September 20, 2016
Suzanne Grimes must love a challenge. After successful stints at Conde Nast, TV Guide, readers Digest Association, her own Monadnock Consulting and Clear Channel, Grimes accepted the challenge of overseeing Westwood One as part of Cumulus Media, which has been taking on water over the past couple years. Working with CEO Mary Berner, Grimes has solidified operations at Westwood One and has the company headed in the right direction, serving thousands of affiliates, advertisers and content partners. Here's how she views the business environment ... and how she plans on achieving greater success in it.
After working at Clear Channel Outdoor, what about this new gig interested you?
After 30 years of experience building content businesses into high-performing brands in outdoor, mobile, social, digital, print and experiential, radio was the missing link. I was intrigued by just how vibrant and dynamic radio is, with powerful listener connections on the local and national level. I was also drawn to the opportunity to run Westwood One; it's a legendary brand. I'm also a big fan of Cumulus CEO Mary Berner, whom I worked with in the past.
There's always a lot of talk about the importance of corporate culture. You went from one big corporate culture to another. What have been the differences?
Culture is the lifeblood of any organization. When I arrived, the culture at Westwood One was still being defined, because Westwood One had been acquired by Cumulus at the end of 2013. As with any acquisition, there was a period of transition and transformation.
The promise and potential at Westwood One was obvious to me, and it was time to bring our swagger back. We embraced the Cumulus FORCE cultural values -- to be focused, responsible, collaborative, and empowered -- and worked together as a team to communicate better and break down silos across the entire enterprise.
Today we are a platform-agnostic audio company with a performance-based environment focused on the future.
What are the main challenges of this new position?
The main challenge is to make sure I do everything I can to help each constituent in the company be as successful as possible. We're on the ground with our content partners and producers, affiliates, and the entire team at Westwood One. That's so important to us, as is being close to our advertising partners. Our strategy works when all of these groups thrive. We make decisions that are best for everyone, which in turn drives profitability and our revenue goals.
Westwood One has a varied programming portfolio -- from Sports and News to Music and Entertainment. Who are your heavy-hitters and how do you balance all the talent on your roster?
Westwood One is first and foremost a content company and our portfolio is unparalleled. We are fortunate to have best-in-class partners with the content listeners are passionate about, and that's why our consumer engagement story is the best in the business.
Our Sports portfolio is the crown jewel, reaching 56 million weekly listeners. We just kicked off our 30th consecutive season as the exclusive network radio partner of the NFL. In week one, our own Jim Gray had the first exclusive interview with Tom Brady since his suspension appeal, and NFL broadcaster Kevin Harlan's hilarious call of a fan on the field delivered over 50 million social impressions in the first 24 hours, reminding everyone of the brilliance of radio.
While the NFL is important, our Sports portfolio is packed with heavy hitters. We broadcast NCAA basketball and the Final Four Championship. Our March Madness coverage is one of our streaming highlights of the year. We cover the Masters Golf Tournament, and hold Olympics radio rights through our partnership with NBC. We syndicate NBC Sports Radio and partner with CBS Sports Radio 24/7 sports talk networks, adding more weight to our reputation as the leader in Sports.
On the Music & Entertainment side we reach 42 million weekly listeners. We're official partners with cultural icons including the Grammys, the American Country Music Awards, the Billboard Music Awards, and the American Music Awards. Our talent, from John Tesh to Carson Daly to newcomers like digital star Zach Sang, lead the culture conversations daily. And our national country lifestyle brand NASH is growing fast. Overall, Westwood One Country radio affiliates reach nine out of 10 Country radio listeners in America.
News & Talk is a key vertical for us as well. We are #1 in News, and proud of our strong partnerships with CBS Radio News, CNBC, and CNN. Our own Westwood One News product is heard on over 750 stations. We're incredibly privileged to have the legendary Charles Osgood on our roster, as well as Michael Savage, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Bob & Tom, and Mark Levin.
The Westwood One content portfolio has cultural spikes of interest because of our tentpole events throughout the year, offering unique access across passion points that helps to balance the roster.
