CO-CREATION IS AT THE HEART OF FORWARD-THINKING JOURNALISM

Mar 27, 2019

Ulrike Irmler Mike Lukanz

 

In 2017, Microsoft partnered with Wundermedia and its creative agency group, C3, to launch Microsoft Newsroom. Since its inception, Microsoft has been an ever-evolving giant, from being one of the most recognised software companies in the world and bringing Windows and Office into the homes of billions, to pioneering the fields of mobile and gaming and pushing the future of Cloud computing, VR and A.I. Over the decades, their innovations have become part of daily life, the world over. But in 2017, a major challenge lay ahead, and it was not a simple one: To Modernize MSN and launch a new brand - Microsoft News; a relevant, engaging, and globally-reaching news platform that would deliver stories from the best journalists, in a climate where ‘news’ as an industry was being turned on its head. For this project, Microsoft needed to harness resources from across their already vast and diverse talent pool. But they also needed the perfect partner. Two years later, the Newsroom demonstrates how a client and an agency can work together to co-create value and set new standards in their industries. On a site-visit to the C3 headquarters in Berlin, our Executive MBA participants heard the two-way account of this growing partnership, from Microsoft’s Principal GPM, Ulrike Irmler, and MD at Wunder Media, Mike Lukanz.

 

 

Microsoft News is a global news platform that syncs and responds to its users’ choices and habits. Partnering with hundreds of publishers, it delivers breaking news, in-depth reporting, sports and cultural updates and entertainment to tablets, desktops, and mobile, from the moment its readers wake up to the last thing they check before bed. Its mission is to deliver news from the world's best journalists in a responsive and responsible way. At the heart of this evolving global platform is the Newsroom. Situated in the heart of Berlin, this start-up sized unit houses more the 70 editors from various countries, curating and editing round-the-clock content for Microsoft news platforms. While the Newsroom holds the Microsoft name, it’s a product of a strong and agile partnership, operated by C3 and Wundermedia who bring with them a heritage of creative excellence and integrity along with a vibrant start-up dynamic. It’s the heart of an enormous global engine, inspiring millions of users in Europe every day with content. But it could only create this level of engagement through a strong and sustainable partnership.

 

2017: Finding the Perfect Partner

Looking for a creative partner for such a potentially ground-breaking project required some pretty specific qualification. The final choice would need to share Microsoft’s goals to bring balanced, trustworthy and curated news to readers, to empower diversity, and to put user-experience front-of-mind. Microsoft’s Ulrike Irmler explains that this kind of relationship required an agency with plenty of head-room who could commit to learning and growing together. “There were three layers to why we really liked C3. Firstly, they are a company with a traditional publishing house background and they really know about the news and content. Then, there’s the fact that C3 is a creative content marketing agency with a digital focus. Finally, we knew from our past partnerships with Wundermedia, that they could manage from an operational standpoint.” From the agency perspective, C3’s Mike Lukanz explains that they were completely taken by the scope and originality of the project. “We realised we were looking at a task that was huge and unique and had never happened before.”

 

A Matter of Balance

The news is changing, from the very way that readers consume it to the role of traditional journalism. In this climate, muddied by ad-blockers, subscription-models, social media, and click-bait, the challenge of creating real value of customers is enormous and the competition is strong. Microsoft Newsroom are working with over 1,500 partners and 4,500 brands around the world, offering readers a vast choice of viewpoints, stories, experiences, and insights that changes the face of the Newsroom website 24 hours a day. Ulrike explains that balancing these factors is an everyday mission. “We have to balance revenue goals, political factors, entertainment vs. hard news.” This is one area where trust between Microsoft and C3 is crucial. “For us it’s an evolving thing – a matter of knowing when to step back and let C3 create that balance, while learning how to express what we need without misleading them.” 

 

The Craft of News Curation

Unlike traditional tabloid or broadsheet readers, the average Newsroom reader is not easy to describe. But what connects them is that they are mobile, and in search of news that is immediately relevant to them and accessible on demand. Mike connects the way the Newsroom engages with readers to the changing nature of journalism itself, in which the curation of the news becomes just as important a craft as writing the news itself. “It’s interesting to see how some journalists react when they see the Newsroom. Many of them are from a time where you wrote a news story one day, and people read it the next. You had this kind-of ‘gatekeeper’ role over your writing which is not the case anymore. News is now available 24/7, where ever you are, whenever you want it.” Mike regards the Newsroom curators as having an equally valid skillset as that of traditional journalists. From identifying and curating stories, watching out for fake news, being perceptive to users’ habits and needs, and providing a balance of viewpoints and content, these are skills that are fundamental to delivering ethical and relevant journalism in the digital age. “The only thing that we don’t do in the Newsroom is write the stories, but this is only one small part of journalism. The most important thing is not how you tell the story – it’s that you tell the story.” Working in this climate in which print is in decline and a reader’s most important wish is to be informed at the touch of a button, Mike sees curation as a taste of what he calls the future of journalism. “I think we should get used to it because it’s one way that journalism can survive in the future – instead of having 527 different newspapers next to each other in a convenience store, where they are essentially all reporting on the same thing.”

 

Strong Partnership Dynamics

One thing that marks any strong partnership is communicating goals and outcomes – this is where Ulrike’s wish to find a partner with “headroom”, and who were not too rigid in their operations, comes to the fore. Both Ulrike and Mike insist on having measurable goals that are realistic but which can also be evolved and discussed together, something crucial when working in an industry that can present sudden twists and turns, 24/7. Another is transparency. “We cannot have secrets,” says Ulrike, talking about being open about internal challenges, doubt and obstacles. As Ulrike puts it, their partnership comes down to “the human side and the measurable side coming together, and building a mature process and interaction.”

 

Value Co-Creation: For Users, Partners and Teams

Breaking news, sport, fashion tips, cultural stories, blogposts - the Newsroom is a platform that offers both user-targeted service and choice, it is both compact and global, and most importantly, it keeps its readers informed on demand and its partners eager to collaborate. And, it delivers on these values in a way that meets Microsoft’s fundamental goal to use innovation to provide responsive, trustworthy news and to empower the free press. Ulrike says it’s impossible to judge the Newsroom by simply looking at the site at any given moment. “It’s really about seeing how the site evolves over the day, from the minute people come in to the office, to the last story of the night. That is the full picture.”

Mike describes the endless satisfaction of leading a project that not only delivers value for its users and partners, but also for its teams. If you walk into the Newsroom on an average workday, it’s an energetic and driven hive of creative minds digging into the days’ objectives with hunger and curiosity. “One of the things I’m most proud of is coming into work, seeing young people from all over the world and knowing we are creating jobs for them. Most of them came to Berlin to start a new life. Even as CEO, I can see every day that the Newsroom is a place that really lights a spark in these young people.”

 

From Berlin to the Rest of the World

It’s impossible to disconnect this energy from the Newsroom’s location, in the heart of Berlin. Before launching the Newsroom, they did consider other locations, but Berlin’s combination of history, start-up culture, art and rich diversity made it the perfect breeding ground for a dynamic, global project. “Berlin is not a German city. It’s a European city,” says Mike. “Of course, there are cultural differences, but that’s what Berlin is all about.” Ulrike puts Berlin down as being on the touchpoint of international culture and conversation, especially with young people. “It’s one of the most relevant cities in the world right now, and when your business is in relevance, then it’s really the perfect place.”

 


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