February 28, 2022

Is This Thing On? Ep. 6 with iHeartMedia CMO Gayle Troberman

“Is This Thing On?” is back! In episode six of the podcast, GALE’s Winston Binch sits down with iHeartMedia CMO Gayle Troberman to chat all things audio. Tune in to hear about how too many brands are underinvested in the space, why you should be making room for audio in your marketing plans, and how for marketers, audio can be the secret weapon to growth.

Winston Binch

Chief Brand & Experience Officer

In episode six of “Is This Thing On?,” our Chief Brand & Experience Officer Winston Binch sat down with iHeartMedia CMO Gayle Troberman to chat all things audio. In this conversation, they cover: 

  • Broadcast radio is still the biggest thing in audio. It reaches nine out of 10 Americans.
  • Podcasts are booming. 60% of all Americans listen to podcasts once a week and many have developed enormous trust in a growing group of powerful podcast hosts.
  • Audio is the secret weapon to growth. Brands who are underinvested in audio need to make room for it in their strategies. There are easy ways to get started.

And much more!

We’ve included the full transcript of the conversation below for easy reading, and please make sure to have a listen on iHeart, Amazon, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, or wherever else you get your podcasts!


Speaker 1 (00:01):

Is this thing on?

Speaker 2 (00:07):

Welcome to Is This Thing On?, an audio series from GALE, exploring marketing life and random thoughts with business leaders from around the globe. On this episode, GALE chief brand and experience officer Winston Binch speaks with the chief marketing officer at iHeartMedia, Gayle Troberman. Let's join the conversation.

Winston Binch (00:30):

Okay, Gayle, let's get right into it. Biggest things in audio?

Gayle Troberman (00:37):

Biggest things in audio? Well, the biggest thing by far in audio is broadcast radio still. So broadcast radio still reaches nine out of 10 Americans, according to Nielsen, so it's still the mass reach medium in audio, but there's lots of exciting new innovations happening in audio which are really giving it momentum. Wireless headphones have us now connected to the grid with our ears. That's a massive transformation, right? It used to be audio was something that was removed from the grid. Now we're wired in with our ears and it's actually extra bandwidth. I think our eyes get maxed, and all of a sudden, our ears have bandwidth to multitask and take in more content.

Gayle Troberman (01:21):

And with that, we've got podcasts that are growing exponentially. 60% of all Americans listen to podcasts once a week these days. Podcasts are growing with every generation. They're growing across every genre from true crime to comedy to scripted. Smart speakers, same thing. All of a sudden, audios become perhaps the most easy-to-access content anywhere, right? You can just ask a smart speaker for any kind of content from podcasts to music to news and sports and talk, and all of a sudden, all of your favorite radio stations, all of the content you love is just an ask away which is amazing because we're all a little lazy and tend to gravitate towards whatever's easy.

Gayle Troberman (02:06):

And there's also a lot of experiments happening in social audio with things like Clubhouse where we're learning new ways of conversing and being live and in the moment with audio, so tons going on and all of that adds up to, right now, consumers. We just did some new research with WARC, the Lions Intelligence group and consumers right now are spending about a third of their media time with audio, which is a pretty remarkable growth. It's always been dominant. It's always been mass reach, but the amount of time is growing exponentially.

Winston Binch (02:42):

These are amazing stats. You've had a storied career and you've been doing brand content, digital marketing since the beginning at tech giants like Microsoft. What led you to audio? How did you end up here? Have you always been passionate about it? Again, the data is really compelling, but I'd love to know.

Gayle Troberman (03:01):

Yeah, there's this guy, Bob Pittman and he had come over to what was then Clear Channel and started transforming audio. Clear Channel at the time was a lot of disparate local radio stations that really weren't connected at the center. And it's part of what makes radio great is it's truly local and there's sort of something for every audience and every market from hip hop fans to pop fans to sports, news, talk. And Bob had come over to Clear Channel and I had left Microsoft and I was thinking about ... I had been doing some work at IPG. That's where I met Bob and he called me one day and he said, "I'm thinking about rebranding the company from Clear Channel to iHeartMedia. What do you think about that?"

Gayle Troberman (03:51):

And it was just a fascinating brief and we started rolling up our sleeves, working on that and about. God, I think it was something like eight to 10 weeks later he rebranded the entire company and it really changed the momentum. Talk about as marketers the power of a brand, right? It really gave new energy and new perspective and then we started doing a lot of work to create centrifugal force across all of the audio assets that we had at the company.

Winston Binch (04:21):

Well, it's working. That's good.

