Q&A: Bob Stohrer, CMO, Clear Channel Digital

Named CMO of radio giant Clear Channel‘s digital business in December, Bob Stohrer discusses his goals in the new position and how integrating Clear Channel’s digital streaming platform iHeart with Facebook adds a second layer of targeting.

Direct Marketing News (DMN): What are your goals for Clear Channel Digital’s marketing program?

Bob Stohrer: There are a couple things that I think about. Number one is continuing to build out the brand, what it represents to consumers and ultimately how we can provide them with a really dimensional experience that in many ways transcends traditional online music. Number two, continue to build our subscriber base and to grow total listening hours. And number three is to help our partners and advertisers develop programs that enhance the experience for consumers and ultimately benefit our marketing partners.

DMN: One of your competitors in the digital radio space, Pandora founder Tim Westergren, has said that he wants ad dollars for digital radio to equate to spending on traditional radio. I imagine that’s something you’re working towards as well; how do you see that playing out?

Stohrer: We won’t get that specific, only because our agenda is to satisfy our advertisers’ needs, whatever they may be. So one advertiser may come in and say, “I really want to leverage your stations to drive an initiative locally, iHeart can allow me to do some things nationally that help extend our awareness.” Another advertiser may say, “Hey, I’m a national advertiser, but I have the key marketers I want to address along the way.” We don’t need to go as far as [to say] we want digital to be as significant as radio. Ultimately for us, it’s about the integrated product and how advertisers want to use it.

DMN: Political campaigns love to advertise on radio, but digital radio didn’t have the scale during the last presidential election cycle that it now enjoys. How do you see political advertising impacting digital radio advertising in 2012?

Stohrer: One of the real benefits that we bring to bear across any number of advertisers, but certainly extends to political campaigns, is that we can offer a local outlet that extends to the stations’ digital properties and yet has iHeart as a part of this. But if you think about it in the broader sense, what digital provides to political campaigns is the ability to link back into a candidate’s Facebook page and all the things that they’re trying to drum up in the digital space. From a programming standpoint, there are clearly opportunities for us to link discussions that are going on on certain stations to our advertising. So we expect that we’ll be able to service candidates in much the same way we can help an advertiser reach their constituents.

DMN: Microsoft recently announced that Xbox 360 owners would be able to stream iHeart via the gaming console, and in September Clear Channel said iHeart would integrate with Facebook so users could share their listening sessions to Facebook. What’s the value in making iHeart available via platforms outside of its website or mobile apps?

Stohrer: Our goal is to provide consumers with continuity, and that means a seamless experience with their radio stations, their favorite artists or wherever their music passion may lie. Xbox just becomes another way for consumers to connect with us. The Xbox relationship is really interesting in that the consumer now has a whole new interface that allows them to speak to the device, and as a result get stations and pick artists in a way that really does redefine the experience in a way that’s really engaging for consumers. So we couldn’t be more excited about the Xbox relationship. Ultimately we do want to make sure that consumers always have access to iHeart and that we’re a thread through their entire day.

DMN: And obviously that benefits your advertisers because it’s another touchpoint for them.

Stohrer: Yeah. The Facebook relationship is a really critical component of our marketing plan because music is a very social experience. While we have personal preferences, the notion of discovery can be amplified through social such that your friend can see your playlist and what you’re interested in, and they can experiment with new music. If you think about the foundational layers that we have of our overall marketing plan, they really are rooted in highly targeted direct marketing initiatives. You start with the stations, and they are essentially speaking to listeners that we simply want to convert onto our digital product when they’re not listening to music stations through their car or in-home experience. And then Facebook provides the second run of the targeting for us because it pushes out a step further with our best users. So we’ve got some very efficient tools in our arsenal in terms of how we go out and recruit new customers.

DMN: You have a heavy mobile background. I imagine that speaks to the plans for Clear Channel Digital beyond the iHeart mobile app. How do you plan to address mobile and capitalize on the opportunities in mobile that you see?

Stohrer: The priority in mobile organically is starting to move above and beyond web as a primary access point for consumers, and that trend isn’t going to slow down any time soon. In terms of using mobile, without getting into specifics, there are some really interesting ways for us to navigate people who are exploring music generally to iHeart and to ultimately launch the app for that. I don’t want to disclose too much, but I think if you look at the ecosystem on mobile, you can help steer people to the app.

DMN: With digital radio in general, most of the ads I see or hear are brand advertisements, but they don’t necessarily have many direct elements. Is this something you’re looking to address?

Stohrer: That’s what I’m looking at. We have been very focused on leveraging stations to get the word out and beyond that have taken advantage of online direct advertising in a way that helps get people get the extra mile. If we know that there’s some interest in the product, we’re doing a pretty good job of getting people onto the site. If there’s an opportunity for us to continue to educate consumers about the benefits of iHeart and get the brand out there broadly, how to do that and when to do that and where to do that is still in development.

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