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Digital transformation: the Mediahuis approach

Digital transformation: the Mediahuis approach
How should a newspaper publisher change to remain relevant for digital news consumers? And what can you and your company learn from this? We spoke to Paul Verwilt of Mediahuis. The affable COO from Geel forgoes buzzwords such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things and Virtual Reality. With Mediahuis, he tries to provide real added value for customers. Find out how below.
Paul Verwilt - COO Mediahuis

Context: your core activity is under pressure

Our media use has increased by almost half since the arrival of Internet and especially since 2000: from 57 hours/week to 87 hours/week. Digital TV (33%), Internet (20%) and gaming (10%) make up the largest share, which is growing. Use of printed media has fallen to about 5% today. And that happens to be the core activity of Mediahuis.

Darwin: adapt your strategy

Instead of passively submitting to changes outside the company, Mediahuis looked at how it could best use the new digital possibilities. Because – Darwin for companies – it's not the fittest who survive but those who adapt the best to their environment.

To breathe new life into its strong brands (De Standaard, Het Nieuwsblad, Gazet van Antwerpen, Het Belang van Limburg, Jobat, Radio Nostalgie, Made in, etc.) a change in strategy was needed.

The strategy of Mediahuis is based on three pillars

  1. Upscaling
    For example, the Corelio-Concentra (2013) merger and international takeovers (see below) to join forces and avoid having to test the waters every time.
  2. Internationalization
    Takeovers in the Netherlands: NRC Media (2015) and Telegraaf Media Groep (2017).
  3. Investment in new markets
    Innovation and focus on other channels – radio, regional TV and (mobile) Internet – to increase the reach.

Transformation to execute the strategy

Digital transformation, according to Paul Verwilt:

  • Take a new approach to your core business
    From one newspaper per day to 24/7 news on many platforms, formats and interactively with the consumer.
    For example, device-optimized news: news articles adapted to the device you are using in terms of format and length (e.g. shorter articles on smartphones).

Nieuws op maat van de moderne consument, elk moment anders. Context is king.

  • Create new value in new markets
    For example: together with CityFashion, Mediahuis offers readers fashion and beauty tips, and local traders website development or a web shop for physical or digital purchases.

Cityfashion: inspiratie voor de consument, verkoop voor handelaars

  • Work differently in a digital organization
    Examples below.

It's not enough to adapt your strategy; you also have to start working differently – with people from other sectors, with other digital skills, and with pioneers who want to break new ground.

Working differently in a digital organization

Working differently means having to adapt your processes and structures. But how? By working on your organization, processes, and leadership.


  • Agility. To deliver things quickly. Try new things and learn from them, even if they don't work. Less control, more trust.
  • Governance. A clear framework in which people can work independently and in autonomous teams. But without a uniform structure, because this can differ per department.
  • Synergy or not. The company works in a uniform way, but not when this threatens the integrity of a brand or makes a big difference.
  • Startup mentality. Launch new initiatives separately for focus and speed. Co-creation with internal and external experts. As maturity increases, they can be further involved.
  • People. They make the difference. Dare to recruit people based on passion and culture fit, besides competencies. A high-flyer can often bring more added value than a couple of typical employees.


  • Data. In a digital world, you can know everything simply with statistics. Figures never lie. For example, Mediahuis has set up an online conversion center for the whole group. This allows teams to consult and share editorial, technological or commercial test results for all brands.
  • Process integration and automation. Less visible processes run in an automated way across all departments and also integrate with third parties. Transparent customer portals aimed at self-service and interaction.
  • Adjustments. The evolution towards a more digital organization also means continuously adapting and redrawing your processes. That's why technical people are needed in the service departments.



Digital is a mindset that embraces ambiguityMiddle and senior management must set a good example. "Digital is a mindset", says Paul Verwilt, "So we provide co-creation possibilities, both inside and outside the group, and ensure our talent is given an internal and external platform."

"Digital leadership is also about embracing ambiguity", says Paul Verwilt. This allows you to detect tensions between governance and agility. "Sometimes it's difficult to obtain the leadership you want from a single person", concludes Verwilt.