As iHeartMedia goes public, CMO calls on brands to stop using audio the wrong way

The country's largest radio broadcaster eyes podcasting as its next growth engine

After emerging from bankruptcy restructuring on 1 May, iHeartMedia is now trading as a public company and working to grab more ad dollars along the way.

The largest US radio broadcaster, with 848 stations under its belt, now trades on the Nasdaq stock exchange as of Thursday (18 July) morning.

While the Texas-based media company has a stable of radio stations across the country, chief marketing officer Gayle Troberman said iHeartMedia is eyeing emerging audio touchpoints – and the influx of ad revenue that ideally will follow.

Troberman called podcasting a notable growth engine and said digital audio streaming accounts for a “big chunk” of listening – especially through smart speakers, which has "voice top of mind for everyone".

This fragmentation and diversification in audio has Troberman calling for brands to consider their “sonic identity” and develop audio toolkits if they want to successfully play in the space.

“What do most brands do? They create one spot with no contextual relevance, and they run the same spot on Rush Limbaugh and the Breakfast Club,” said Troberman, noting that creative elements aren't always used the "right" way in audio.

According to Nielsen, broadcast radio reaches around 90% of US listeners each week, with iHeartMedia saying 84% of its radio consumption coming through broadcast and the rest through streaming.

The iHeartRadio app has around 130 million registered users. Consumption through web, mobile and smart speakers are roughly the same size, according to the company.

Some of iHeartMedia’s first moves during its restructuring included podcaster Stuff Media and programmatic advertising company Jelli. The company filed for Chapter 11 in March 2018.

Now, as a newly emerged company with a bolstered internal audio suite, iHeartMedia is partnering with outside groups such as WPP to educate the marketplace on how best to integrate their brands into audio.

Troberman said that media agencies and creative groups such as Ogilvy and Wunderman Thompson are on board with the WPP co-initiative, dubbed Project Listen, where brands are exploring different ways of entering audio, such as original storytelling in podcasts and reach replacement for digital video.

A 2018 study from Edison Research found that 51% of Americans have listened to a podcast at least once in their lives, with 32% saying they had listened to a podcast within the last month.

Scale can be an issue when advertising within podcasts, as the ease of programmatic can jeopardize the intimate feel of host-read ads.

Conal Byrne, president of iHeartMedia’s podcast division, said all podcast ads can be dynamically inserted, allowing advertisers to seamlessly integrate into an episode.

“Dynamic ad insertion means you can put an ad in and pull it out dynamically through a kind of mothership dashboard of how you manage your ad campaigns. That's how you integrate brand messages at scale,” said Byrne.

Troberman said audio advertising in general is a way for the notoriously distrusted ad world to earn some needed customer equity.

“We hear a lot from brands that one of the reason they come to [audio]... is because of that human relationship,” said Troberman. “You listen to this host for years and you know that guy… Brands get to borrow on that trust when they come in and become part of the conversation.”

As part of iHeartMedia’s bankruptcy restructuring, it had to offload Clear Channel Outdoor, which trades as a separate company on the New York Stock Exchange.

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