Marketing at the Speed of Sound

Gayle Troberman

President & Chief Marketing Officer at iHeartMedia

Learning Objectives

Join iHeartMedia’s President and CMO to hear how the country's leading audio company altered their marketing to adapt to COVID-19 times. Gayle Troberman will discuss a range of new marketing programs that the company launched to provide companionship for listeners across the country as they lived through the daily changes brought on by the pandemic and stay at home orders. That included iHeartMedia's Can't Cancel Pride, bringing the day to life with top artists, including Melissa Etheridge and other top artist.


"I've always believed great ideas win market share and data will help you test them, it will help you tweak them, it will help you decide where and how to deploy them and optimize them. But great ideas are born of great human invention and human creativity."

Gayle Troberman

President & Chief Marketing Officer at iHeartMedia

Transcript

I’m Gail German, I’m the CMO at I heart media. And I’m excited to be here with you today to talk a little bit about innovating at the speed of sound. So, if you don’t know I heart media, I’m sure you probably do because our awareness is crazy high. But we are the number one audio company in America, we reach nine out of 10 Americans on broadcast radio alone every month, we also are the number one podcaster. And we have a big streaming media platform. We also do a bunch of real world events in other times, before and after COVID. And we have a huge virtual events business that’s become a really important part of connecting fans and artists and content. And today, I’d love to talk with you a little bit about the journey we’ve been on through COVID what we’ve been learning, and how we’ve been innovating at the speed of sound. So marketing at the speed of sound. What is that all


about? Let’s start with the basics. Marketing is a hard gig, right? You probably know that. Marketing is actually harder than it’s ever been. And I’ve been around the marketing world for for quite some time. And I’ve never seen it be quite as challenging as it is right now. The old playbook, the old playbooks, they weren’t working as well as they used to do. I think as marketers, we have our go to media, we have a lot of trusted data and signals, and some predictable consumer behavior patterns that we’ve all learned, regardless of what industry you’re in, what consumer you’re talking to, you probably had a playbook that delivered some predictable results. And chances are, that playbook got completely blown up during COVID. I know ours did here at I heart. On top of that fact that consumer habits are changing, like more than I’ve ever seen them in my lifetime, right, we’ve all been forced to completely change our patterns and our behaviors. And what’s happening as we change our patterns and behaviors is we’re actually starting to reset our beliefs and our values. Now that’s really substantive change, right? Think about your yourself as a consumer things that you used to spend on used to think were critical, right? They may now be luxuries, things that you thought were were luxuries may now be essential things you didn’t care at all about, you know, there’s been lots of research on, on what brings consumers you know, comfort right now, you know, a fully stocked fridge, probably, if you were traveling and bouncing around and going out, that wouldn’t matter. But now that’s something that brings consumers security. So the interesting thing as a marketer is not only our consumer behaviors, changing all of that predictable data that you had the predictable patterns that that you’re used to using to drive results. They’re changing, but also fundamentally, consumers are being forced to try new things live different ways experienced different things. And and that means that they’re resetting all of their, their standard behaviors, their brand loyalties, and that’s a good and bad thing. If you’re, you know, the dominant player in a category, it probably sucks a little because you’re going to have to go return many of your customers, if you’re a challenger brand, it could be a huge opportunity. Because you can get in and actually, you know, at a moment of consumer reset, it was much easier to find that consumer and to get them to consider try or make a shift in what their loyalty was so good and bad side of that coin. On top of that, you know, I think we’ve seen this as as citizens, we’ve seen this as, as consumers. And we certainly know this as marketers consumer Trust has been eroding for some time. I think, as marketers consumers have, they’ve learned the marketing game, they know when you’re following them, they know when you picked up a piece of data, and now you’re targeting them to death because you know something about who they are, what they’ve done, or where they, where they’ve been or what they’ve purchased. And, you know, I’d say consumers are, they’ve learned to distrust institutions, media companies, and brands. And that’s a huge challenge, because brand loyalty comes from trust and connection with a brand. And then there’s COVID, right? There is all of us, you know, not knowing what the world holds, not knowing when we’ll get back to normal, not being able to plan long term, like you would in a normal year. So obviously, decision making, planning, budgeting all of that has been expedited dramatically. And we’re working in much shorter cycles, yet we need to deliver all of the content and the messaging and the creative and the things that matter. Once we make a decision. We need to do it and you know, we’d already sped up quite a bit now we need to do things in record time. So you know, one of the things we’ve seen work particularly well, in this moment of reevaluation and reinvention, most of the brands, most of the CMOS that I talked to are having to actually prioritize ideas ahead of data for a moment, we’d become such a data dependent marketing system. And that’s great, right data is really important to inform our decisions. But at the end of the day, I’ve always believed great ideas, win market share, and data will help you test them, it will help you tweak them, it will help you decide where and how to deploy them and optimize them. But great ideas are born of great human invention and human creativity. And you know, it’s been really exciting watching the ad industry in the marketing community, just start ideating. Again, rapidly and fast and watching brands and CMOS, fund great ideas and come into the marketplace in new ways. So I like that ideas are kind of maybe outweighing data for a moment. And I’m sure we’ll find our way back to some balance. But I think a lot of great innovation is happening and and I think as an industry, creativity has never been more at the forefront than it is right now. which is which is a terrific thing for us and for consumers. So I heart, what are we doing? Well, we’re doing first and foremost what what we always do what we exist to do here at I heart media, our mission is actually to give everyone in America, a friend, a friend who’s there anytime, anywhere you are. And then we use the power of audio and human companionship, to create deep engaged relationships with listeners, in this increasingly fragmented an isolating world. And that’s been our mission that isn’t something new we wrote today. That’s been our mission for a long time. Because it’s what really makes I heart unique. Our mission is companionship, we are alive right now in America on 850. Plus radio stations from the smallest little talk show to the most big badass urban hip hop show. We are we are every format, talking to consumers in in every state in the nation, at large, live unscripted, and with humans at the mic. And that’s why we’ve retained our reach. That’s why radio has been so resilient through the digital edge. When TV has declined, we’ve seen radio resilience because it is live and unscripted. It’s human. And during COVID, we’ve seen our numbers growing because people are finding us on new devices. They’re finding us on smart speakers and, and Roku and xboxes and smart TVs, because they want human companionship. They want to hear from those trusted hosts. If you’re a fan of The Breakfast Club, you want to spend a couple of hours that you have now that you’re at home, listening to that show, hearing what’s going on in the world, hearing the perspective of Charlemagne and angelyn


