Tim Clarke has worked his way through the ranks of Cox Media Group, first at the local level, serving as MD at WBLI Long Island, PD at WAPE-FM Jacksonville and launching “Hot 101.5” WPOI Tampa in 2011.
While in Tampa, Clarke also held the title of director of social media, overseeing the social channels for the six-station cluster. In 2013 Clarke moved into a corporate role at CMG, when he was named director of digital audience for the company’s radio division.
Last month he was promoted into the newly created role of VP of Audience and Content for Radio, where he has been charged with setting the content strategy for radio, including programming, new content development, content distribution, audience growth and measurement.
Inside Radio caught up with Clarke to learn about this new role, see how it plays into the company’s recent convergence of management in markets where it holds radio and TV properties, how those platforms work together and how CMG Radio is using data to improve content over the air and online. An edited transcript follows.
What is the scope of your new role at Cox Media Group?
The new structure is designed to create an integrated strategy for our local brands when it comes to content, engagement and audience growth. It will allow our programming and digital teams to work better together to maximize ratings and audience today while transforming for future audience and advertiser needs. In the future there won’t be “programming” and “digital” – I believe there will be content and all of the ways we distribute it.
And you have an extensive background in both programming and digital, which plays nicely into this newly created position.
I am fortunate to have great perspective and experience from the various programming roles I’ve had as well as my most recent job leading digital audience for CMG Radio. Programming is about creating compelling, engaging content and experiences that enhance our listeners’ lives.
That part doesn’t change. [VP of Programming] Steve Smith and our format leader team already do an incredible job working with our markets to create world class radio. Technology is changing how we distribute the content, the form of it and the treatment... among other things. My task is to help CMG navigate this complex relationship between content, audience engagement and distribution.
Cox has been combining oversight of its TV and radio in many markets. What is your role in working with regional management in these markets?
The integration of our TV and radio properties is very exciting and will allow us to super-serve audiences and advertisers better than before with our massive local scale. We are still focused on operating world class radio and TV stations. My teams will continue help our local brand managers do just that while taking advantage of the unique synergies that we will find from integrating with our TV properties.
In terms of content production, how do the radio, TV and digital platforms work together, especially for news, sports and spoken word?
Content sharing in market and across markets is a big priority for us. Marian Pittman is our executive VP of content for CMG and has done an amazing job helping our teams to communicate and coordinate when it comes to news coverage. We now have very specific protocols that our newsrooms follow during a breaking news event to ensure that we maximize resources and get every property supreme quality coverage. A unique benefit of being an integrated media company is being able to leverage great talent and resources across our radio, TV, print and digital platforms. We are able to do many things we could not do just as a standalone radio company. In my new role I will also look to increase the level of sharing and collaboration across our formats and our strong radio footprint. We spend a lot of time creating premium content – it just makes sense to identify ways that content can go further and reach more.
What is Cox doing to make its radio brands more interactive?
All of our radio stations have their own highly engaging mobile apps that are at the core of our digital strategy. We continue to see great growth in streaming and really think that fostering interaction with the audience is a key driver of that. Additionally, our social media strategy is laser focused on listener engagement... a must if you want to be visible on Facebook and other algorithm-driven platforms.
How has the company adjusted how it is posting on Facebook in light of its News Feed changes that place a lower priority on publishers?
We haven’t made drastic changes, but we remain agile and continue to iterate on our approach. Our listeners use Facebook to interact with us. We focus on making those interactions meaningful and valuable. That is key.
What is Cox doing to take advantage of smart speaker opportunities?
I’m very proud of the work our team did to launch our CMG radio stations on the Amazon Echo platform last year. Every one of our brands has its own custom skill and we will be iterating on those this year, adding more exciting features and functionality. Additionally, our news/talk brands were the very first radio news stations to launch a “Flash Briefing” on Echo, where users can ask Alexa for the latest newscast from that station. This is just the beginning. We are excited about continuing to develop out these skills to make them more of an interactive experience for our users.
How are you using big data to improve your content, both on-air and digitally?
This is exciting. Our programmers have access to deeper and more sophisticated audience insights than ever before. With the tools available, PDs can make real-time, data-informed decisions about their stations. We can use first party data to understand actual listener behaviors. We have never been able to do that. These platforms are just going to become more and more robust as technology develops. As they do, we will learn how to use them to create better products.
Data is one of our biggest priorities and investments right now. We are starting with advertiser need, but the solutions we create will absolutely benefit our products and how we program.
Cox's WSB Atlanta has been a consistent market winner, the top-rated station for two years straight. What is the secret to its success?
It starts with the people. Pete Spriggs is WSB’s program director and format leader for CMG News/Talk. He is one of the most talented leaders and programmers I know. Pete’s team relentlessly executes a great strategy every single day. They are also not afraid to transform for the future. In the last few years, we made some pretty big lineup shifts on WSB with an eye toward more local programming. We also invested heavily in the creation of the WSB Triple Team Traffic App to fight for continued ownership of that critical traffic image. Great leadership, relentless execution and a focus on transforming for the future are all reasons why WSB continues to win.
How does being under the same corporate umbrella as Cox Automotive help the radio division serve one of its top ad categories?
Having Cox Automotive in our family gives us access to expertise, resources, relationships and data unlike what most broadcasters have. Most importantly, the Cox name has credibility and trust in the industry, especially with the dealership customers we serve. We are proud of our reputation in the space.