Episode Description

Nowadays, there existpodcasts for every and any topic of interest you may want to know. But how didaudio-based media grow into one of the most marketable forms of media? GayleTroberman, Chief Marketing Officer of iHeartMedia,shares how they rebranded the company and became one of the few who maximizedthe opportunity of using audio as a medium for creating engaging content earlyon. She joins host Scott Harkey to discuss the advantages of using audio andthe vast possibilities it opens for your company. Gayle also talks about how touse The Podcast to Broadcast Formula to expand your reach.

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Episode Transcript

I’m with Gayle Troberman, Chief Marketing Officer at iHeartMedia. Gayle, thanks for joining us.

Thanks, Scott. It's great to be here.

I'm going to dive right into this, Gayle. You have been one of the top CMOs in the United States. I love to see your background. I love what you are doing at iHeart but let's talk about Microsoft and your history. You spent a lot of years at Microsoft. Tell us a little bit about some of your favorite work that you had done at Microsoft.

I have a great career at Microsoft. A phenomenal ride through the internet and early digital marketing. Everything was new and had never been done before but then I took over advertising. I became Chief Creative Officer there. I was tasked with selling a lot of different products and some increasingly competitive categories, particularly Windows versus Apple or Google versus Bing. It was an interesting culture. We are very much a product-driven company versus a marketing-driven company. I learned early on that my job wasn't to have a great idea. It was to find people who could present us with bold and challenging work. We used to say work that made us uncomfortable. My job was to take those great ideas to help curate them a little and navigate them around Redmond and get them out into the world without honking and corrupting them too much with our engineering culture, lots of voices, opinions and overthinking.

What are my favorite campaigns when I first took over advertising? The "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" campaign, which many probably remember, had just started running. We would make a large statement back and start spending more aggressively on radio, television and outdoor for Windows. The whole premise of that campaign, which we called I'm a PC, was to flip the dialogue. For Apple to go on and TV, it makes fun of a rich, older white guy who made a lot of money selling software. It's not okay to make fun of a billion people around the world who are using Windows to manage their business, their life and connect with everything that matters to them. We flipped that whole campaign on its head. It was a massive global effort to showcase all the billions of humans, their messy diversity and the range of Windows customers. While Apple might have been more of this hipster cool brand, we were the world and we were changing the world every day through Windows. It was a gorgeous campaign. A beautiful, simple idea from the guys at Crispin and did well in starting to shift that dialogue for Windows.

Audio is a medium where everyone can have a voice, and everyone can find the content and the stories they want to engage with.

That was an amazing campaign. I know exactly what you are talking about. Talk to me about that campaign. When you are a Chief Creative Officer at Microsoft, one of the largest companies in the world, I can imagine there were a lot of stakeholders in terms of what creative and insights you are deriving, were there naysayers about the campaign that you wanted to do and how did you overcome that?

There is nothing but a billion voices in the case of Widows, isn't it interesting? If you are a surgeon, your friends, family and every coworker probably wouldn't give you opinions on your work but for some reason, marketing is so accessible that everyone thinks they understand it and are great at it. There was certainly no shortage of stakeholders and an immense amount of business pressure on the business at that time. It’s obviously a very significant investment we are going to be making. It was a pretty big departure for us. We usually had tended to be more product and feature-driven in our marketing. This was about reinforcing the emotional connection to the brand of Windows.

What I learned quickly in that job was, it was my job to champion great ideas and I would do that in a few different ways. Data always helps. A little bit of testing and showing the response consumers had from the beginning to that campaign was helpful. Also, find your allies, whether people within the product group, finding heads of Windows divisions, finding the allies and spending time individually with people to help them understand what you are trying to do. It gets easy for people in a vacuum to react to a piece of creativity. If you can take them through the journey that the agency goes on and how we found these insights, we played around with ideas in this range and how we landed here, how we tested it and where the consumer sentiment was.

I find that if you take people along for that whole journey and break it down, you will get a lot more buy-in than if you just try to sell the creative ideas as a pure, brilliant idea, which obviously it was in this case. A lot of it is deciding when to bring the agency in, when they need to sell the genius idea, and when you need to protect the agency a little bit from some of the feedback and stakeholders and take it. Come back and bring that back to the agency to iterate and adapt. It's a little bit of what I might call jump rope to get a good campaign through a big corporation.

You mentioned Crispin Porter. What timeframe was this and how was it to work with? At that time, they were one of the hottest agencies in the world, Miami and Boulder at the time. What was it like working with them and how was that partnership putting that campaign together?

