Ten years ago some 200 people visited a small conference with a boisterous title in Hamburg. Online Marketing Rockstars conference 2011 took place in a private law school. Speakers were founders of German startup ventures, amongst them Martin Sinner from price comparison platform Idealo and Arne Kahlke from ElitePartner, a dating site. Host of this conference and chief Online Marketing Rockstar was Philipp Westermeyer.
Fast forward to 2019, Philipp and his now mid-sized-company use the more conservative title OMR Festival for this conference, which attracts now more than 50,000 visitors and has seen a whole bunch of top-notch personalities on stage, from Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich, Jonah Peretti, founder of Buzzfeed, or YouTube superstar Casey Neistat over NYU-marketing professor Scott Galloway to legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk. Host of the conference and of its main stage still is Philipp Westermeyer.
Without any doubt, OMR Festival 2020 even would have been bigger. But it had to be cancelled because of the pandemic.
During the last 10 years, the venture, now labelled as OMR, grew a considerable publishing business besides its main product, the conference&festival. It runs a website, publishes podcasts and video documentaries, offers virtual events and classes and does some job listings. It also runs a software review platform.
But still, Philipp is the impersonation of the whole venture. Philipp hosts the most successful podcast of OMR. Philipp interviews the fallen management superstar Thomas Middelhoff in OMR’s first video documentary. Philipp is the title and the content of a personality magazine published by Hamburg’s daily newspaper.
So even if OMR is a 100+ people company, Philipp in many regards works as a creator. As a creator with a very sophisticated publishing infrastructure. And since Philipp and OMR often report about more creator-like creators, I was happy for the opportunity to talk to Phlillip about his business and his view on the creator economy.
We start with a short overview of his company and especially a new feature, OMR has launched. Then, we deep dive into the creator economy.
(n.b. I have translated the interview from German into English and also I’ve done some cautious editing. Our conversation took place on February 5th.)
Interview With Philipp Westermeyer, Founder of OMR
Philipp, how would you describe your venture OMR to people who haven’t yet heard about it?
“OMR is a media platform for the digital economy. We report about all aspects of the digital economy, call it a 360-degree-media platform, a platform across all media. That means over the year primarily digital media, podcasts, newsletters, articles, reports. But also classes, maybe from now on even Clubhouse has its part. We use every channel through which we can be present in the digital world. And we are present in the real world as well. Quite soon that will take the form of our own premises, the landmark building here in Hamburg. [Philipp refers to Hamburg’s television tower, the highest building in the city, with an observation deck and restauration facilities in 130m height, which was out of order for many years and which will re-open soon under the lead of three partner companies, one of them being OMR.]
But above all, of course, our festival, which in any regular year is a gathering for the complete digital industry. We are kind of a media brand, maybe a publisher though this term often refers rather to the old world. ‘B2B-publisher’ isn’t totally misleading, I think. But only as long as it doesn’t indicate that all we are doing is text. We produce audio and video documentaries. Meanwhile, we run a software review platform. Many people wouldn’t think of such a platform as a business for media. But I certainly think that this is a B2B media business.”
OMR has grown into a respectable, mid-sized company. From your podcast I know you as not shy of asking for figures. So, you’ll allow me to ask you: how big is it? What’s your revenue? What about your profits?
“We do not publish our profit. But I can speak about our revenues. In our best year, our turnover nearly was €20m. Our plan for 2020 was €25m, but we didn’t reach this because our festival had to be cancelled. I think, at the end we reached some €13M or €14m. So €10m less than our plan and that is, more or less, exactly the revenue of the festival.
But I am optimistic with regard to our future. Because we managed to create six or seven streams of revenue. We are in a sweet spot. Our business is too small for the big platforms to enter our niche. But too complex for single creators because we do many things. We do live things. We have service business. We do create rather elaborate content, think of our software review platform.”
Maybe you can say a bit more on this. What kind of business is your software review platform?
“We have asked ourselves: how would a trade fair look like in the digital world? It would mean people coming to us and, in our case, looking for info about software. They would connect and speak and make appointments. But how to migrate this into on the internet? For sure, it wouldn’t mean asking people to visit digital ‘rooms’ at two specific days in a year. ‘Digital’ means the whole year over, day and night, 24/7. So how to present software this way to people who are interested?
