Pandora’s new ECD on the new audio renaissance and the company’s role in sonic branding

Pandora's new executive creative director Lauren Nagel

Radio, while still a highly viable advertising medium, doesn’t get as much love as its video counterparts, but thanks to the rise of podcasts, smart home speakers and streaming audio companies like Pandora and Spotify, audio content has gained new life, and with it, more chances for advertisers and brands to build sonic content.

Streaming audio company Pandora recently named Lauren Nagel as its new vice president, executive creative director, who has been working to bring audio advertising and branding to the forefront through the company’s in-house Audio Creative Studio.

Nagel was previously the company’s group creative director, joining in 2011 as one of Pandora’s first creatives. In her new role, Nagel will be responsible for overseeing Pandora’s creative offerings in an increased capacity, elevating and applying the unique learnings of storytelling on the Pandora platform across the brand and original content offerings. Having been a critical player in establishing and growing the Audio Creative Studio, she has created more than 2,000 custom ads each month for over 4,000 clients like General Mills, California Closets and Audible. Last year alone, Nagel helped produce and creatively direct over 26,000 audio ads and 8,000 visual assets. She will report to Pandora's chief marketing officer, Aimee Lapic.

Nagel spoke with The Drum about the new responsibilities she has with Pandora and how the company is addressing what she sees as a new audio renaissance.

“It is a huge responsibility, truly bringing creative to life, first and foremost for our listeners, but also amplifying the artists, content creators and aligning with our advertisers to help them understand how to truly bring their stories to life on our platform,” said Nagel from Pandora’s home base in Oakland, California.

“I’m super thrilled and humbled to lead Pandora creative. I come from a family of musicians and artists – I was playing piano before I knew how to form sentences. My first experiences with marketing were through compositions – writing music for films and commercials. So stepping into the role of leading creative for Pandora through this lens of music and creative audio experiences feels like the most organic evolution of my career,” she added.

“I was writing music for terrestrial radio, both from the perspective of being an artist and band myself and for advertisers. Now, I’m helping brands understand how to bring music to life with stories in authentic ways – which I think is a big challenge.”

Right now, said Nagel, we are at the forefront of the audio renaissance, and she sees the power of audio and sound from a neurological perspective, in the way our brains are wired for sound. She said that hearing is the first sense to develop in humans, and it’s easy for people to associate melody with memory.

“There are incredible things happening scientifically and psychologically with music and the way that we humans process sound and music. But when you combine that with what’s happening in technology, with connected home devices, speakers, voice activation everywhere, we’re truly moving away from a visual expression into what is the sound and feel of brands,” she said, adding that helping brands understand how to engage the power of music in a way that is truly sincere is a core strategy.

“That’s truly at the center of what I’ve been doing at Pandora for the last seven years, and what I will continue to do in this role," she said.

While Pandora is an audio brand, first and foremost, the company also has a strong visual presence, from its company branding to creating visuals for advertisers, brands and artists. Nagel and her team understand the way that the mediums work together and having a holistic approach to a creative strategy is important for creative expression and the authenticity of a brand’s story.

“My approach to visual is really understanding how this piece is amplified within the full spectrum of creative expression – when you fully understand, you can see how something sounds and hear how something looks. Pandora, as a brand itself, and as a company has the huge and humbling responsibility to actually express what music looks like. We aim to be as fluid and dynamic as music itself, as content creators, as our audience,” she stated.

The Audio Creative Studio and the importance of sonic branding

When Nagel was brought on board at Pandora in 2011 to build the Audio Creative Studio, it was focused much like a radio model – to be a production solution for advertisers. As the audio renaissance has helped the medium rise, advertisers are starting to understand the importance of a core audio and the studio has evolved to be a full-scale production house to help advertisers understand how to make compelling audio content and actually have them make a sonic identity for the brand – in the Pandora environment, the mobile environment, and the connected home environment.

The creative team at Pandora is mostly based in Oakland, with teams in New York, Los Angeles and soon to be Atlanta to help bring the stories of musicians and bands to life. The team consists of audio producers, copywriters, strategists, and project managers operating as a full-scale internal agency for Pandora’s advertising clients, with a focus on audio.

“Advertisers are really starting to understand the importance of a core audio strategy. Now, we’re a full-scale production solution to really help advertisers understand how to make compelling audio content and actually have them make a sonic identity for the brand – in the Pandora environment, the mobile environment, the connected home environment,” said Nagel.

Building that audio strategy involves understanding the two core environments of Pandora, first being mobile. “If the vast majority of our listeners are listening on mobile devices with earbuds in their ears, that’s an extremely intimate space, so the traditional [mass messaging way of radio advertising] really doesn’t work. Understanding the intimacy and the privilege of literally being the voice in someone’s head is a key point of understanding the current audio strategy. The second environment you talk about a lot is really the sonic environment – understanding that on Pandora you have 50-100% share of voice. You have only one or two ads playing in an ad break, which is very different from a six-minute terrestrial radio break.”

Another advantage of being in the digital audio space is Pandora’s targeting and data collection capabilities. Pandora reaches millions of listeners but they do it one listener at a time based on their audio preferences.

“The difference between being on a pitcher’s mound and talking to a whole stadium, or sitting next to someone at that stadium and saying, ‘hey, this is something I think you’d be really interested in’ is super important to understand. We know exactly who we’re talking to. We have the ability to customize our ads to fit that individual,” said Nagel.

The Audio Creative Studio creates more than 2,000 custom ads each month for 4,000-plus clients like General Mills, California Closets and Audible, among many others. And when Pandora brands, it starts with audio assets, which most brands have even if they may not realize it. Pandora does an audit of what a client has for audio assets, and if there are none, they work with video and other brand assets to help find core objectives and core pillars in order to bring those to life and create a sonic strategy.

“The rewarding thing about advertising on Pandora is that it actually works – we can see that with the data – did they engage, did we see an uptick? We can measure all of that,” said Nagel, who added they can format many iterations of their creative to fit different listeners. “It’s extremely rewarding for a creative. We’re getting direct feedback.”

Nagel said that in last two years, demand for Pandora’s creative services has grown “like gangbusters. Advertisers really understanding the importance of this medium. Creative agencies want to partner with us to learn how to bring audio stories to life.”

She said that Pandora often partners with creative agencies, and “with everyone understanding the power of audio, we all rise.”

Helping advertisers understand their audio strategy, and sometimes lead with that strategy, is exciting for Nagel, and in her new position she is helping tell Pandora’s story to the world and demonstrate the company’s commitment to its listeners.

Search The Drum Jobs

Explore the best jobs in Marketing and Media industries
View all open jobs