Willkommen! Refinery29 enters German market

For women’s lifestyle publisher Refinery29, Germany made an obvious second stop for its overseas expansion, coming six months after branching out to the U.K.

Co-CEO Philippe von Borries hails from Cologne, and as Europe’s largest media market and the engine of the European economy, Germany has been on many U.S. publishers’ expansion lists. The U.S.-based publisher has set up in Berlin, where it has a team of nine, led by vp of international Kate Ward, who will split her time between London and Berlin.

Refinery29 has hired Nora Beckershaus, formerly managing editor at Axel Springer celebrity site Celepedia, to lead marketing. The German-language site has a six-person team devoted to editorial. It will be a mix of translated English-language content and original articles. The balance of the staff is devoted to marketing and sales, handling local commercial partnerships.

“Germany is the fourth-biggest market in terms of commercial value and influence,” said Kate Ward, vp of international at Refinery29. “It has an incredible legacy of great journalism and traditional publishing houses.”

The women’s media market in Germany is relatively traditional; there are legacy print publications that offer female lifestyle titles online, and there is a healthy beauty and style blogging culture, but there’s no digital-only entrant operating at the scale that Refinery29 plans to, said Ward, who said Germany is already the publisher’s fifth-biggest market.

“We’re not looking to just import U.S. content into Germany,” she said. “We’re looking to Berlin to create stories to bring to the U.K and U.S., creating a virtuous circle.”

Global news stories, articles on health and wellness and lifestyle pieces have their place in any of Refinery29’s regional hubs, but a shopping story, with specific products and stores, would fit in less well. Ward said that a story on creating a haute couture Dior dress, originally from the U.S., would do well on its German site. Flying in the opposite direction, Germany’s story on Angela Merkel’s Instagram strategy has relevance across the globe.

The site is also launching with a feature exposing the rise of sexual violence at German music festivals and an exclusive interview with American actress Kate Hudson. There’s video from the off-set too — Refinery29’s video output is 180 videos globally each month — with a short-form social video series about Germany’s most powerful influencers, including fashion influencer and TV host Bonnie Strange and lifestyle blogger Masha Sedgewick.

Refinery29 is the latest U.S. digital publisher to enter Germany. Huffington Post set up shop in 2013. BuzzFeed opened doors there in 2014, and Business Insider kicked off a German-language site in partnership with parent company Axel Springer last November.

While Ward said content marketing in Germany is still emerging, compared to the U.K. and the U.S., she is confident there’s an appetite for the commercial partnerships Refinery29 can offer for brands. Although she refrained from naming any local advertisers it is working with, Refinery29 has previously run successful brand partnerships with strong experiential elements, like 29Rooms, a free event in a New York warehouse with 29 rooms filled by brand sponsors including Fossil, Puma and Old Navy. In the U.K., it teamed up with Costa coffee shop last summer to run videos with social media influencers and selling 2,000 t-shirts in store.

“I think there is a trust issue in Germany with computers and the digital world that is not seen in America,” said Joseph Burtoni, senior social media strategist at German ad agency Jung von Matt, who moved to the country several months ago. “If a brand produces some amazing content, I don’t know how well it will be received. Brands still do succeed with content marketing here, but I think they serve it up on platforms that aren’t primarily digital.”

Images: Courtesy of Refinery29

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