As a good client, the key is to let agencies work their own process and figure out how to leverage them best versus trying to make them an internal division. 

I loved the guys at Crispin. I’m still friends with lots of the folks from that area. It was a spectacular moment in that agency. They had caught and we were winning bigger clients and more visible high-profile work. We were, at that time, probably their biggest client. Alex and Rob Riley, that crew was phenomenal. It's probably late 2007. We worked with a variety of agencies back in the day. Lots of agencies have different cultures, styles and ways of getting into work. The key as a good client is to let agencies work their own process and figure out how to leverage them best versus trying to make them an internal division. Too many clients try to take an agency like Crispin, who you hire for bold, provocative work that they are going to do aggressively try to get into the world. You try to teach them everything about your business and make them think like you.

A great agency-client relationship is very much where an agency is bringing you ideas that make you a little uncomfortable. They are bringing a curse that maybe the people who work for you might not be as honest or have that perspective to be that bold and that honest. The guys at Crispin were always relentlessly bold and working on our behalf to get great work into the world. It's a marriage. You have to be committed to one another in an agency-client relationship. There will be good days and bad days and we are all trying to get to the same thing, which is great results. You've got to let people do it their way and be who they are. Like relationships, you love all these different things about someone and then those are all the same things that drive you insane on a bad day.

I'm going to dive into iHeart. You have been the Chief Marketing Officer at iHeart now for several years. Talk to me about the evolution of that brand and what you and Mr. Pittman have done to revolutionize that brand?

When I started talking to Bob and he had just come over to iHeart, which at the time was Clear Channel. He had just launched the iHeartRadio app. We’ve got into a whole conversation about the brand of Clear Channel, which was the corporate brand. He had this crazy idea to rebrand the entire company to iHeartMedia. He asked me for my opinion. He called me one morning, we talked about it. He said he was going to call me back that night and he wanted my point of view. I did research. I did some work that day, pros and cons. He decided on the spot that he wanted to make the rebrand. It’s an important moment in making a statement about the future of audio and the innovation that was ahead and taking a company that has saved reach.

We reached ten Americans to start broadcast radio. We are now number one in podcasts. We have a huge digital and social following. The iHeartMedia brand embodies the culture and the spirit of who we are. We are this vibrant, live, diverse and exciting brand that is live 24/7 in 850 stations and 150 US markets. We are the reddest red state talk show. We are the most urban, bad-ass music show and everything in between. The iHeartMedia brand stands for that. It stands for bringing people, bringing together artists and fans to have those real live unscripted conversations every day that are what make radio the number one BDM in America. It is that live human voice that we wanted to bring to life with the brand.

Stop chasing fads. There is no one new next thing.

Gayle, to back up quickly, how does former Executive of MTV, Bob Pittman, call you and wants your opinion on how to relaunch Clear Channel, a historic radio company? How does that happen?

It's funny. I was doing consulting at one of the agencies and I met Bob through that. I had a good friend who was working in marketing for Bob and they were starting to wrestle with some of these brand issues. I was trying very hard to not have a day job at that point in time when I left Microsoft. That's how we crossed paths a couple of ways. He and a friend of mine who was there said, "Would you come help on this project?" He flew me to New York that next Monday. That was in the middle of the summer. About seven weeks later, we completely relaunched the brand. Every sign was changed. Every business card, every office wall was repainted. The Clear Channel brand was gone and the iHeartMedia brand emerged. We haven't looked back since. It's an amazing ride.

How many employees does iHeart have, Gayle?

It's about 20,000.

Twenty thousand employees and you rebranded the entire company. You came to our office and just blew our agency away with this presentation, this whole notion of the power of sound. Can you talk to us about that?

It's interesting for me as a marketer and has worked at Microsoft and done a lot of digital marketing there before I took over the traditional advertising. One of the things that I realized when I started talking to Bob Pittman was, we spent a lot of time at Microsoft agonizing about our TV or video advertising. We spent a little bit of time thinking about out-of-home. We hadn't spent much time at all thinking about audio. This is even more true now, and yet at iHeart we are reaching 9 out of 10 Americans every day on broadcast radio. There was this massive opportunity that as marketers, a lot of marketers are not as colluded to. What we are seeing is this insane Bowman where sound is about to change marketing in more fundamental ways. We've got smart speakers growing rapidly. Voice is becoming the new interface. If you think about everything that happened to digital marketing and all the new lessons we had to learn, the voice becomes the dominant interface in years to come.

