Merger with signal effect – alfa Media draws a first balance

In an exclusive interview with the PreMedia newsletter, CEO Jens Emmerich (right) and Head of Sales Rainer Lang describe how they see the first phase of the red.web takeover and what other plans they have up their sleeves.

Last October, alfa Media Partner GmbH dropped a bombshell at the World Publishing Expo in Vienna when it announced it would be taking over the system supplier red.web from Koblenz. With this move, alfa Media is expanding its already formidable software portfolio with additional modern products for editorial staff, while simultaneously enlarging its workforce by 20 motivated and mostly young members of staff. Since 1 January, i.e. for more than 100 days now, the two companies have officially been one – the perfect occasion for the PreMedia Newsletter to talk to two of the key players from Rödermark. This interview first appeared in the 5/2017 edition of the PreMedia newsletter. We are also publishing it on our website with the kind permission of the magazine.

PreMedia newsletter (PMN): It’s now been 100 days since alfa Media Partner GmbH in Rödermark took over red.web, previously part of the Mittelrhein Verlag publishing business division in Koblenz. Mr Emmerich, Mr Lang, are both parties now one entity?
Jens Emmerich: It would be presumptuous to tell you and your readers that all our processes in Rödermark and Koblenz are already 100 percent integrated and that we have fully coalesced with one another. However, I can say with absolute conviction that we are well on course. Our teams in Rödermark and Koblenz, as well as our other colleagues at our Kiel and Munich offices, all share a very, very similar mentality and follow the same philosophy about how software should be designed for modern publishing and media houses today.
Rainer Lang: I can only concur with my colleague – something is happening, we have succeeded in creating a great sense of excitement about the future. One indicator of this is the company event we held in March, when we invited all our staff from every location to visit us in Rödermark. The atmosphere was fantastic, the chemistry was just right. After all, that’s what’s really important – that colleagues see eye to eye with one another, that they can talk openly, express constructive criticism and work together to roll out innovative new ideas.

PMN: Innovative ideas? With all due respect, that sounds a little bit like advertising jargon. Could you give us an example?
Jens Emmerich: I can give you several. For example, we recently launched a new product called alfa Skills across multiple locations and in a very short time. This module allows us to offer new methods of verbal interaction and gives our clients the opportunity to contribute to the technological advancement of Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa. With our alfa Bazaar app, we have created a completely intuitive approach to booking classified ads digitally, quickly and easily and to thereby win new advertisers. The issue of ‘automated journalism’ is also very important to us and has long moved beyond the designer’s drawing board. Here, too, we are already able to offer our clients considerable benefits.
Rainer Lang: There is a huge amount of interest in these new products and new features. In addition to this, our existing alfa clients have also shown a very high level of interest in the editing software from Koblenz. Former red.web clients, on the other hand, have been asking about our advertising solutions from Rödermark, for example. We are now able to offer an even closer integration of our products. For many clients, just using the planning components alone can result in the heightened streamlining of their workflows, which of course goes hand in hand with further improving operating efficiency.

PMN: When we visit other publishing and media houses, it’s very clear that the entire industry has its eyes on Rödermark and Koblenz. Do you feel a lot of pressure?
Jens Emmerich: We are certainly aware that there are a lot of people watching what we do. It’s obvious that we have to deliver. But that’s been true ever since the company was first founded 35 years ago. We certainly can’t allow ourselves to rest on our laurels. We have to stay open to new ideas and the latest technologies. And this is exactly what we have in common with our clients. In this respect, too, the takeover of red.web has again shown that we want to continue being drivers of innovation. All in all, I would describe this kind of pressure as a healthy pressure, not a burden. This is also reflected by the feedback that we have received from our clients. The majority of them congratulated us on the takeover and said they were looking forward to the new developments.
Rainer Lang: From the very beginning, we’ve said that the red.web takeover is a commitment, a pledge to the industry. We are investing in making our company future-proof, but we’re also investing in our clients’ futures too. This is something that both current and prospective clients rely on. This can be seen in their feedback, which further reaffirms the course we have taken.

PMN: But surely it must still be difficult to find a launching customer who wants to be the first to back your company’s changed product portfolio?
Jens Emmerich: Fortunately for us, the Mindener Tageblatt showed an interest very early on. Anyone who knows this daily paper, with its editor-in-chief Christoph Pepper and his editorial team, will know that this is a very innovative and modern publishing house. By the time your readers have this interview in their hands, the official starting shot for the project will already have been fired. Initial preparations for the changeover are already running at full speed.

PMN: Relatively soon after announcing the merger, you explained that the main focus in Rödermark from now on would very clearly be on advertising issues, while Koblenz would be reinforced as the main site for editorial software. Ergo, the editorial software known as red.web is also to be rolled out to other clients who have previously been using the alfa products NewsSuite and MediaSuite. A provocative question – should those who have been using what was alfa software be worried that their products will no longer be developed?
Jens Emmerich: Our client base has, of course, already asked us this question. We have promised them that there is no need to be worried at all. Current, in-service solutions will continue to be supported. And this also means that we will implement new features. However, we will no longer be making any major, conceptual changes to these modules and will instead be concentrating on the modules from Koblenz.
Rainer Lang: It’s also important to mention that we are going to carry over much-cherished features that are not to be included in the modules from Koblenz. We regularly hold internal concept comparisons for this very purpose and have already met with clients for initial workshops.

PMN: Let’s talk about clients. It wasn’t exactly easy to set a date for this interview since you are both – understandably – very busy at the moment visiting clients and prospective buyers to explain your current status and the strategic roadmap for the merger in face-to-face meetings. Will you also be doing this on a larger scale, such as within the context of a client’s open day?
Rainer Lang: That’s exactly what we’re planning on doing. We’ve already booked the location and the first speakers. We would like to invite all our clients to a special open day in Niederrad in Frankfurt on 27 June. This will provide an excellent opportunity to present our current status and our roadmap for the merger to a larger audience. In doing so, we also want to look at the bigger picture so that we can remain receptive to external impetus.

PMN: It’s time to spill the beans – what other plans do you have up your sleeves in Rödermark, Koblenz, Kiel and Munich?
Jens Emmerich: Well, we don’t want to give too much away, of course. But, yes, we plan on extending the benefits of our ‘Virtual Newsroom’ for editorial teams; this will allow us to compete with other software vendors who might not even have us on their radar as market players in their field. We are going to really push the development of new app and e-paper products and offer complete systems as ‘software as a service’ solutions. It’s going to be an exciting time and we’re really looking forward to it.

PMN: Let’s look to the future. Imagine that we meet again in exactly a year’s time – what do you think, how will you evaluate the merger between alfa Media and red.web in a year?
Jens Emmerich: Of course, we can’t just look into a crystal ball. However, I’m completely certain that the merger was the right way to go. As for the situation in a year’s time, this is what I think: We just spoke about the Mindener Tageblatt a few minutes ago. By then, the publishing house in East Westphalia will have been successfully working with the new software constellation for several months already. I’m sure about that. Other publishing houses will have completed the changeover or be in the middle of the changeover process. And I can confidently say that new clients will also be working happily with our solutions.

PMN: Thank you very much for this informative discussion. We would like to wish you and all your colleagues the best of luck for the future!

This interview was conducted by Karl Malik for the PreMedia newsletter.