Listen Up: Audacy Makes the Case for Audio as a Brand Partnership Platform
Jim joined Audacy—then known as Entercom Communications—in February 2018 to build a national client development team focused on identifying and engaging new potential advertising partners and providing comprehensive solutions across Entercom’s news, entertainment and sports portfolio. He joined after nine years at Major League Baseball, where he most recently served as group director and vice president of sponsorship sales & client services.
Jim spoke with All Access Interview Series host Jim Andrews regarding the role of audio platforms in the digital age, including how the inclusion of sports betting and podcasting can provide compelling opportunities for listeners, as well as for rights holder and brand partners. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.
Jim A.: Audacy is a new name but not a new company. Tell us about Audacy and describe its role in the sports marketing ecosystem, partnering as it does with both sports properties and brand partners.
Jim M.: We rebranded from Entercom at the end of March. The Entercom name had been around for more than 50 years, but over the last three years we went through a transformational change.
We acquired CBS Radio just before I joined. The acquisition brought a lot of new assets into the portfolio and over the past three years we have added to that with acquisitions on the podcast side and a sports betting subscription product in BetQL.
We arrived at a place where what our company had become was no longer reflected by the name Entercom. We believe Audacy reflects the audio platform that we represent.
Jim A.: Can you talk about the partnerships you have in sports, and specifically, what are your responsibilities as EVP, National Partnerships?
Jim M.: We have over 40 team relationships across all of our different markets. It varies from MLB to NFL to NBA. If you think about the 48 markets we have across our portfolio of radio assets, these are the homes of these teams from an audio perspective. While we have focused on transforming the company into a national multiplatform audio leader, we will never lose sight of our roots, which is our ability to provide a local voice.
While some of our competitors have national syndicated voices, we lean into local voices in our markets that truly understand the community and represent the fandom from that market. As a result, we have really deep relationships with these individual sports teams. We use that megaphone to distribute information to fans on a daily basis, providing 24-hour content seven days a week.
Jim A.: So that is the team side, the media rights partnerships. How about the brand partnerships that you are responsible for?
Jim M.: After the acquisition of CBS radio and achieving national scale, I was tasked with taking what had been a traditionally local radio company and transforming it into a national multiplatform leader. Our set up here, with 48 markets operating independently of one another, is a very similar model to MLB and its 30 clubs. So it was a familiar role in that I was running national partnerships for MLB.com and the league before coming here.
We’ve had to implement a lot of process, scale the business, and educate the marketplace over the last three years. There is the perception that radio is a medium that brand partners don’t value and that can’t be further from the truth. From a content perspective, what we are providing our consumers on a daily basis is passion for sports, passion for news and passion for their community.
We’ve focused on hiring additional people to represent our portfolio of assets. We sell holistically across radio, the Audacy app, our podcasts, etc. We’ve added a lot of partners, including blue-chip brands such as GEICO, Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Dell and others.
Jim A.: Are there any particular partnerships you can tell us about that illustrate what Audacy offers to brands as a national platform?
Jim M.: On the NCAA front, GEICO is an important partner around their bracket challenge that they do with us. Quicken Loans does an NFL pick’em program. Around our podcasts, which include Kevin Durant’s and JJ Redick’s, we hold our Dell Small Business PodFerence, which allowed business owners who don’t have time to attend conferences to access focused topics for Small Business Week from all of our podcasts across our different genres.
Jim A.: The company has had many developments in recent months, including the formation of the BetQL Audio Network and a new partnership with BetMGM, etc. How do those fit in with everything else you are doing?
Jim M.: The acquisition of BetQL was certainly complementary to our portfolio when you think about our sports stations, and our ability to reach rabid sports fans with sports talk and other content. We also have first-party data, which when you think about traditional radio one of the biggest surprises for me was the amount of data that we are sitting on. When you look at the amount of people who call into our radio stations, that gives us a robust database that is super local as well as national.
BetQL is a subscription sports betting product. Our thought was that we could grow that in a major way by building it into our ecosystem and bringing it to light through our media channels, which is something a lot of competitors don’t have.
Jim A.: Traditionally, media partners have been more data-driven then the sports properties they work with. With sports teams and leagues becoming more savvy about data, is there an opportunity to work together to combine data from tickets, merchandise
sales, etc. with listener and mobile data in order to personalize offers, help sponsors with activation, etc.?
Jim M.: Our ability to provide data to our customers is huge, despite the misconception that radio and audio don’t have that level of data. So part of it is an education process to our customer base and demonstrate to them that by not spending with us you are missing a huge audience.
Jim A.: There is a lot of discussion in sports about attracting and engaging with younger generations of fans, with much attention being paid to video streaming, highlights vs. live event broadcasts, etc. Where does audio fit into that conversation?
Jim M.: People’s most valuable asset is their time and audio lends itself nicely to people’s ability to multitask. Our over-the-air listening has continued to grow. Consumption across our Audacy app has skyrocketed through connected devices. People can listen to what they want, when they want it and how they want it.
We’re betting on the future of audio and its place in a world where the most important asset is time. There’s never been a more important time for audio than right now and we see that with the level of questions we get from brands on a daily basis and the amount of activity we are seeing in the marketplace in and around audio. Marketers are trying to figure out how to bring their brands to life through audio in a unique way. That hasn’t been something they focused on in the past.
I compare it to the early days at MLB.com. We were educating the marketplace on digital and how they should be activating. Once you built solutions for clients that connected across the entire digital and mobile platform, you were able to bring a brand’s partnership to life.
Jim A.: You have had a very successful career as a sales executive with CBS, MLB and Audacy. What’s the best piece of advice you would offer other sales professionals, especially those in sports?
Jim M.: You want to be solutions oriented and to keep it simple. People do business with people they like. Obviously you need to have a product that is compelling and you need to provide solutions, but if you approach business in the right way, you do it in a fashion that’s transparent and you work hard, I don’t think you need to complicate it.
At the end of the day, if you’re a good person and you have the drive to transform and move a business forward, there is nothing you can’t accomplish if you do it the right way and build a play book that you can bring to other organizations.
You want to be around good people. My success is solely tied to the great team I’ve assembled here at Audacy.