Sunday, January 21, 2007

DLD Munich - my presumption was wrong

DLD is an annual invitation-only event organized by the Burda group in Munich, a day or so before DAVOS. When I discovered that Burda is a 103-year-old family-owned German company run by a 66-year-old man who is the grandson of the founder, the gut reaction was to dismiss the corporation as a dinosaur. That reaction turns out to be wrong. Burda turns out to be a huge publishing operation. They publish 250 magazines worldwide, many of them being fashion and lifestyle titles. Revenue is around 1.1 billion Euro and around 7000 staff members. Hubert Burda Media is also the largest magazine publisher in Russia and one of the biggest in Eastern Europe and Turkey.

That makes them big enough to organize a pretty impressive party, namely the DLD-Conference in mid January. I think the strategy is brilliant. Why spend money sending people to conferences all over the world to plan your next moves in new media? Instead, throw a 2 day celebration of the future - create scarcity by making it invitation only - and at the same time invite the world's movers and shakers to inspire top managers inside your company. Get Google, BMW, Lufthansa and some venture capitalists to sponsor.

Hubert Burda is quite a character. He bursts into song on stage and peppers conversations with references to classical music and world literature. He has been the driving force behind the company's move Burda into social media, insisting that he will never open a printing plant again. He has insisted that his company's publishers, editors and investment arms concentrate almost exclusively on digital strategies. He sat on the front row of his conference and took an active part for a great part of it. Burda himself worked in a variety of jobs in his family's company until he was appointed editor in chief of the celebrity-oriented magazine Bunte in 1974. I remember that magazine in the school library in the UK - the fashion photos were a great encouragement to learn enough German to find out what they were talking about...certainly better than the exploits of Hans and Gertrude in the school textbook "Deutsches Leben".

Now many publications from Burda are trying to build all sorts of communities. This ranges from a new website which allows women to access sewing patterns which has been put in the public domain to 45,000 subscribers who pay a monthly fee of Euro 4 to have nude photographs of 10 women sent to their mobile telephones each month through the company's links with Playboy. Burda holds the German license to produce Playboy.

It appears that Burda became a convert to digital scanning of photographs in the 1980s when he saw that it eliminated the need for the company's 250-person photo-retouching operation. He built relations with Marc Andreesen, a founder of Netscape Communications, after reading about an early version of the Web browser in 1995.

His conference is certainly a fantastic network opportunity. His staff manages to get a great line up of speakers which don't seem to pop up at other media events - at least not in this grouping.

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