Q&A with SCA’s CMO Nikki Clarkson: The Brand New World of marketing through the pandemic

Media business Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) finds itself at an interesting crossroads, with radio's advertising revenue declining, marketing budgets shrinking and listener behaviour changing as lives are reshaped by the pandemic.

SCA's chief marketing and communications officer Nikki Clarkson, however, says it's the perfect time to be monitoring consumer habits and promoting the relevance of your brand. She speaks to Mumbrella's Vivienne Kelly about how the Hit and Triple M Networks are marketing their brands throughout the pandemic, and why SCA has launched Brand New World, a marketing podcast in a market full of marketing podcasts.

Nikki Clarkson
, chief marketing and communications officer, Southern Cross Austereo (NC)
Vivienne Kelly, editor, Mumbrella (VK)

VK: What has been the biggest challenge for you and your marketing team during this time?

NC: I think the biggest challenge is making sure that our marketing strategies are continuing, but that we’re looking at them through the lens of this unprecedented time. So by that I mean continuing to support our brands, but adjusting and topping up those messages in market with relevant and timely messages, so that the brands maintain their importance and their share of voice, but also their relevancy, in that we’re supporting what the broader business is doing from a content point of view, with those relevant and timely messages.

VK: It’s quite an interesting challenge at the moment where audiences are turning to radio and radio brands so much, but the commercial dollars aren’t necessarily there to back it, because there’s not a lot of business confidence at the moment. So how do you navigate that challenge to make sure that SCA’s brands are in consumers’ faces and also in marketers’ faces, when there’s just not that much money to splash around?

SCA houses both the Hit and Triple M brands 

NC: I think that certainly what we’ve done with our B2B strategy is look for ways to reinforce how the consumers are changing the way that they turn to brands, and changing the way that they consume in the market, but also how their media habits are changing as well. And so some of the great things that we’ve seen is the relevancy of audio has continued. It’s a fantastic companion medium, and we can see that people are turning to radio for entertainment as well as information. And the great uptake of our digital portfolio has just been fantastic across this last two to three months with the incredible increases in streaming. So streaming’s gone up 21%, we’ve got workday listening which has gone up nearly 20%, our podcasting uptake is nearly 50% – a 49% increase.

So we’ve seen the relevance of radio continue, and our job in terms of marketing the business is to make sure that those initiatives reinforce that. And that’s certainly what we’ve done with the Brand New [World] podcast, is provide a series that is not only informative, but inspiring around the relevancy of advertising, and the need to keep brands buoyant, particularly at a time like this.

SCA’s new marketing podcast 

VK: And in the absence of the radio ratings surveys at the moment, what data or tech are you leveraging to keep an eye on how you are performing?

NC: So we’re looking at all our digital audio activity. So we’re looking at our streaming, and we’re looking at our podcast downloads to be able to really see how that digital ecosystem is coming together, and how consumers are engaging with radio and with audio continually across this period, and in the increase – a significant increase.

VK: Just to jump back to the Brand New World podcast, what motivated you to provide that for the market?

NC: Well, at SCA we really believe in helping our clients’ brands and businesses grow. And so really what we wanted to do is, as I said before, is create a series – and we chose a podcast to do that – to be able to provide the insights and inspiration from a wide-range of experts in the field of marketing, advertising, media and creative agencies and people that have just built great brands in their journeys.

So that was the motivation really, is to encourage marketers and owners of brands and businesses to keep investing in their brand, and to do that in a way through a number of conversations with experts. And obviously Russel [Howcroft] is such a fantastic host. He understands marketing and advertising extremely well, and he’s been able to have some fantastic conversations with experts from around the world to reinforce the value that advertising and marketing can have on a business.

Howcroft anchors Brand New World 

VK: Do you think we’ll ever reach the point of too many podcasts? Are we at podcast saturation yet? Or do people still want more marketing podcasts?

NC: Well Brand New World’s certainly not a commercial play for SCA. It is targeted to help marketers navigate the current environment, and hopefully do that now, but importantly set their businesses up for success in the future.

Do we have too many? I don’t know. I think we’ll let the market be the judge of that. It’s certainly early days for this podcast. We only launched it last Thursday, so we’ll see. We’ll see where we end up going with it.

It’s a branded podcast for SCA. So, we’re really putting our money where our mouth is in terms of investing in that channel for our own brand.

VK: Now this wouldn’t’ have been how you were planning your year for marketing and for comms for SCA. So how have you reframed your plans? And how will you measure success now that everything is so different?

NC: I think that certainly we have adjusted our plans and Brand New World podcast is a great example of that. We’ve developed a number of new initiatives over this time to adapt the way in which we market our brands.

Another example is our recently launched Shop Local campaigns which utilised $1 million worth of SCA media. It’s voiced by 70 local and national talent, and that’s part of our marketing plan to encourage our local communities to come together and support local businesses by shopping local. So one campaign that runs across the Hit and Triple M stations. So that’s a good example of how we’ve adjusted our marketing to reflect the current environment.

VK: And have you started making any plans for next year? Or is everything changing too quickly to be thinking about 2021?

NC: I think we’re always thinking ahead from a marketing perspective. Certainly our focus is maintaining the strong share of voice for all our brands and keeping them relevant – so whether that’s part of our consumer plans or our B2B plans. At the moment we’re focusing on what we’re doing right now, and looking forward and learning in terms of what will be the retained behaviours when we start to come out of the current restrictions. And so at the moment we’re looking and learning and adjusting along the way.

The other thing I would say is that whilst a lot of Aussies have been working from home we’ve seen desktop and laptop listening increase. We’ve seen mobile listening increase. We’ve seen the catch-up radio podcasts increase. It’s all part of that digital universe, audio universe. It’s fantastic for audio.


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