There are few industries as dynamic as the media business – and rightfully so. Changes in both technology and culture necessitate ongoing adaptations for sources to reach their audiences. Over the last decade alone, we’ve seen dramatic changes to the ways people receive news and entertainment through the development of social media, podcasts and interactive audio players. Even for age-old outlets, evolution is a must.
New York Public Radio, which has been around for 93 years, is leading the way in redefining media. Once simply an FM radio station, the company now hosts a wide range of podcast shows that garner over 26 million listeners every month. New York Public Radio’s Vice President and CMO, Peter Weingard, declares they are in the curiosity business. The brand—as historic as it is—regularly reinvents its media approach, while sticking to its core message.
On this episode of the Renegade Thinkers Unite podcast, Peter Weingard talks to host Drew Neisser about what it means to be a historic brand in a world dictated by fluidity. You can listen to the podcast here. Below are some highlights from this week’s episode:
Drew: There are a lot of brands connected to New York Public Radio. How did you sort through them and figure out what your priorities were?
Peter: Financially speaking, the big priority is of course the terrestrial broadcast station. We are a member-driven organization. Actually, one of the largest membership organizations in New York City with over 200,000 members and that’s how we pay our bills here. Across our portfolio there are lots of different objectives nestled within all the different brands and some of the brands are quite large and quite important like Radiolab and Freakonomics. Also, it’s very important to think about how we’re unlike a lot of other companies, especially other media companies. We are a mission-driven nonprofit, we are driven by the need to serve our mission and consumers. We’re not looking at Wall Street and worrying about quarterly earnings reports and a lot of the other distractions that other media companies face. I think it allows us to focus on what matters. And as a marketer you always want to be focused almost relentlessly on the consumer. Here, we get to do that because that really is why we’re here.
Drew: What have been one or two things beyond the studio that have really helped you continue to meet the objectives of the organization?
Peter: There are so many wonderful things that are going on here and one that I personally like very much is if you listen to the top of the hour IDs on WNYC, you’re going to hear a very different sound than you might have heard previously at WNYC. And part of that is the evolution of radio and what radio has become in the world of Pandora and the ability to stream the BBC from London. Suddenly, I have a pocketful of radio stations. There’s a lot of rethinking about what that is. Can we be the center of the New York conversation, the conduit by which New Yorkers are able to have shared experiences? Part of that is reflected in these top of the hour IDs, which if you listen to don’t sound very public radio. What you hear is the voices of people in the streets of New York, the sounds of the city behind them, and the accents and voices of real people in a real New York. And I’ve had people in the street react to that.
Drew: What else have you done?
Peter: I’ve had other radio stations tell us, ‘I love what you’ve done,’ because we’ve begun to reframe what it means to be a local radio station and we’re very proud of our newsroom. We have a 70-person newsroom. It’s one of the largest in New York, winners of many awards. And we’re working very hard in creating engagement opportunities around the news so the news doesn’t just go one way anymore. Communication isn’t just from the transmitter to your radio out. What we’re doing is actually trying to involve people in the stories and involve them in the station and in the brand in very significant ways. One thing we’re doing right now in New York is, as any New Yorker will tell you, the subways are a big old mess and mass transit is a big mess and we have an ongoing program project called “#WeTheCommuters.” And we actually had a listener who volunteered to be the #WeTheCommuters ambassador who went to the MTA public hearing, representing the listeners of WNYC, to read aloud to the management of the MTA what was important to our listeners about commuting in New York.
Drew: You ran an ad late last year that garnered a lot of attention – can you talk about that?
Peter: One of the ads that came out right when the Russia thing was happening — I was actually concerned that by the time the ad hit the streets that it would be over, and it turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving. We had one headline that just said, “More Influential than Russia” and had what looked like Putin in the ad and then talked about tuning into Morning Edition for unbiased journalism. People were tweeting that and sending it to each other and Instagraming it and saying, “Wow.” One person said, “This is not your father’s NPR,” and that’s exactly right. We can’t be your father’s NPR. We need to be…a city that’s ahead of the trends. New York is more diverse than the rest of the country. And we need to reflect the city that we call home, and we do. I think everybody else is going to follow us.
What You’ll Learn
- How to maintain an agile media and marketing approach.
- How to enhance audience involvement.
- Why a steadfast brand message is a crucial element of diverse marketing efforts.
- Advice for redefining your category.
Quotes from Peter Weingard
- We’re in the curiosity business.
- As a marketer you always want to be focused almost relentlessly on the consumer.
- Developing agile teams and an agile mindset that can pivot quickly to take advantage of different emerging technologies and use cases is key to thriving in the media world.
- We’re not content to sit around and say because we were a radio station 50 years ago it means that [we] need to be a radio station today or tomorrow.
- The reason why the things that we’re doing in WNYC work is because we are really reflecting what people believe our values are.