Gayle Troberman (04:23):

It was. I still think it's an undervalued medium in a lot of ways and that was what was exciting as a marketer, to make it relevant both to consumers that already was but to marketers.

Winston Binch (04:35):

It's such a disconnect. I wanted to talk about it because you were my client for many years and...

Gayle Troberman (04:40):

Lots of good battles, didn't we?

Winston Binch (04:43):

Yes, we did. Made some good work. But what are the barriers? Because I'm frankly seen it on some of my own clients and brands I work with or work with them, where it's just everyone's listening to it, but the spend is not there, the commitment is not there and maybe the experimentation isn't happening. What needs to change and what are the barriers?

Gayle Troberman (05:05):

Yeah, it's certainly a multi-billion dollar industry, and in lots of areas, it's growing fast, but I do think the biggest challenge, and I face it every day in my job evangelizing audio and partnering with our clients on how to use our platforms, and I think there's certainly a bias towards what you know and a bias towards video which used to be TV, but for the first time, I think with the declines that we've seen in TV viewing, particularly with some of the younger audiences, I think it's undeniable now that brands have had to move from a TV strategy to a video strategy. And I think audio just is something that a lot of marketers haven't had as much experience with, so they don't have that gut instinct and I think they're just not aware we spend a lot of our time with marketers telling them both how powerful marketing and audio can be, how big audio has become.

Gayle Troberman (06:08):

So I think broadcast radio is the only mass reach medium left, right? Broadcast is reaching more people than YouTube or Facebook or Instagram every month in the US. And it's where culture happens. It's where the conversation happens. If you talk to anyone in the music industry, they get it because that's where they need enough spins to chart. So it's really where things start and it's very organic, it's very authentic, it's host led. It's all those things marketers say they want, but I think a lot of marketers just haven't had enough experience with audio. When they get in, they get addicted really fast.

Gayle Troberman (06:47):

It's 10th the cost, it's 10th the time. The CPMs can be about half of what you're spending in TV meets video. So it can deliver real results really quickly for brands. So we see that with brands very quickly. They go from P&G a few years back, was spending almost nothing in North America on radio and they had to cut budgets, so they looked at new reach channels. They said, "Let's test audio." They tested with three or four brands and now they're probably one of the top three spenders in broadcast radio today because it works. There's also, we talked a little bit about this, I do think one of my rants is there's a little bit of a media industry bias, right?

Gayle Troberman (07:32):

We all have our unconscious biases we try to overcome, but I think a lot of media ideas and planning happen in very affluent millennial pockets of Brooklyn and Venice Beach and places that don't look and feel like America. And I think a lot of brands are missing. They're going for stunts, they're going for moments, they feel good, they're super cool, they're creative, but they're not going to drive predictable growth at scale. And I think to do that for most brands, you got to get back in touch with real America.

Winston Binch (08:06):

I love that. I also think that creative people need to change the way they look at things because for so long in creative agencies, it's always been the pursuit of "the never been done," right?

Gayle Troberman (08:19):


Winston Binch (08:19):

The innovation, "What's going to really push through and be remarkable first?" So I think sometimes the emphasis is on the shiny new things, whether it's TikTok or some new platform of the day rather than thinking about…-

Gayle Troberman (08:34):


Winston Binch (08:36):

Metaverse for sure. Rather than thinking about what works. And I think that that's where we need to do better because the creative community is really focused on great work that's going to drive business outcomes against aligned to audiences. And when you just rattle off the stats, it's like, "wWait a second, why aren't we doing a lot more audio?" And I think it's not only incumbent on the brands and the clients, but the agencies and the partners, the creative partners to bring forward this thinking.

Gayle Troberman (09:07):

It's so true. I think the art of audio, it's almost a new art today in the world we live in, with the rules we have, with the lack of trust brands have with consumers that need for high credibility and authenticity when you walk into a new space. People do it in social. They're really comfortable working with influencers. When we look at audio and we look at our hosts of our broadcast shows, the Ryan Seacrest, the Charlamagne tha God, right? We look at some of our biggest podcasters, the Malcolm Gladwells, the Josh and Chuck from Stuff You Should Know. These hosts have massive superfans and I think one of the easiest ways for brands to get into the conversation is just to work with the hosts, right?

Gayle Troberman (09:58):

In podcasting, it became very normal. In radio, it's pretty normal too, to do host-read or collaborations with the hosts. And the funny thing is so many brands aren't sure how to do that in audio or aren't ready to do that in audio, and yet, some of the most social brands like TikTok, when they're doing their brand campaigns come to us and they know the power of getting our hosts to talk about what's happening on TikTok. There's very little that's as powerful at scale to go find new TikTok users. So I imagine you could find new buyers of everything else, but getting the creatives excited about audio again, done right, it's still is a greenfield. There's so many ways to start a conversation and use audio and 3D audio and the technology to create an environment to put you in a moment, to put you in a place. So I'm excited. I think we're starting to see a lot more creative agencies wake up to the potential.