How do you balance your white label news service with the network news services?
In order to accommodate the needs of the marketplace, we offer solutions for radio stations of all formats with both the branded CBS News network and the white label Westwood One News. For stations looking for a legacy product, Westwood One can provide CBS on an exclusive basis. For those who believe their station is the brand, Westwood One News is the right service for them, providing newscasts and custom reports that are fully integrated into local product on a non-exclusive basis. In addition to great radio staff, CBS offers all the television resources of CBS News. Westwood One News is supported on a non-branded basis by CNN content and reports. This gives us the right mix of products to enhance any station's coverage and image as the place to turn to for breaking news. And that combined platform allows our advertisers to reach a broad and desired audience.
Westwood One, through Pierre Bouvard, has been sharing industry data and insights about radio's reach to advertisers and agencies. How has that been getting through and can you see a noticeable difference with your advertiser relationships?
We've made a big investment in insights to define our narrative and raise our profile. We look at industry, audience, and custom brand study data to tell fact-based stories of radio and the entire audio ecosystem. We invite the industry to utilize our sales insights which can be found at http://westwoodone.com/BLOG.
A year ago we were beating our chest about the reach of radio. But it's about much more than reach. Data and insights enable the targeting that major brands demand today, and that's where we're seeing the benefit.
That's why we launched the ROI@Westwood One insights platform, which shares local and national insights to fuel a productive and actionable dialog with our advertising partners. Now we are seeing a direct relationship between insights and revenue growth. It's a smart move that has helped both Westwood One and the industry at large.
Yet despite all the data highlighting radio's unparalleled reach and engagement, many advertisers are still enamored by the "new toy" of digital -- online radio and music platforms. How do you combat that?
Digital is an important element of the media mix, and Westwood One is a player. We have a large streaming, podcast, and on-demand platform at Westwood One that is strong across all key metrics. On our streaming platform, Time Spent Listening is up 11%, and average active sessions are up 10%, according to the June 2016 Triton data.
That said, we know over half of all audio time spent listening is to AM/FM radio, which has the largest reach of any medium, reaching 93% of Americans each week. Our insight data supports the value of reach, engagement, and effectiveness of radio to deliver ROI. We're confident in our ability to tell that story and build the right custom multi-platform solution for our partners.
Who do you feel is Westwood One's main competition these days - other major syndicators, or online/digital radio and music streamers?
Earlier this month Advertising Age referred to Westwood One as the "radio empire." As we know, the audio marketplace is robust because there are many options for listeners. That kind of choice is good for consumers and the overall health of the industry.
Radio continues to be the #1 choice in terms of audio content consumption, as our 245 million weekly listeners illustrate. In terms of competition, we keep a close eye on the competitive landscape, taking our cues from consumer listening behavior. We are committed to becoming as nimble as possible in order to grow our position as an industry leader.
A lot of syndicated product is Talk-based, which skews old and is getting older. How do you plan on dealing with that?
We've accomplished a lot in this area. As I mentioned earlier, our digital platforms and expansion of our programming attracts a younger audience. The streaming audience of Talk programming skews much younger. The same is true with our use of social media and experiential platforms.
We are making our content available everywhere our audience wants to consume it. So beyond our broadcast footprint we distribute our programming via mobile apps, partner sites, SiriusXM and streaming sites. We distribute our podcasts on audioBoom, iTunes, and our local station websites.
We're also investing in next-gen talent such as Zach Sang, who attracts a younger audience and essentially does six shows a night across digital and broadcast, so he is on every platform his fans use. We're excited about the magic he brings on-air and on digital.
How has streaming services and the Pandoras of the world impacted your music programming? Ditto the YouTube/VEVO/Hulu crowd?
Each platform is important and the user experience should be native to it. We certainly watch what they're doing - and services such as Pandora and Spotify are doing some interesting things. But what's most important, from a programming standpoint and advertiser standpoint, is how you engage with your consumer. We look at the growth of alternative music services, and they're still single-digit players in how consumers spend their time. That fact surprises many people who think they are more popular. So while these alternative music services can certainly stake their claim, they are still emerging and don't have the presence, scale, and ability to drive behavior like radio.