You tend to have more brain cells firing when you listen. You pull yourself into the story, you start envisioning and participating in what they’re talking about.

Brands are going to have to start understanding how they tell their stories in audio, what conversations they should have and how they sound. You think about your brand identity and you have all these visual assets that you have come to rely on but when you say, "Let's make a radio spot for brand X,” people go, "How do I sound? What tone of voice do I have? Is it music? Is it conversational? Is it both?" We are starting to have these fascinating conversations with brands. The power of sound presentation was grounded in asking brands, “What's your sound strategy?” Now how do we start digging in and developing one? I do believe the brands that figure out how they sound and embrace audio, particularly the scale of broadcast radio, the power of podcasts, and streaming are the brands that are going to be able to differentiate and get more effective and efficient results in the years ahead. We see that in a lot of categories.

As marketers, we are so ingrained in insight sound, motion creates emotion. This whole opportunity around sound and creating emotional triggers around sound. In the presentation, you even had to study the brain when it's stimulated by certain music and sounds, and how companies can use that to trigger certain emotional responses for consumers.

It's so true. Video is such a good recognition medium. We all do it. When a TV spot comes on, you look up and your brain goes, "What's that?” It lights up and it goes, "That's an ad for a card, insurance, company or a fast food." If you are lucky they process that, it's your brand name. Around the second 3 or 4 of almost every video ad we tested, you see this cliff where the brain goes, “I’ve got it,” and it shuts down. You have less engagement through the spot until the end when you tell me who you are, why to buy, what to buy or where to buy. What we see with audio spots is the exact opposite. When I start talking to you, you start cluing in and going, "What is Gayle saying? Am I interested in that?" Your brain slowly lights up and it takes about three seconds for you to get fully engaged. You tend to have a lot more brain cells firing as you listen, you pull yourself into the story.

You start envisioning and participating in what we are talking about because the pictures aren't all there and it's not all handed to you. We have much higher engagement and audio spots. In fact, they are the highest engagement at the end of a spot when I tell you who I am, what to buy, where to buy, what to try and what my offer might be. The mediums work differently. Brands need to understand the way you develop a great video spot is probably the exact opposite of the tricks and the tips for developing great audio creativity. It needs to be more human, accessible, conversational and pull people in or musically-driven, high reach and frequency, and get in my head and remind me, “You exist.” When I'm hungry later on, I turned right versus left.

Is it a curiosity factor? Is it your imagination in your mind and you get to create your own reality with audio? We have seen such an explosion of podcasts and consumers engaging with them.

The brands that figure out how they sound and embrace audio are going to get more effective and efficient results in the years ahead.

It is. It's a much more human conversational, accessible medium. One of the reasons we are seeing so much growth in podcasts is, as we talk about marketing to Millennials and many of the mistakes we made as marketers, particularly in the US, we have taken the most educated generation in the history of human beings. We have made everything shorter, dumber and faster. We are seeing a resurgence in things like podcasts that are smart, interesting and provocative. They challenge the consumer to engage, listen and participate. You have successful podcasts that how stuff works that are high intellect, thought-provoking conversations. We love that at iHeart because we believe audio is a medium where we can be heard. Everyone can have a voice, find the content and the stories that they want to engage with.

As marketers, we went from the 60s to 30s to 15s to, "I know you can only handle 8 seconds of a 15, so you can skip it at 8." That's not okay for a generation that's curious, educated and smart. As marketers, we underestimated the consumer and the content creators are now realizing that and reaping the benefits. At iHeart we invested in how stuff works, which was a successful podcast company with a huge catalog and successful titles. We have a ton of successful iHeart podcasts as well. Now we have the iHeart Podcast Network, which’s the biggest podcast network in America, of which we are proud.

I love what you are doing with podcasts and the opportunity to go to LA to the Podcast Awards and to see the different categories of thought-provoking, authentic, personalized stories and entrepreneurs that are creating these podcasts. I want to go back to that insight. I don't know what the percentage, but a large percentage of American consumers are Millennials that are now controlling the purse strings that people were laughing at a few years ago. That's an amazing insight. They are an educated generation and their depth of thinking is different than what marketers are giving them credit for. As a brand, what should they be thinking about this generation and the evolution of sound, whether it's Amazon, Alexa, a podcast or traditional radio?