Winston Binch (10:54):

I love that and we were also talking of this idea that audio really is the original metaverse.

Gayle Troberman (11:00):

It's true.

Winston Binch (11:01):

Between your two ears, but there are a lot of creative possibilities. Now you spent a lot of time evangelizing, and you're very good at it, around audio and the potential for brands. How does a brand that is maybe nascent or just not investing, where do they start? What's the process and what do you recommend at a high level?

Gayle Troberman (11:26):

Sure. Audio is really easy. Again, I think it's fairly inexpensive. The costs of production are low, so you can move super fast. Decide which audience you want to reach. We can find them. Again we're reaching nine out of 10 Americans. We got the biggest podcast network at iHeart. We can do that through contextual or demographic or behavioral targeting. We can take your data and match it with our data and go out and find those pockets of consumers where they listen. We can also do things that can be super cool in audio around the time of day. Your message can change really easily, right?

Gayle Troberman (12:06):

"Stuck in traffic?" All of a sudden, I'm talking to you. Everyone's stuck in traffic. "Are you hungry? Do you feel like you've streamed everything there is to stream? What are you going to watch tonight?" In a question, I can create complete targeting and relevance or we can do all the data, things you're used to doing in digital to find pockets of consumers you need to reach with your message. And then the brief I always give people is as simple as, "What's the conversation you want to start?" Because a lot of times the fastest, easiest way to some relevant creative and learning is just to do what I just did.

Gayle Troberman (12:41):

If you're trying to sell a new show on HBO Max or Netflix, just ask me, have I watched everything? "What kind of shows do you love? Do you need more horror?" or whatever. Just bring me into a conversation and it can really be that simple. And then how do we measure success? What are we trying to do? Are we trying to drive clicks? Are we trying to drive brand affinity? Are we trying to get people to share? Are we trying to get people to buy, trying to get in the consideration set? I think audio is particularly good to just get in the consideration set. We see that the stats for increasing purchase intent are off the chart, usually with most campaigns.

Gayle Troberman (13:21):

And then sometimes you might want to use a digital targeted ad at the moment of purchase or be out in the real world physically for that last minute, but we can very often be that last thing heard, "and now you're in my head." It's like to say if you're like, "hey, let's go to dinner tonight," right? I probably have what? Five restaurants in my consideration set, right? I've been to hundreds, but there's like five that probably come to mind and that's all I'm going to choose from. So I think anytime you can start getting in the conversation, being top of mind, you're going to increase your growth and you're going to get results from that.

Winston Binch (14:01):

Talk a little bit ... You mentioned 3D audio. What is the fusion? There's been tons of talk with the metaverse, of course, but what does the future of audio look like to you?

Gayle Troberman (14:13):

Well, I think 3D audio has been super fun. We launched 3D audio podcasts going back, I guess, about a year or so ago, a Halloween ago. We launched a whole slate of Halloween creepy podcasts using the power of 3D audio. If you haven't played around with 3D audio, it's really just that you get the spatial component to audio, so people can sneak up behind you. You have to have earphones in for it really to work well, but with the earphones, you can create a sense of place and you can create a sense of motion and moment and put you right into a setting. And so it's become a really powerful tool. Brands are just starting to play around with it. We've got a lot of gaming companies and movie studios are using 3D audio for their ads with the 3D audio ad product. And I think you're going to see more and more innovation on the production side of what's possible with audio.

Gayle Troberman (15:09):

Again, as more and more people listen, I think the tech community and the broadcast community are going to keep innovating, and the creative community. You've got a lot of the biggest names in Hollywood now using podcasting as a way to test IP and we're starting to see a lot more scripted podcasts come into play, which means I think you're going to need higher production values probably for some of the scripted stuff versus doing what we're doing, just bantering back and forth. So I think audio ad tech and audio production tech is going to be a high growth.

Winston Binch (15:39):

And what's interesting with that scripted original content, so I imagine other big players will be getting into this space, right?

Gayle Troberman (15:47):

Sure. We have a slate deal we do with Jason Blum who's in the horror space. Shonda Rhimes is going to be bringing a slate of original podcasts out into the world with us. She's launched one with Laverne Cox. We've been doing more in scripted. We just launched a really successful scripted telenovela with Rachel Ziegler from West Side Story called Princess of South Beach. Super fun. So I think as people spend more time with the medium, they want more both ... It started more as nonfiction and smart people content and now I think you're seeing every kind of content we love can find a home in audio. So the growth is great. Comedy is growing super fast too. I think we all need a laugh these days.

