed at leads, based on the advertising model, while the second targeted existing subscribers, providing them with a premium environment with fewer ads and optimal reading comfort. Nowadays, the emphasis needs to be placed on functionalities and the reader experience. No one is prepared to pay for extra articles: the idea is to get readers onboard with an experience and work on the way we use our brand through a new, customised offer.

Four months after the new site was launched, feedback has been very pleasing: engagement has been achieved through the experiences offered to both leads and existing subscribers. We have made huge progress in our visibility – a statistic to which advertisers and advertising agencies pay great attention – and have grown our print capacity. As far as the subscriber experience goes, we have increased the number of pages viewed, time spent on the site, and click-through from one section to another.
Thomas Karolak
 
 
HIS LIFE PHILOSOPHY

What is your mantra?

(attributed to Seneca, though there is no evidence he actually said it): "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass...It's about learning to dance in the rain."

Who is your guru?

I tend to be more of a believer in the idea that certain people inspire you at certain points in your life. At the moment, for instance, I really admire Karl Lagerfeld, who I see as the epitome of high standards, perfectionism and humour. He had that ability to look at his own work with an objective eye, and his creativity was simply stunning.

How do you keep your chakras balanced?

Lots of music, lots of exercise, and quality time with my family.

Do you have any particular goal as regards revenue breakdown?

We are lucky enough to be a media organisation with three revenue streams, which is rare in France. We use the advertising model, the subscription model and diversification activities. 

We are very active in pursuing external growth and in developing service activities alongside our media business. That diversification has seen us acquire a number of companies, such as Netexplo, Pelham and Binge Audio, and co-organise events such as VivaTech (with Publicis) and Médias en Seine (with Franceinfo). 

The challenge now is not just to anticipate the future, but to adapt to it. On the advertising front, we continue to integrate new advertising formats in the lead experience – from MRECS, to covers, to wallpaper arches. The idea is to offer brands advertising space in the most appropriate places, and we are increasingly developing special operations and new podcasts and video content to help us meet that need. 

Subscriptions-wise, redesigning the site has propelled us over the 50,000-subscriber mark for the Les Echos brand. Digital subscribers outnumbered print subscribers in 2018.
Redesigning your site means offering new formats. One new format you have launched on the Les Echos website is the La Story podcast. What else do you have in store?Editorially speaking, nothing is off the table. We prefer long-form journalism that explores issues in depth, be it through videos or detailed graphics. People often say Brut has revolutionised video content on social media. They certainly have impressive viewing figures, but I don't know what their business model is. In today's fast-changing world, readers need things explained to them clearly. At Les Echos, we are committed to formats that explain the facts to our readers.

What is your relationship with social media? Are you friends or foes?

Neither. We are in "coopetition": cooperation and competition. In today's world, we can't do without GAFA, economically or in terms of usage practices. The advertising market is dominated by GAFA, but it's also important to cultivate your own ecosystem. We need to find more of a balance. These days, our media experience is less about the other media outlets we are competing with and more about our interaction with these new market players and platforms. It is clear that we cannot do without them.

And finally, what do you read, and where do you get your news?

Les Echos, of course, The Innovator (another of the group's brands), but also a lot of Medium, AOC Media, ADN, Siècle Digital, and tech articles or blogs I might come across on Twitter and Linkedin. And TedX videos for a little inspiration.


bio
Thomas Karolak,
Chief Digital Officer, Les Echos group
Thomas Karolak
Thomas Karolak began his career at French TV broadcaster M6 in 2000, helping launch the channel’s web subsidiary and leading its first forays into digital diversification, as a project manager and then a product manager. After working for TF1 subsidiary TJM in 2007 as Head of Content, he joined Vivendi as Marketing Director of the subsidiary Vivendi Mobile Entertainment, where he remained from 2008 to 2011. He then returned to TF1 to develop the MYTF1 brand on mobiles, tablets, IPTV and connected TV. From 2013 to 2017, he worked for RTL Group, taking charge of the digital transformation of the RTL, RTL2 and Fun Radio brands as CEO of the RTLnet subsidiary. He has been Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of the Les Echos group since 2017, sitting on the management committee and leading a 70-strong team.
On the same subjects

“Print is a niche medium for older people. Like Twitch or TikTok, but for retirees”

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has published its annual Digital News Report and the good news is that 44% of respondents believe they trust the media,...

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has published its annual Digital News Report and the good news is that 44% of respondents believe they trust the media, six points more than last year. Based on a panel of 46 countries, the 164-page study examines the relationship between the media and consumers. We discussed the main points of the Digital News Report with two of the study's authors: Rasmus Nielsen, Director of the Reuters Institute and Nic Newman, Senior Research Associate at the Reuters Institute.

