Suzanne Grimes at CES

The president of Westwood One says it’s a special moment in time for the resurgent audio space, with smart speakers enhancing the proliferation of radio back inside the home and podcast content creators building compelling, intimate audio experiences.

Suzanne Grimes, who is also Executive VP For Marketing at Cumulus Media, made her remarks last week during an interview with Alexis Palmer Zinberg, Executive VP Of Client Services And Events at The Palmer Group. The discussion took place at The Shelly Palmer Innovation Series Summit at CES 2020 in Las Vegas.

Staying with a theme of “continuous innovation,” Grimes said Westwood One found three main areas of focus: data and radio; voice AI; and podcasting. According to Grimes, the new commitments required significant “cultural work,” like convincing broadcasters that podcasting was a good thing.

“They abhorred the notion of us doing podcast promotion on our air and possibly encouraging them to sample something else,” she explained, “and so there was a significant amount of communication required, and a real commitment… Having the courage of our conviction to try to persuade them that [podcasting] was an enhancement to what they were doing and could make us bigger and stronger as opposed to something that would hurt their business.”

Data has also been a key component for Westwood One, which in 2017 began making ROI guarantees in the audio space. The effort to demonstrate the value of an advertiser’s investment — simultaneously coinciding with a new era of attribution for radio — also had some other (positive) consequences.

“And then to the magic part: We can also use some of that [data] to help us on the creative side,” Grimes explained. “I think in audio, perhaps more than anywhere, the creative message is the biggest determination or determinant in terms of the success of your actual ad.”

Grimes said the work also led to some myth-busting. “So there was a lot of talk about women at CES this year and so forth, so I’ll throw this one out there,” she said. “Historically in radio, 75% of the announcers or the voiceovers are male voices, and that was always considered to be critical. And in fact, having studied hundreds and thousands of ads — surprise, surprise! — that’s not entirely true. Depends who your target is, depends who you’re trying to reach, and women actually like female voiceovers. So things like that that seem small actually have made a pretty big difference in delivering that efficacy that people expect to see.”

The innovations laid out by Grimes underscored a recurring theme at CES 2020, one that transcends the audio space: While there were 4,500 exhibitors, 2.9 million square feet of exhibit space, more than 20,000 new tech products and 200,000 attendees at this year’s event, CES today is more about enabling technologies, not cool devices.

“While there’s a lot of hype about gadgets, the big evolution is that there’s no one gadget anymore,” says Paul Jacobs, VP and General Manager of Jacobs Media. “It is systems, it’s the way everything is integrated, it’s partnerships. It’s softer. There’s not a real hard, cool thing you can take a picture of. But when you really start talking to people, there is this merger of technology and the way humans are interfacing with it that is changing not only today, but in the next five years or so, absolutely changing the way we’re going to interact with technology, and how technology is going to interact with us.”