Winston Binch (16:35):

We do. We, for sure, do. One thing I've noticed, I came to GALE almost three years ago because I want to learn a lot about CRM, data and media. And at the same time, I was just noticing how smart DTC brands were for CRM, but also it feels like many of them, whether it's Athletic Greens or whatever, they have been early to have success in the audio space and maybe a redefined way whether through podcast or other means. What brands out there are you inspired by? Who do you think is doing a good job in the audio space?

Gayle Troberman (17:14):

Sure. I think tons of brands are having fun with it. I think we're seeing some brands like Sharman did a bunch of comedy stuff. P&G's gotten into it and brands that can be lighthearted and have some fun. Will Ferrell actually wrote a bunch of scripts for Sharman in the Ron Burgundy Podcast which has just been a mega hit as Ron Burgundy learning about podcasting which were just genius. The Princess of South Beach, I love what we did there. We actually partnered with Lincoln and we created a character that's not a core character in the show but becomes an ancillary character who's integrated in and he gets into his Lincoln and shares his private thoughts, mid-episode, pre-episode post-episode, which is super cool way to do branded content in audio.

Gayle Troberman (18:07):

I got to give a shout out to 23andMe, one of my favorite brands. They got into the branded podcast space really early with the show that's ... I think it's going into its third season. It's called Spit and it's a genius idea of we find a topic that DNA is changing and we get a famous person who has a reason to talk about it and an expert. So you've got Tim McGraw talking about diabetes with the head of the American Diabetes Association or some of Chris Cornell's bandmates talking about if you have the marker for depression, what do you do if you know that, right? Fairly heavy and important topics that I think we don't always think about what DNA can teach us, but they have these riveting conversations because there's all these new human questions that we need to ask and answer as we learn about our own genetics. So that one's been super fun.

Gayle Troberman (19:05):

I'm trying to think who else. A lot of brands have just been getting better and better at working with us on partnering with hosts. Like I said, TikTok did a really cool part of their brand campaign, "Hear it on iHeart. See it on TikTok with fresh content." I think that's one thing that's really changed with social and audio, which is you got to be relevant today, right? It's not so much campaignable ideas or that it's a campaignable idea that has to have a fresh thing for you to believe or try every week. So more and more, we're finding a lot of brands work with us on providing fresh changing content, what's interesting, what's new this week, and then we get our hosts together and we teach them and train them about how to talk about some of these products.

Winston Binch (19:55):

Really, I love the power of the host, this notion because the more and more, over the last year, I've been seeing this shift of us really having to think of, "act like creators and more like curators," and thinking about who are the right personalities for brands rather than us as agencies always coming up with the idea. I find it personally that I buy products that I hear from a podcast host I like and I know that the data suggests that as well. It's pretty interesting.

Gayle Troberman (20:31):

If you listen to people, if you drive to work every day and you listen to The Elvis Duran Show, you know the cast, right? You know their habits and their patterns. So when they start talking about something they discovered or something we introduce them to, all of a sudden, you come in with so much more credibility, so much more trust.

Winston Binch (20:50):

So what are you listening to these days?

Gayle Troberman (20:52):

What am I listening to these days? I have been catching up on some of our Black Effect podcasts. I've been trying to play around with a lot of some of the new titles in there. Drink Champs is amazing. I highly recommend. I'm always trying to span the dial and check out what's new and what we're launching. I'm trying to think what else we've listened to lately. Revisionist History and all the Pushkin podcasts, I listen to those regularly. It's an amazing slate of podcasts. I love those guys. I haven't been doing much news. I've been trying to avoid news.

Winston Binch (21:33):

That's been my pandemic. I started doing that a long time ago and it seems the news finds you. The news you need finds you.

Gayle Troberman (21:45):

Very true.

Winston Binch (21:45):

I think seeking out laughs and inspiration is probably a good way to go.

Gayle Troberman (21:48):

The other thing I've been listening to a lot and it's one of my favorite projects that we've launched in the last, in the COVID era is our Black Information Network which is a 24/7 news network, all audio and it's a digital stream. And then we flipped like 30 stations in local markets and hired Black journalists to tell news from a Black point of view. So I will say when I do listen to news, I actually like to listen to BIN, so it gives you a very fresh, different perspective than what you're hearing everywhere else.

Winston Binch (22:19):

That's awesome. Timely as well, Black History Month begins tomorrow.