“Content quality will be a distinguishing factor in the long term”

Today, 37% of B2B decision-makers have already bought a product or service after finding out about it through content on social media. In three out of four cases,...

Today, 37% of B2B decision-makers have already bought a product or service after finding out about it through content on social media. In three out of four cases, the person wasn't in contact with the company before seeing the content. This is just one of the findings of the third edition of the Social Selling Barometer published in July. The study, which involved surveying 650 B2B professionals in France between February and March 2020, was carried out by La Poste Solutions Business and the agency Intuiti's UserLab. Story Jungle discussed social selling in the digital era with one of the Barometer's contributors: Franck Chenet of Antalis.

Women who are defying time, on LeMonde.fr

In 2012, for the release of the "Forever Youth Liberator" anti-aging skin care line, the Saint Laurent Paris brand wanted to develop an original media platform around the fight...

In 2012, for the release of the "Forever Youth Liberator" anti-aging skin care line, the Saint Laurent Paris brand wanted to develop an original media platform around the fight against time.

An elegant touch, with Cartier

Two platforms dedicated to elegance for the release of the "Clé de Cartier" watch, illustrated by Florence Brossard.

Two platforms dedicated to elegance for the release of the "Clé de Cartier" watch, illustrated by Florence Brossard.

“People are just really exhausted by Twitter and so Discord offers a slightly more intimate way to socialize online”

According to Forbes, it's "the most original media experience of the year." Led by Casey Newton, eight freelance tech journalists have launched their own virtual newsroom on Discord...

According to Forbes, it's "the most original media experience of the year." Led by Casey Newton, eight freelance tech journalists have launched their own virtual newsroom on Discord, an audio-based platform popular with gamers, whose use has diversified with the pandemic. Entitled Sidechannel, the Discord server is an embryonic newsroom. On the app, subscribers can chat with each other, attend live exclusive interviews. This improved Slack was launched in parallel with the paid newsletters of each of the creators. Ryan Broderick, a journalist specializing in web culture and the head of Sidechannel, talks to us about the origin of the project.

“The audience is seeing the evidence for themselves”

Every single one of their investigations is a sensation. The New York Times' Visual Investigations team specializes in fact-checking using open source data available on the Web...

Every single one of their investigations is a sensation. The New York Times' Visual Investigations team specializes in fact-checking using open source data available on the Web. Created in 2017, the team has already won a Pulitzer Prize in 2020. Malachy Brown, Senior Producer of Visual Investigations at the NYT, gave Story Jungle a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how their investigations are put together and some good advice for anyone keen to get into visual investigations themselves.

Where has all the creativity in B2B gone?

Why is B2B marketing so flat and lacking in creativity? That was the question we asked Jon Lombardo, Global Lead at the LinkedIn B2B Institute. We chatted about how to resuscitate...

Why is B2B marketing so flat and lacking in creativity? That was the question we asked Jon Lombardo, Global Lead at the LinkedIn B2B Institute. We chatted about how to resuscitate B2B marketing, how to put creativity back into the heart of content, which brands are succeeding and why it's so important not to fear failure.

“Amid the current situation, it’s about adopting a humble communication style”

How do you communicate amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic when you're a large multinational such as Renault? What impact has the crisis had on the communications approach?...

How do you communicate amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic when you're a large multinational such as Renault? What impact has the crisis had on the communications approach? What channels do you favour to connect with a young audience that wants "snackable content"? These are the questions we asked Emmanuel Guinot, Head of Campaigns, Content

Le Monde newspaper has turned to TikTok: and it works!

"The news in a basic, simple form, and with music". Since 15 June 2020, Le Monde newspaper has been active on TikTok, the most downloaded application of 2019,...

"The news in a basic, simple form, and with music". Since 15 June 2020, Le Monde newspaper has been active on TikTok, the most downloaded application of 2019, with informative and fun videos. It's a channel that is being used to reach a new audience, Generation Z, who often don't know this venerable daily newspaper.

“Sharing informative content is a first step”

Brands have been positioning themselves behind the Black Lives Matter movement for days now. Many of them participated in "Blackout Tuesday" by blacking out their social media...

Brands have been positioning themselves behind the Black Lives Matter movement for days now. Many of them participated in "Blackout Tuesday" by blacking out their social media account pages with black squares in a sign of solidarity with the protesters. Sincerity or opportunism? Stéphanie Laporte, Director of social media agency OTTA, shares her views.

close
{POPUP_CONTENT}