team, you want to be connected real time to that live human connected conversation. That’s why we have such high reach. And that’s a huge opportunity for the brands we partner with to come into these live, connected, trusted environments. And as brands are trying to win trust, trying to return to purpose, right? It’s a lot of what I think is marketers we’ve we’ve realized we we play an important role, not just in our companies, but in society. And I think during COVID, where so many brands have said, What can I do? How can I help? How can I help as a brand? How can I contribute? How can we make a difference in this moment where our consumers and our communities need us to step up. brands are thinking about their purpose, not just because we should, but because doing good is good for business and good for the bottom line. And the data shows that again and again. So it I heart as COVID hit first and foremost, you know, job one was how do we keep 850 shows live on air when the casts are all over and reporting now and trying to do their shows from basements and bedrooms, and closets, as we’ve all figured out how to reinvent our workspaces from home. So first and foremost, we needed to keep all our shows on the air, which we did very successfully. Next, we started doing daily sentiment studies to really understand, you know, if we are this live connected, mass reach medium, the mass reach medium, what is our purpose? What do we need to provide consumers every day as they tune in and it’s been really interesting, kind of fascinating to watch our daily sentiment studies, by market and by show, right it really bounces between, oh my god, I can’t get enough information about COVID to stop talking to me about COVID I want to be entertained. And you just watch these swings happen as people. You know, as markets change as the infection rates change. You know, consumers are going through this journey of wanting information at different points. And our job is to provide important information, but our job is also to provide companionship, and entertain and inform. So we’re talking about COVID we’re talking about it more and less in different markets in different ways based on the research that we’re seeing. But that daily sentiment study provides an opportunity for us to really connect to consumers in a meaningful way, show by show and then every show interprets that information is they think is appropriate for their listeners. And then, you know, the next thing after keeping our shows on their understanding what consumers needed, arming all our on air personalities with that data and information. The next moment came for us in late March, we had planned to have the iHeartRadio Music Awards live on Fox, and we were right at the peak of the world shutting down and COVID spiking and, you know, no one wanted to fly. It wasn’t the appropriate time probably to celebrate a lot of artists and hand them statues and and applaud the industry. So we talked to the artists community and our partners at Fox, and we decided this was the last Sunday in March, about a week before the show, we decided we needed to pivot. And this was one of the first pivots we made, we decided with about a week’s notice to, to, to lead and to leave with purpose, and the artists were excited about it. And we created the first living room concert for America. It was a fundraiser for Feeding America. And a couple of other causes. It was a live show on Fox, it was live streamed across all of our I Heart Radio stations. And it was an amazing experiment. Who knew if we could produce content from living rooms all over the all over the world, who knew if artists would step up and be comfortable performing without their bands without backup without all of their equipment. And yet, it turned out to be a phenomenal project. So we raised I think, more than $16 million for some important causes. And we created a brand new franchise and a brand new way for artists to connect with fans. It was the stripped down raw, authentic human performances in a time that mattered for a reason that mattered. And it became the first living room concert for America. Since then, we’ve done a whole bunch of iheart living room concerts with different artists. And it’s even become a platform now where artists come to us when they want to release new music and they want to connect with fans. And we pull together these these live intimate performances which are appropriate for the moment we’re all in, and a great opportunity for brands to partner with us and bring great new music out to fans in an interesting way. Next up, we realize that the class of 2020 kinda got screwed. You worked really hard,