Gayle Troberman (22:26):


Winston Binch (22:26):

The other thing I know you have an opinion on is paywall, and obviously, Rogan and Spotify, they've got some issues right now, but talk a little bit about that and where you see platforms going and pros and cons.

Gayle Troberman (22:43):

Sure, yeah. At iHeart, we're ad supported and we very much believe in every business we're in that it's all about democratizing access to content, bringing fans and artists and music and creators together. And so we tend to take all of our content and distribute it as broadly as possible. So all of our shows and our podcasters in the iHeartRadio app, they're also everywhere else you go and consume audio content, everywhere that will allow us. And what's great for brands in areas like podcasting are those ads travel with those shows and those content to all these platforms. And because they're ad supported, you don't have to write checks every month to get a limited amount of content.

Gayle Troberman (23:29):

What you tend to see is when creators move behind the paywall. It's great for a creator sometimes. They can take a giant check from a Sirius or Spotify and it's great for them, but sometimes when they go behind the paywall, use The Howard Stern example, he used to be somebody you would talk about, what was on air every day because he was reaching probably 100x, 10x, 20x, I don't know, 50x the audience. But when you go behind the paywall, you're reaching so many fewer people, it's very easy to lose that scaled audience and that relevance very quickly. So we really believe in democratizing content, whether it's broadcast radio, whether it's podcasting, whether it's streaming more and more of our music events and we like to do that for free as much as possible so consumers can enjoy that content and that access and brands can help us fund it all.

Winston Binch (24:23):

So I'm going to turn back to just brand advice. Talk or music? Is one better than the other? Where should you go?

Gayle Troberman (24:38):

I don't think it's an either/or. We were talking about this. I think what we tend to see on broadcast radio is, in the mornings, people want conversation and community and connection, "I just got up and made some coffee. I want to know what's happened in the world before I jump on my next call and something I don't. What are the big trends?" So our biggest broadcast radio show is The Ryan Seacrest, The Breakfast Club. A lot of those shows play about three songs an hour and you show up to catch up and hear about what's going on in culture and content.

Gayle Troberman (25:08):

But by the end of this day, and you've had a bunch of meetings, you've done your job, you're on your way home, we see people tend to want to lean back more and disengage and that's where we tend to spend a lot more music as the night goes on and people want to like relax and check out a little bit more. I see a little bit of the same with podcasting. A lot of the more intense shows tend to happen people listen on weekends when they have free time or mornings when they're trying to check in with daily podcasts, news and sports and things that are very timely.

Winston Binch (25:40):

Which means just get smart about your audiences and try to be relevant in terms of when you want to deliver the message. What are you most ... It's 2022, New Year. I know we meant to start this conversation last year, but I'm glad we did it now. What are you most excited or optimistic about moving forward?

Gayle Troberman (26:07):

Hopefully, vaccines are working and we get back into the world, so that would certainly be one. I am excited, obviously, about this moment in audio, because like you said, I think if the creators are getting in at the scale they are and then the creatives get in too, I think audio is very quickly going to be the place where the most creative content and the most creative marketing is happening. And I'm optimistic, I think this is really going to be a breakthrough year for audio.

Winston Binch (26:42):

I love it. I know we're going to leave this call, podcast and get to it here at GALE. Here's some fun ones. So guilty pleasure?

Gayle Troberman (26:56):

Guilty pleasure? Probably, I watch a lot of teen dramas. So I love a good Riverdale or something a little darker like Euphoria. Those have always been in my escapist sweet spot as much as my wife hates that, all of them.

Winston Binch (27:20):

Well, I love them. Well, I think that's about it. I don't know if you have anything else you want to plug or talk about, but this has been a really exciting conversation. Audio, to me, it's so untapped, it's right in front of your face particularly every day for all of us and I think there's so much to do with it.

Gayle Troberman (27:44):

Obviously, I am biased, but I couldn't agree more, so I encourage everyone, check out podcasts, listen to some of the big broadcast radio shows. Some of the big national syndicated shows are amazing. Find the content you love. Make room for audio in your daily experience. And for marketers out there, it really can be the secret weapon to growth. I think the community that wants to go win some awards, probably less competition in the audio category too. So let's go win some awards, break some new ground and drive some results with audio.

Winston Binch (28:22):

I love that, audio, the secret weapon to growth.

Speaker 2 (28:27):

This has been Is This Thing On?, the GALE audio series. For more information about this or any other episode in the series, visit gale.agency/ideas. And to learn about GALE and how we can help you with your marketing efforts, visit www.galepartners.com. On behalf of the entire team at GALE, thanks for listening.