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How this magazine re-engineered itself to the point of becoming a global licensing play

In this exclusive video interview for FIPP, Ilkka O. Lavas, publisher and senior partner for Finnish publishing house City Digital OY, explains the process involved in transitioning a lagging legacy print brand into a thriving digital publication, and going beyond to create an international software licensing solution.

When Ilkka O. Lavas took over Finnish city-guide magazine Eat and the City four years ago, the publication was achieving just 100,000€ in digital revenues. This year, it is on-course to do 6M € and has ambitious plans to license its new software package in 500 cities around the world. 

Here, the Ilkka Lavas talks us through the process of transitioning to digital, igniting widespread cultural change, and fostering the environment of networking and collaboration required to position for international growth with its software solutions. 


We began by asking Ilkka to introduce us to the magazine and the journey it has been on… 

“Four years ago I bought a suffering magazine from Finland,” said O. Lavas. “It was a storytelling tool about awesome places around the city, and it was almost in bankruptcy. So I bought the magazine and in the last four years we have been working very hard. When I bought it, it was doing only 100,000€ digital revenue and last year we did 3M € digital revenue. This year we are going to make 6M € digital revenue and we are going to go international with the software that we have created.”

How have you gone about transitioning the offering into a digital play?

“We have done everything! First, we shut down the print and focussed 100 per cent on digital. Second, we built everything again: we started to focus on quality and on what people nowadays want and awesome tools and software… so these were new ways to tell stories to our customers and readers. And thirdly we rebooted everything: company culture, sales culture, sales models, business models. So we have done… actually everything rebooted.”

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And just how does a legacy media publisher ignite the kind of cultural change required, not only to survive but more so to succeed in an increasingly digital media landscape?  

“Cultural change in media companies, it starts from recruiting the best people who have awesome talent. When you hire new staff they have to be better than you, and better than the old people in the new sector – so a lot of work with that. Then, there has to be a cultural leader. For me it’s easy because I am the biggest owner, and managing director/CEO, so for me I’m the face of the cultural change here.”

Everything did not change over night after the acquisition of the magazine. According to Ilkka history, habits and culture “followed us. Even though we were not doing print anymore. So we had to convince ourselves, convince our people, and convince our customers, that yes, this can be digitally even better than it was. 

“And then we even hired an external company, who audited our sales and our value creations: how much money we are going to make at those restaurants that we take into our restaurant suite, we had somebody doing interviews with our customers anonymously, and the restaurant profit rose 400 per cent with the digital offering.” 

With those “small signals” the own team learnt and starting believing “yes, it’s not only that Ilkka saying ‘OK, this is going to be huge!’” This belief transcended to customers and external companies, “saying to us, that digital is much, much better than print ever was.” 

Eat and the City Finland ()

Finally, there is a temptation to think that with the lessening of print and the growth of digital, international licensing and syndication opportunities are less widespread… but you seem to have placed an interesting spin on this sector of the market?

“Where we have been building… our software around this City Magazine, we have built a restaurant discover tool, we’ve built a table reservation tool, [and] food order, pre-payment, gift card tools. And that [is] software package we are now selling and licensing to other media companies all around the world.

“So in Finland we are a media company with a digital side. But internationally we are a software development company and that’s the name of this business, Eat and the City! [Next] We want to be in 500 cities and we cannot do it alone. 

“The new way of working is to do… networking. And doing it together brings win-win… for publishers, for us, for restaurants, for readers. That means win-win thinking and a lot of networking.”

*** Join publishers from around the world from 9-11 October 2017 at the FIPP World Congress in London, not only to learn from leading speakers but also to network and discuss opportunities for cross-border collaboration and partnerships. Discounted pre-agenda delegate tickets are available until 30 April 2017. Click here for more.

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