Our way to tackles this was to look what kind of questions do these people have. And the most important question for sure is: ‘before buying a new piece of software, how do I know which is the best for me? Is it Adobe or Salesforce? Is it Mailchimp or any other e-mail-campaign software? What were the reasons for other companies to decide this or that way? So, we have set up a marketplace where thousands of people have evaluated the software they use, what they like and dislike. And people, who are looking for a solution currently, who are in need of a collaboration tool and do not know if they should decide for Asana or Monday, they can learn from them, get information. We can monetize this, because the companies want to have profile pages, want to promote their contact persons. We’ve created a digital marketplace, where people who need something meet other people using this already and software companies can present themselves.”
“That always has been my dream, to become less reliant upon the festival”
This will create a relevant stream of revenues this year. What we usually earn by selling booths at our festival will be compensated by this business. And that’s fantastic, because this business has much better margins than the live event business. And if the growth we see at the moment continues, this will make it possible for us to think of the festival as a nice thing but nothing we can’t live without at all.
That always has been my dream, to become less reliant upon the festival. OMR is a great company, we do have a great team, it is exactly what I want it to be. But when you depend so much upon one live event, only 2 days of the year where nothing must go wrong under no circumstance, that is a risk and it would be great to reduce that risk. That is something I reflect upon since five or six years now and here, Covid-19 really was an opportunity to focus on developing this digital business because the festival had to be cancelled and didn’t absorb all the resources.”
OMR is a company with more than 100 employees. Nonetheless, when I think of OMR, I think of Philipp Westermeyer. When I listen to your podcast, I hear Philipp Westermeyer hosting it. Philipp Westermeyer was the reporter in your recent first video documentary. To me, you are OMR. Is that my selective perception? Is it a strategy?
“In media companies it is not unusual that the founder is highlighted in some way. That is a difference to, say logistics or grocery. The question is, who creates the content? It was me who wrote the first articles. I did curate and host the first events, because, at the beginning, there was nobody else. Also, every step into new media… Today, we do have some 60 or 70 podcasts. But it had been one single podcast at the beginning. And it was me who tried to do it, I’ve selected the guest and just started doing it.
In media companies you have to show your face. People want to know, who creates the content, what’s their background. That’s of much more interest than who is the guy responsible for my postal delivery company or the manager of my local supermarket.
Big media brands often have this kind of outstanding figure. In general, it has been great personalities who have created these big brands. Think of Rudolf Augstein at Der Spiegel. Think of Michael Arrington in the early days of Techcrunch or Henry Blodget at Business Insider.
I see that whenever I do something, it will get more clicks or more views. And I can define our style, I can set a tone. Meanwhile, I do not write articles anymore, I do not host every podcast or every stage at our festival. And the next documentary will also be done by somebody else. I’ve tried it out. Now we know how to do it. It is not the plan, that I do everything. The plan is that, after Corona, that I’ll be rather the entrepreneur than the creator behind OMR. We certainly want to promote other people and other faces.”
So my impression wasn’t wrong. Even though OMR is a ‘big’ company now, you still are a creator in some way.
“Yes, sure. Anyway, every creator to me also is an entrepreneur. I am an entrepreneur. And at the same time, I am, I always have been, a creator. Even when I was 14 or 15 years old as a journalist at my school magazine, or as a local sports reporter at a local newspaper in the Ruhr Region later on. That’s what I like. I think both worlds are cool. At the moment, it is strenuous to be creative and at the same time making sure that the business stays healthy. But I like both sides. It is a great opportunity. That is what I love to do currently. But I can imagine a time later, when I am 60 years, than I’ll focus on one of both.”.
“Every creator to me also is an entrepreneur”
How would you define ‘creator’? What is a creator? Are influencers creators?
Yes, I definitely think that influencers are creators. And at the same time, the big creators are influencers. For many, creators are solo content publishers. I would define the term creator in a broader sense. Entrepreneurs also are creators. And the word ‘create’ doesn’t cover a lot of things, creators actually do. Quite often, they sell cosmetics or fashion, or sneakers. They create their own pizza or vodka brands. They are product creators. And this, in today’s world, often leads them to create content.”
That’s an interesting point. Because up to now, my definition of a creator was ‘a single person publishing digital content and trying to monetize it’. I will reflect upon this afterwards. But when we stick to the content publisher definition: do you have an idea, or do you have access to data how big this creator economy is? Because my view is totally fractured. I see a myriad of single cases, but I have no idea of the total.