you’re going to graduate and you don’t get your graduation ceremony. And in this moment where the world is confused, life is more challenging than it’s ever been. You want to get into the world and go carve your path and find your way as a new graduate and you’re trapped at home. So we we thought we could do something interesting here for all of the graduates and pretty much all of us during COVID, who could use a little sage advice from a range of experts. So we created something we called commencement, the podcast for the class of 2020. And we connected with thought leaders across every industry from some of the biggest artists like Tim McGraw and Mary J. Blige, john legend, to some amazing thought leaders like Hillary Clinton and Bill and Melinda Gates, a huge range of about 50 thought leaders across industries came together Abby Wambach, David Chang, and they gave commencement speeches, which were amazingly poignant, and interesting and helpful and thoughtful and fun and entertaining. And it was 50 commencement podcast speeches for the class of 2020. We partner with brands like T Mobile, and Doritos and State Farm, to bring that podcast out to the world, to give students and their families and all of us a little bit of wisdom in a way that scaled fast around the nation. really successful project, huge listening numbers, and a great new franchise for us commencement, the podcast for the class of 2020. Then came pride. Our friends at Procter and Gamble, came to us and said, we’re we’re big supporters of quality and the LGBTQ plus community, and all of the pride events are being cancelled. And that that that kind of sucks for people who want to have a moment to express themselves and celebrate diversity and equality. It’s also a huge problem for all of the LGBTQ plus causes the do most of their fundraising during the month of June, through all of these in person live events and experiences. And we said what can we what can we do Can we come together to replace that pride parade? And, and can we also raise money for all of these causes that are really struggling because pride events have been canceled. So we rolled up our sleeves with our programming team with the artists community. And we produced an amazing show in partnership with our friends at Procter and Gamble. It was called can’t cancel pride. It aired on Facebook and Instagram and Hulu, and it was an amazing variety show, delivering important messages and entertaining in a way that, you know, we really hadn’t done as a video show before here at I heart. So again, entirely new problem, entirely new opportunity to produce a new kind of event, a virtual variety show, if you will, and it was it was just phenomenal. You know, it had an amazing array of performances from some of the biggest names in in music and media. We had a Hedwig original cast reunion we had Kermit the Frog talking about his chosen family. Laverne Cox and Elvis Duran hosted Katy Perry released new music Melissa Etheridge, Ricky Martin sia, Billy Porter, big Frieda phenomenal entertaining show, phenomenal fundraiser. In fact, some of the causes raised we raised almost their entire operating budget for the year so they could continue to deliver for the LGBTQ plus community in ways that mattered. And that whole project, talk about moving at the speed of sound through COVID 27 days from the first conversation 10 Procter and Gamble brands participated. Six LGBTQ plus causes, we raise money for 5.6 million fans watched and listened. It was a phenomenal success. And one of my favorite things about this project was we we figured out how to integrate brands new and fresh and original ways. And brands, were willing to take risks with us and step up and be part of the communication around pride. I’m gonna play for you a quick clip of how Sharman was part of this show in an unexpected entertaining and refreshing way that really broke through and social shaming is a soft spot for I love that integration. I think it’s unexpected. I think it’s bold for a brand like Sharman. And I think it’s very much authentic, and of the LGBTQ plus community and the spirit of this show. So huge, huge kudos to brands that are stepping up during COVID. And doing things and helping fun projects that really matter. Like the can’t cancel pride event and fundraiser. It’s been really fun rolling up our sleeves with so many different brands on each of these projects, to figure out how they can communicate in new ways through Virtual Media and virtual content. And it’s been one of the most fun parts of my job actually is, is inventing and imagining with brands in new ways during this time period. So let’s talk about trust. As I said, huge issue, huge issue for media huge issue for consumers, huge issue for brands. Loyalty doesn’t exist without trust. People don’t really believe in your brands without trust. And there’s a real trust divide in our nation right now, as you know, June rolled around, and consumers took to the streets after George Floyd’s death. We all had a moment of reckoning. And and I you know, I think realizing that there was something happening in America that that we needed to take notice of and we needed to pause and think about what is our role in helping fight racism? What is our role in giving back to the black community and providing the tools they need? And you know, there have been a project kicking around at I heart for some time, some of the black leaders in our company had uncovered the fact that black consumers have a dramatically under index for both listening and watching news, and particularly for trusting any news source. And they put together a pilot program called the Black Information Network, to try to fill that void, to try to create a trusted news source for black