How do you balance serving Cumulus affiliates with affiliates for other groups? How do you deal with the nature of favoritism?
We have over 450 owned stations and 8,200 affiliates, and we work hard to strike a balance between them. It is important to us that our affiliates have access to the right service, attention, and quality programming from Westwood One. Our affiliate relationships allow us to weave together a national audience. Whether they're non-owned or owned, the model for our network is to bring them all together and to serve everyone equally.
At Westwood One we say that "Everyone's Listening." Large broadcast companies and small town stations are our partners, and because of this, only Westwood One can offer advertisers the diversity and power of the entire American radio industry.
You launched a Podcast & On-Demand channel. What names are you promoting and has it been a hard sell? How are you building out your digital product?
We are so excited about our Podcast & On-Demand network. We're starting with some popular, high-profile talent, such as Doug Gottlieb, Jim Rome, Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir of NBC Sports, Paul Mecurio, and Blair Garner in Country.
We are also giving a platform to emerging talent such as Caroline Hobby, our Nashville Insider. She's providing great lifestyle content.
Advertisers are very interested in sponsoring this compelling content as well as tapping into our incredible audio content creation and distribution capabilities for custom branded content.
How much of your podcasting product is repurposed broadcasting and how much is completely original? And when do you expect it to become a real profit center?
The first step for us was getting our syndicated content on demand so fans could access it whenever, wherever they wanted. Quickly thereafter we started to make and represent original podcasts.
Our early podcast clients were direct-response advertisers who already had their own way to measure results. They had a business model to make their investments work for them. Now we're seeing them come back and expand their presence in the podcasting world.
The question is -- will other brands see similar results, and can we build the capacity to measure performance for them? That's where we are now, and a lot of work is being done on that front.
We're still in the early days. Once we can see measurable growth in advertising results, we expect to see an exponential growth in podcast revenue.
How has the nature of Cumulus' financial situation impacted Westwood One?
Certainly our financial situation has been well-publicized and what Mary has demonstrated - and what I knew when I accepted the opportunity to join Westwood One - is our commitment to manage our situation with a solid game plan to transform the company financially. I believe we have a strong strategic plan, and that the industry is rooting for us to be successful.
If you look at certain metrics at the company itself, they suggest we're moving in the right direction. The progress from our strategic plan is being measured by a ratings performance that has been quite strong. Over the past nine months, Cumulus stations' PPM audience ratings have grown by double-digits. In August alone, our PPM audience grew 20% year over year, so the strategy is working - and it's exciting to see.
The second metric we use, besides ratings, is internal turnover. As Mary noted publicly, the turnover level used to be high, but it has dropped considerably, which tells us that our people are on board with our strategy and we're moving in the right direction.
Finally, considering how intense the business is right now, can you afford to set five-year goals, or are you more concerned with winning "the moment" right now?
I set goals every day; I wake up that way. I've introduced a lot of rigor to establish specific goals and then measure our progress to meet them. We hold everyone accountable to ensure our successes. That's really important. As I noted earlier, our goal is to create a culture where our teams and our partners - our listeners, our affiliates, and our advertisers -- can be successful, where we drive profitable growth for all.
For the Westwood One leadership team, the time is now. It's about achieving results ... results this week, this month, and this quarter. We hold ourselves accountable by working together and staying focused. That way, with the right team and focus, you can create forward momentum.
So I'm not too interested in looking at a five-year horizon, but I am very excited about Q4, our 2017 upfront, and our new content partners in Sports, News & Talk, and Entertainment. We've just renewed relationships with Michael Savage, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Bob Kingsley. These type of relationships remain important to us, and we're forging ahead with renewed energy.
It's exciting that consumers have a real relationship with audio. They're loyal, they listen, as fans, and are willing to hear from brands that connect and support what they're passionate about throughout the day. We know we have the portfolio and the platform to help brands tell a story, make a connection, and be heard.