“Me neither. Anyway, it changes permanently. The picture is blurred. There is a steady flow of new stories, new personalities, new platforms. Legacy industries adopting new role models. I think it is incredibly difficult to measure, and it is highly dynamic. Probably, it’s four weeks now that there are Clubhouse influencers. I don’t know. And in four weeks, I guess, there will be a next platform for creators. For sure there will be several hundred of thousands of people in Germany who are creators.”
So many? Yeah, probably, if you count anybody publishing anything on YouTube, on Twitch, on TikTok, Instagram, whatever, maybe even millions. But if you look only at those who run a creator business at least in a broad sense, do you really think they are so many?
“That’s the question. If we say the threshold is 10,000 followers or any other reach of 10k people per month, I think there are 100,000 or more. But only as a rough guess.”
But 10k isn’t a magnitude which will allow you to make a living from it, I think?
“Depends upon the niche. Eg in the digital business, if you are an e-commerce expert or so and you do have 10k followers, you will be able to make a living.”
Yeah, B2B is another thing. I make my living from some 200 followers who are paying subscribers. But B2C, what comes into my mind primarily if think of creators and if I think of numbers as big as 10K, should be another story.
“Maybe. But even B2C, according to what I hear from insiders, 10K or 25K will allow you to make a living, that will work. 20K to 25K Instagram followers is a magnitude which can be put on the market.”
“10k or 25k followers will allow you to make a living”
Which monetization options do you see for creators? Can you prioritize them? Do you see trends?
“There is ads, there is paid content, donations, any kind of community models, which can be donations, subs, memberships, they can take a lot of forms. Then there are engagements from third parties, at company events, where you get paid for your presence as a prominent personality. And then, of course, there is a fifth category which needs a certain size, when you are big enough, then you can start to produce your own products.
And do you see a ranking, can you prioritize these 5 ways of monetization?
“That also is a question of magnitude. To have your own products certainly only makes sense if you are big enough. Ads also can work for smaller publishers. When it comes to paid models or donations. That depends upon the topic or the niche you are in. Myself, I am a big fan of a German basketball content creator, Dré Voigt. He is one of the best basketball experts here in Germany, especially for basketball in the US. Apart from his own content business, he also is part time editor of a quarterly basketball magazine and sports commentator on DAZN.
His creator business is branded Got Nexxt. He runs a podcast, he streams on Twitch. He is on Twitter and Instagram. He uses all channels for his basketball content. He is an example of a content creator in a B2C niche. And he makes a living by it. For monetization, he has a mixture of donations, subscriptions, ads. I think, together, they will add up to some €150,000 per year. Maybe €200k or even €300k? He has some costs and makes his living this way.”
Great case. I never heard of him even though such cases are exactly what I am reporting about here on selfP. I’ll have a look at it.
When you look at the creator scene from different perspectives, when you look at creators in Germany, then in Europe and then worldwide, do you see different trends and developments? Or is it, more or less, the same what is happening everywhere in the world?
“In a way it is the same in the US, only with a time shift and another magnitude. The creator economy in the US is more developed. I am not so much acquainted with the market in Asia. I think it is completely different there. The video community there is much bigger. Think of TikTok. But there are many more platforms nobody knows here.
In the US, it is more or less the same as here, only a year ahead. And much bigger. And scale makes the difference. When you look at what MrBeast does, creating his own burger brand, I am not sure if we will see something similar around here or if the market here simply isn’t big enough for something like that. But who knows, maybe one day we’ll see it happen in Germany, that an influencer starts his own burger restaurant chain.”
That’s a first look into the future. Do you see other trends or things coming up?
“I think we’ll see much more cooperation between legacy brands and influencers. It will move away from just making two or three posts and then moving to another thing. Bigger and more lasting partnerships will come up, especially for the biggest influencers. But also, niche or micro-people will find partners.
Then, we’ll see more creators coming from journalism. Think of Substack, or Twitter’s acquisition, Revue, or Patreon. Maybe Clubhouse, if there will be paid offerings one day. I believe there will be more and more platforms which allow journalists to go solo. Also podcasts. If you do have a good podcast, you will be able to make a living by it. Think of Dré Voigt. You can click together your own media world. You only have to create solid output and quality content, and you will have a valid business. In the US you already can see it. There are the very big influencers. But also, there are successful niche creators. You only have to produce quality content, have to be a good journalist, be an expert in your field, be it tech, business or even politics.”