Going Global: Read all about it

GEO magazine has expanded into 20 countries in the past two years. Gruner + Jahr shares the secret of its biggest international success story.

In an increasingly globalised world, publishers are naturally keen to find ways to capitalise on their brands in as many countries as possible. However, a one- size-fits-all approach can end in disaster if the local environment is not properly assessed.

Although "think global, act local" has been around for a long time and may have lost some of its sparkle, it could now prove to be more relevant than ever.

One of our biggest international success stories, GEO magazine, has somehow managed to overcome obstacles and is now in some 20 countries. Already well-established in Germany, it has launched strong local editions in key European countries since we decided to accelerate our international expansion a couple of years ago.

Our challenge was how to achieve this without jeopardising GEO's brand values. Our solution was to work with established local partners, rather than doing everything ourselves. Here is our story ...

GEO published its first edition in 1976 and rapidly became Germany's biggest monthly magazine, and one of the country's most successful launches ever. Just three years later, it took on the French market with a local language edition. A Spanish edition followed in 1986 and a Russian version launched in 1998. Today, GEO is G+J's most international magazine brand, having just published its first English language edition in India.

Currently, you will find local editions in Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey, with further launches planned with local partners in 2009.

More than one million paid-for copies of the regular GEO news magazine reach more than ten million readers a month. The magazine provides comprehensive and credible coverage of the huge goals, radical changes and passions that have faced the world during the past 40 years. The concept behind its success is a combination of well-researched, in-depth features with award-winning photography. As with all our products, we demand the highest quality standards. Other brand extensions include the GEO website and the travel products GEO Saison and GEO Spezial in Germany.

Since it reaches the social elite in 20 countries in their respective national languages, GEO is highly attractive to international advertising customers. For more than a year now, GEO has offered companies that operate internationally customised ad opportunities.

The price of an ad in all 20 GEO editions amounts to savings of around 20 per cent when compared with placing individual bookings in each respective country.

Nevertheless, the outstanding feature of the international package is not so much the price, but the quality of service. One central contact per- son co-ordinates the entire process and the "Choose Your Countries" principle offers tailor-made country combinations.

Since the start of this year, we have noticed a clear increase in customer demand for international offers. We have already won the international accounts of customers such as Hugo Boss and Toyota and some of these package customers are already booking regularly.

But despite these first signs of increasing cross-border demand, the ad business is still local. Most budgets are allocated and negotiated in detail with the partner publishing houses by local agencies on the ground. Therefore, it is all the more important to define clear rules of dealing with advertisers, to provide training and support as needed, and to establish co-operative and regular contact with the advertising managers at an operative level.

Within our group, we have clear rules for ad formats and for handling the sometimes very extensive wishes of our advertisers. The main principle is not to endanger editorial credibility, hence the editorial and ad sections are very clearly separated. These guidelines also apply, of course, to GEO's dealings with external partner publishing houses. So, for example, all licence agreements include an obligatory passage on advertorials and a ban on logos with controversial content (such as extremism, pornography or weapons). In cases of doubt, logos have to be cleared by GEO International in Germany. No compromises will be made, so as not to endanger GEO's reputation and credibility.

Before launching a new GEO edition - and at any time thereafter - we offer our partners training by the German ad sales team. Local ad teams are invited to spend several days at G+J's head office to get to know the magazine concept in detail, as well as learn about GEO's size and significance. Among others, they meet with the Germany ad team, the media solutions department for cross-media products and the international ad sales team. Inspired and motivated, our partners return to their countries and are then able to offer GEO to their local agencies and customers.

To further the international growth of GEO and other brands, we strengthened the management team in our London strategic hub last February and discovered that not everyone was aware of our size or global capabilities.

With more than 500 magazines and newspapers across 30 countries, more than 14,500 employees and a turnover of around EUR2.83 billion (2007), G+J is Europe's largest magazine publisher.

Majority-owned by Bertelsmann AG (74.9 per cent) and the Jahr publishing family, which holds the remaining 25.1 per cent, it is part of one of the world's media powerhouses. With around 57 per cent of its overall turnover derived from international business, the Hamburg-based G+J is one of the world's most international magazine publishers.

Our largest foreign business is Prisma Presse SNC in Paris. Entirely owned by G+J, it has become the second-largest magazine publisher in France. In addition, we have investments in Spain, Poland, Austria, the Netherlands, Russia, China and Italy, as well as in Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia and South America. We also have numerous offices of our own around the globe.

One of our majority shareholdings is in Motor Presse Stuttgart - a publishing group that, since its foundation in 1946, has grown into an international company for special interest magazines. Today, it publishes more than 150 magazines, such as Auto Motor Sport, Motor Sport and Men's Health, and employs 1,900 people across the globe. As well as classic print media, TV and online products are increasingly becoming part of its portfolio.

Thinking global while acting on a local level has proved to be a winning formula over many years for us. GEO is continuing its success story by combining a strong brand, with a clear editorial purpose, with local expertise supplied by our partners. This way, we ensure that the core of the brand remains unchanged, yet local input makes the magazine come alive.

Centralisation of many functions ensures efficient growth without jeopardising a tailored magazine for the reader. This way we ensure our strong brands continue to grow on a local basis, while becoming international hits. So, if you have not heard much of us before, it is surely time you have.

- Sibel Uener is the managing director of Gruner + Jahr.