CMO of the Week: Audacy’s Paul Suchman

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“It’s as much science as it is art,” Paul Suchman says of the intensive process that went into shaping and naming the new brand for Audacy, formerly known as Entercom, which Suchman joined as chief marketing officer in the fall of 2019.

“It’s as much science as it is art,” Paul Suchman says of the intensive process that went into shaping and naming the new brand for Audacy, formerly known as Entercom, which Suchman joined as chief marketing officer in the fall of 2019. The company’s new name and brand positioning was unveiled on March 30, 2021, the result of a year-long rebranding strategy. 

The idea for the rebrand was the result of a multi-year investment and content strategy at Entercom that saw the company acquire fellow audio heavyweights CBS Radio for a deal finalized in 2017 at $2.4 billion as well as expand into podcasts with in-house studios like Cadence13 and Pineapple Street

And as Suchman began to assess the company’s many assets, “Entercom was no longer a brand that was sufficient to represent all of the transformation that had happened nor our ambition for the future. And when you look at the marketplace, you look at the Spotifys, the Siriuses, the iHearts – the one thing they all have in common is whether they are presenting their content and brand to consumers or business buying audiences, or to Wall Street, it’s a single brand that’s brought to life in nuanced ways. So that was one of our first assignments, to look at that and say ‘Do the existing brands in the portfolio work or do we need to bring a brand new name in to signal a new era of this company?’”

The result was Audacy, a blend of three words — Audio, Odyssey and Audacious — that best conveyed the company’s past, present and future ambitions. The new brand identity was unveiled with a virtual event in March that featured celebrity shout-outs from celebrity partners like Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys and Stephen Curry, which coincided with a consumer-facing campaign that included the launch of new podcasts with A-list talent like Ellen Pompeo and Demi Lovato, as well as a b-to-b campaign that included site takeovers and newsletter sponsorships of leading publications like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Ad Age. The rebrand was also promoted heavily across earned media coverage and social, resulting in 63 million impressions and 17,000 clicks on AudacyInc.com within the first 24 hours of the relaunch alone. The first month of consumer awareness also led to an 18% increase in monthly app growth and 10,000 new social media followers. 

Now seven months into the company’s new era, Suchman caught up with Brand Innovators from his home office in New York to detail the road to Audacy, the important role of Gen Z in helping audio reach new audiences and the key principles that guide his marketing philosophy. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Brand Innovators: You recently celebrated your second anniversary with Audacy, which you joined in September 2019 when it was still Entercom after a long career at agencies like WPP, BBDO Worldwide and Ogilvy & Mather as well as global real-estate company CBRE. What first appealed to you about the opportunity?

Paul Suchman: Audio itself is a medium I’ve always loved, particularly with radio — the live factor, the connection factor that you feel to hosts, the up-to-date minute that you get news, the way it sounds. I'm also a big podcast consumer, and when I met the management team and heard about what they were doing I thought it was just a phenomenal opportunity. 

But it was also a challenge. both from a company standpoint and a brand and marketing standpoint. Throughout my career both on the agency side and the enterprise side, I had always worked at industry leaders. It was always about being on top of the mountain and looking at competitors.  This has a real challenger brand feel to it. It’s a challenger company with a spirited, scrappy ethos from our CEO on down. And that energy, coupled with the media that we were investing in, was it for me. 

What was the thought process that led you to rebranding Entercom as Audacy earlier this year?

My first remit from our executive leadership was to come up with a point of view about all the different assets in our portfolio. We had Entercom, we had 250-plus market facing radio brands, we had this thing called Radio.com which was a streaming business, there were podcast companies that we just bought — all the result of three to five years of very focused investing, consolidation and strategic moves that the company was making. But we were different names to different audiences.

The conclusion was to become a brand that could have those broad shoulders and could also continue that journey. We needed a name that would be inspiring, a visual identity that could command the room, a set of messages and compelling narrative that our sales people could go out and win more than our fair share of clients, and a brand that customers would be attracted to and spend more of their audio consumption time with us.

What was the significance of the name Audacy, and how did you arrive at it? 

The name Audacy encapsulates everything we’ve become and serves as a beacon for our forward aspirations. We chose the name Audacy because of our unapologetic obsession and commitment to the medium in every form. Because of our audacious quest to build the future of audio, and because it signifies a journey that we are on together. ‘Audacy’ reflects our ambitious vision within a new era in audio and underscores our commitment to delivering the best multi-platform audio experiences for our listeners and powerful advertising solutions for our clients.

Describe the launch campaign you activated in March – what were the different elements, and how did you use a mix of on and off-channel media to promote the new rebrand?

One of the things we talked about with this, we launched on March 30 – it was not just a name change, it was not meant to be a change of sign but a sign of change. Every single touchpoint across the organization inside and outside flipped in one day to Audacy. I don’t know how many rebrands you’ve talked about or studied, but it's nothing short of a massive undertaking. It was not meant to be an exclamation point and it’s the end of the transformation.