consumers around the nation. And like I said, I’ve been a little bit of a project kicking around here and there COVID times were tough. We’d cut a lot of projects. We were not funding a lot of new initiatives. But this felt particularly important as we as we hit June so we greenlit the project. We started finding broadcast radio stations, we could flip to all News 24. Seven, and building a team of black journalists to deliver black news from a black perspective for black listeners in markets with high audience composition. So we started with about 12 stations. I think we’re now up around 20 stations and there’s a digital feed for The black Information Network, phenomenal content. It’s growing really fast. And what’s most encouraging is by doing this new project and going out with the mission of building trust and credibility with black consumers, we’re scoring really well in just three months, one out of two black adults believe bi n is necessary. Four out of 10 give us really high trust scores. I think we’re the second most trusted black news source today. And we did a really new innovative model with Brand Partners here. So instead of selling advertising by impression, and encouraging our journalists to have to go chase ratings by sensationalizing news and headlines, we said, What if we know this mission matters? We know it’s important, and so do many of our brand partners. What if we actually, instead of just making this a platform for standard advertising, what if we had brands come to the table and collaborate with us as founding partners of the black Information Network? So that’s what we did. We rolled up our sleeves, we’re co creating content, we’re telling stories that matter for our founding partners, brands got on board to support it. And it keeps our journalists from having to go do unnatural things to chase ratings, because we already have our brand partners, and now our journalists can partner with them, to create branded content to tell stories to do research together, and to reach the community in ways that matter with content that really has a purpose. Again, phenomenal way to build trust for iheart. To build trust with black consumers. And to partner with brands to build trusted content in a highly trusted environment. Very unusual platform and product for us. We couldn’t be more proud of the work we’ve done with the team to create the black Information Network. And again, in just three months, we’re on to something important here. And building trust is core to our I heart mission, as we discussed. So this is another great step in that direction. Next step we recently announced that we want to create, and we want to champion diversity in podcasting. So partnering with charlamagne, tha God Of The Breakfast Club, one of our favorite, most beloved personalities, we are creating a joint venture with Charlemagne to actually give the mic to more black creators consciously, and make sure we create a platform with our I heart Podcast Network, we’re the number one Podcast Network, we’ve got the reach and scale. And now we’ve created what we call the black effect, which is a joint venture with Charlemagne to put the mic in the hands of more black creators to talk about the black experience. And unapologetically create content across every topic that listeners want to hear about. There’ll be comedy, there’ll be scripted narratives, there’ll be health and wellness, there’ll be financial information, there’ll be lots of music and entertainment podcasts. There’ll be sports podcasts, there’ll be whatever black creators want to bring to market. And it’s a beautiful joint venture. We’ve got a lot of big brands that come on board to support us in this initiative, and reach again, reach black listeners with authentic content that has both purpose and entertainment value, right? Because that’s what we want to do. We want to create companionship, and deliver the content in ways that build audience that build trust, and that deliver real marketing value for the brands that support these platforms. Authentic human storytelling is what we do at I


heart, we do it every day across platforms at massive scale. So it’s been a really fun ride through COVID. Again, I am crazy proud of the innovation, the work we’ve been doing and the speed we’ve been moving at to bring new platforms, new content, new experiences, and new marketing into the world in ways that matter with high trust. So what have I learned through this ride? urgency wins, don’t be afraid to act. I think we got with, you know, as fast as the world sped up, we kind of got slow and we got scared. Trust your guts. Trust your creative instincts, take some risks, be bold, act with purpose, because purpose will accelerate impact, impact for your brand growth for your brand results for your brand. And I think as citizens of the world in this moment in time, we we as brands, and we as marketers, we have to act intentionally with purpose, and the speed of sound is a real thing. where some of these projects might have been impossible. We would have thought they’d be impossible to do in these kinds of time periods 27 days a week to the I Heart Radio living room concert for America. The speed of sound is a real thing. Audio is your friend you can move fast, take risks, learn quickly, what works. And then double down. So we had I heart couldn’t be more proud of the work we’re doing. We really believe in trust and companionship. And we love being able to partner with brands to co create and collaborate because that’s when the best most authentic marketing happens. Thank you for your time. It’s been awesome, sharing a little bit of my journey with you. And I hope you found this useful.


Thanks.


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