I do say this all the time to folks like yourself. Audio is one of the most undervalued opportunities for a marketer. The ability to get mass reach to reach consumers that increasingly you are not reaching through broadcast television as that demographic is declining and aging. We are reaching 9 out of 10 Gen Z and Millennials. The audience is there for audio. The key is to figure out how you tell your story. We usually recommend the client. There are some interesting models we use, like when it comes to podcasts, we have a model we call podcasts to broadcast. A great way to figure out what your story is and what conversations you have the right to have as a brand is to create a podcast.

The way you develop a great video spot is the exact opposite of the tricks for developing great audio creativity. It needs to be more human, accessible, conversational, and pulls people in. 

One of the ones we did in 2021 that I love with a brand was a podcast called Spit. We do it in partnership with 23andMe. It's an amazing conversation with artists and academics about all of the topics that DNA testing is raising. All of the societal and cultural topics around race, identity and health. We bring artists and academics together. We have fascinating conversations in that podcast. It's super successful. The podcast has been top ten on the podcast charts. It is still a relatively small audience. What we do is we take those most provocative, interesting and unscripted thoughts that happened in that conversation when we are recording the podcast. We turn those into the 30s and 60s and we put them on broadcast radio as advertising with predictable reach and frequency.

23andMe gets to both build a brand platform for storytelling and they are fun to come back and listen to every episode. We did podcast reach but then they can scale those messages and stories out to sell DNA test kits with predictable scale and metrics. The podcast to broadcast formula is one I encourage more clients to take a look at because it can be an effective way to get new different stories, great creative out and messages out into the world but then scale them with the power of radio.

A lot of people have developed amazing stories and they put them out there. This isn't a field of dreams build it and they will come. You have to think about a distribution model around great content. It has to be both. iHeart's reach can help you do that in some different formats.

You need that scale. We also have a smart audio platform wherein a data-driven world, we can find the right cohort who listen to their favorite stations in the app. Now we have all that digital data on the same listeners from the broadcast station. We can match that data up with the targets you want to reach. We can do a sophisticated plan for a brand so you are not just buying markets, dayparts and shows. You can buy auto intenders, frequent travelers or a specific target that you are trying to reach. You can do that with the scale of broadcast now so you don't have to trade one-off for the other.

The audience is there for audio. The key is to figure out how to tell your story.

You are talking to a Marketing Director, a VP of Marketing, a CMO and you are coaching them, what advice would you give them in terms of what not to do or what to do in terms of their thinking?

I always say this and obviously, I have an audio bias because there's a huge opportunity we see with a brand after brand that gets involved in the audio space. They see great results. Brands like PMG and others who shifted money from digital and video into broadcast have seen some great growth results in quarters. I always encourage people, simple self-serving answer, is to give us a call and try some broadcast radio. You will be shocked at the impact that you can have quickly. As a marketer, stop chasing fads. I love staying on the cutting edge, trying the newest, the journey through digital and learning to pin, post, tweet and snap.

There is no one new next thing you’ve got to have this conversation with CMOs all the time. You've got to focus on both scale and innovation. As we have gotten hyper-targeted in the digital era, we are not even talking to a lot of people who could buy our products. I always wonder what the overlap is between the people who go into a retailer, a restaurant or an auto dealer versus the people who show up in the brief. I don't know that they always overlap this clearly as we might think they do as marketers. We have so much data and in some ways, we are more out of touch with our customers than we have ever been.

One-to-one communication and digital conversion, I couldn't agree more. It's like, where's the scale, the brand and the storytelling?

It hasn't solved all the world's problems. When half of the fortune 500 companies didn't grow in 2020, something is breaking. You are seeing a lot of smaller scrappier companies being able to disrupt and displace. We work with a lot of those companies who see the power. They are much less apt to be chasing the next fad versus paying attention to what real sales and real results are. To do that at scale audio is a huge opportunity for brands and the cost of production is low. The ability to version and test to death is much lower than you see in digital or video. It's an easy medium to get into and learn fast.

Gayle, I know you have a busy schedule. Thank you for joining us and for giving amazing insights into the opportunities in sound, broadcast, consumer insights and your background in Microsoft. Best of luck to you at iHeart. I'm sure I will see you soon.

Thanks, Scott, for having me.

Thanks, Gayle.

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Scott Harkey

Entrepreneur & Podcaster

Scott leads a stable of marketing agencies and services offering the world's biggest brands speed, value and results. OH is an independent agency built to serve today's brands through consumer-centric marketing and strategy.