In terms of the launch, we started with the b-to-b campaign, which was primarily focused on making sure that the buying audience and the investing audience saw this. We went out with a big, six-weeks-long campaign which included digital, social, out-of-home and thought leadership content including some interesting research about immersion that happens in the audio industry and how our audiences are more engaged than any other medium. 

And then we followed it up at the same time with a consumer campaign. Radio.com flipped on that day to Audacy, so we had a conversion campaign to make sure the experience was seamless, that it would update on people's phones or however they consumed Radio.com content on the stream. And we followed that up with some really targeted communications. Then we took that opportunity to make sure we were continuing to acquire new listeners with an acquisition campaign toward over-the-air and streaming listeners.

A lot of our forward innovation now is about investing in our programming, investing in our technology, investing in our content and investing in our app. So we are in the process of building a new consumer experience and that will drive another round of market facing communications a big campaign. 

What does your Gen Z strategy look like for Audacy?

Gen Z is the holy grail of audience these days, and it’s an audience that is growing in size and influence. Their voice absolutely outweighs their size and their buying power just because they are such digital and social natives, and their collective voice is being heard. Gen Z is our fastest-growing segment right now, both over-the-air and on the stream. They may not be the first to get in their car and turn the dial, but they’re consuming on the stream or live or on-demand, and they love the DNA of radio. They’re also voracious podcast consumers as well as being into social audio. 

We also have a company called Ramble, our social audio network where we have lots of young influencers bringing that audience in. A lot of the podcasts we are creating are focused on that audience. The music, the talk, the sports, the sports betting — there are Gen Z components to every one of our strategies. We’re not doing it at the risk of alienating any of our other audiences, but with radio being the number one reach medium reaching 92% of Americans every single day, this is about adding them into our strategies and nuancing content, brand presentation and programming to be inclusive to those audiences. 

What does your consumer event strategy look like for the year ahead – is it in-person, virtual or hybrid?

From an event standpoint, we were participating in all the trade events as a b-to-b company, virtually, but we felt the Zoom fatigue and have pivoted back to live events. For our own consumer-facing events, as part of the rebrand we really focused on making sure we were putting all our resources behind key tentpole events. 

In September, we hosted our first Stars and Strings event in New York City, which aligned with the 20th anniversary of 9/11. It was a great lineup with the best of country, and it was outside at Pier 17 right behind where the World Trade Center lights were up. I had never felt anything like that and what the audience felt. People were just so starved for that connection to each other, that connection to the audience, that connection to live music, that fidelity that you get with 3,000 people moving together. And every single artist, who play the biggest arenas in the world, felt it too. 

And [just last week] we had our second big tentpole We Can Survive at the Hollywood Bowl in LA – Coldplay, Maroon 5, Doja Cat, some really amazing acts. That sold out in about 15 minutes. It’s the same exact thing, brands are excited to be there, everybody’s excited to be there. And just like Stars and Strings, where a huge component of that event was providing help and services for veterans, We Can Survive is focused on mental well-being and mental health. 

And in December we have our Audacy Beach Festival which is in South Florida December 4 and 5 – that is a decidedly young skewing event, the lineup is amazing and selling like wildfire. We are incredibly optimistic about our event reception that we’ve been getting from artists, and the advertiser inclusion and brands wanting to reactivate with consumers in a live environment. And we're seeing the country trending in the right direction in terms of COVID and consumer confidence and economic rebound, so there’s a lot of wind behind our sails.

What are some of your personal brand pillars as a marketer that you've taken from role to role?

I’m definitely a brand-first, creative-first marketer. So the value of creativity in service of strategy and business is really important. And being that voice in the room who’s representing creative, and not just for art’s sake. It’s about using the tenets of design, of verbal expression, of messaging and using technology to help deliver business and communications objectives. It’s paramount to me. And making sure that that voice has a seat at the table, and making sure that the team around me is focused on delivering that message and is empowered to deliver that message and believes in creativity in service of business is one principle.

I would say another principle that is super important to me is the art of team. One of the most special things about marketing in an enterprise organization, is marketing tends to be one of the most diverse groups within companies. And that’s diversity across gender, age, orientation, religion, perspectives. I always make sure that our teams represent the audiences that we market to and our broader societal demographics. And within that comes collaboration. I hope I build teams where everybody feels that they have an equal voice.

My last guiding principle I would say is staying curious. The advances that are happening in technology, and marketing and data are just stunning to me. When I came to this company, the difference between what podcasts mean today to consumers vs. two years ago are stunning. Social audio, and what’s happening with companies like Twitter Spaces, didn’t even exist two years ago. So staying curious is as much about survival as it is a necessity for the brand.

Andrew Hampp is an entertainment marketing consultant for Brand Innovators and the founder of consultancy 1803 LLC, based in Berkeley, California.

 


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