In the iHeart of the 2020 Storm

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Rachel Herskovitz, VP of Content Partnerships at iHeartMedia and formerly part of the Global Advertising and Brand Management team at American Express has a lot on her hands lately. Still working hard at iHeartMedia despite a pandemic, as many of us, she has had to be flexible with her time, still looking to expand her company’s footprint, all while being a wife and mother all at the same time.

Recently, CatapultX had a chance to carve in a few minutes to get her take on where she sees things going, how some recent changes may have lasting effects and how contextual relevance is going to affect the new advertising landscape.

Tell us what you are currently doing for iHeartMedia

The goal of my department, Entertainment Enterprises, is to gain exposure of the iHeartRadio brand outside of our owned and operated platforms through various content partnerships. What that really means is, I sell the great content that I collaborate with our various teams to create.

Most notably, we have TV partnerships for events such as iHeartRadio Jingle Ball, iHeartRadio Music Festival, Fiesta Latina, and more. We also create and sell all of the iHeartRadio YouTube and Snap content.

In this COVID era, we’ve had to re-imagine all that we do. While the majority of our content was captured off the back of existing events and in-person interviews — we’ve (like everyone else) moved to a strictly (almost) virtual form of production. At first, we were thinking “How do you talk about ‘holiday’ when the whole world is different? This has forced us to re-think and re-invent our video content and strategy — starting with the FOX Living Room Concert in late March all the way through Jingle Ball 2020 being a strictly virtual show. We’ve been able to maintain and even grow our partnerships with networks and platforms, showing me that there is an appetite for live content to replace in-person experiences

Are you seeing an uptick in spend with advertisers and brands for Q4?

Brands are eager to advertise and get their message out in a COVID-relevant way. So yes, we certainly have seen a greater influx of briefs and brand interest, and most importantly — integration into video and podcasts versus a more standing reach/frequency radio plan. What is exciting about this (early) trend is that brands are looking to media companies like ours to partner on getting a relevant message out there.

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Do you think there may be lasting effects as a result?

I think the headline is that YES, the way things were done before COVID will not be the way they are done after COVID. We’ve had to reinvent how we create our content (audio and video), and I do believe many of those elements will remain.

Most importantly, it has forced us all to reinvent, We’ve reinvented HOW things are produced and WHAT the audience has an appetite to see. For example, when we put together the Living Room Concert with FOX, we had no idea if the audience would embrace stripped-down performances from the artist’s living rooms — but they did! So much so, that almost every music-focused show after that followed our lead. It’s important for us to remember that we need to change and lean on technology when we can to make things better/different.

[The industry] is like “How do you talk about “holiday” when the whole world is different?”

Are you seeing a demand for video grow among audiences and advertisers?

YES! Video, and quality at that, demand was on the increase before COVID-19, but with the lack of in-person events and sponsorship opportunities for brands, we are seeing an increase from both an audience to consume content, and from advertisers to meaningfully be a part of the content.

Based on your experience as a marketer at AMEX what are your thoughts on the future of contextual advertising?

Coming from AMEX, where unique, integrated experiences were at the forefront of what we did — I think this is the only way for a brand to be integrated in content. You must have a purpose in being there.

What channels are you finding the most success for your video?

It depends on the goals of the content and also what medium the content is created for. Since we push video out on so many platforms (TV, streamers, social) — I can say that we measure each a bit differently in terms of our goals. As for when brands buy into that content — we have found a lot of success streaming on YouTube and Facebook, as long as the content has a VOD window beyond live, live to continue the viewership.

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Rachel is very active in sharing and mentoring others

Ok then how about as a publisher? Sure contextual may help advertisers and make customers less angry, but are you concerned that it may detract from what you are trying to do? Potentially having to compete for share-of-voice on your own content?

Contextual targeting is something that viewers are used to. And done well, not interrupting the content or the experience is exactly what brands and audiences want. Take any sports league — they have a halftime show brought to you by “XX” brand. No consumer is offended by that, and it is indeed contextual. So in my opinion it’s following the successful model of sports sponsorships (no one wants to miss a great play) and applying that to digital video.

You mentioned that advertisers want to be meaningfully a part of the content, how are you seeing them validate “meaningfulness” with contextuality?

Putting on my AMEX hat, it would have been tied to our business goal/KPI. Sometimes that was awareness or brand favorability or an alignment with content/influencers that laddered up to a bigger company initiative. More down funnel, there were times that we wanted to be in content to drive intent and even sign-ups. How we were integrated and how much we spent on said integration was also tied to the results we desired.

For example, when we launched a new credit card targeted to moms who were looking for value in their every day, we partnered with The Today Show and had a segment with Kathie Lee and Hoda. We highlighted the great aspects of the card, knowing that our target audience was watching and would be influenced by these two women. Of course, this was a big, splashy launch tactic — but it did exactly what we wanted and helped boost awareness and inevitably sign ups, right off the bat.

Being a parent and a professional is challenging for everyone, but now we have to be both at the same time. How are you making it work?

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Rachel and her husband Zack

It’s been great and challenging. As a mom of a toddler, I know I would never have gotten as much time as I am getting with him now — and what a bright spot that has been! In the terribleness of what is going on around the world, I have the joy of being there for wake-up, breakfast, lunch, and dinner with my son.

However, there is also the challenge of no work/home life separation. I do think this is more challenging for women, but it’s been difficult to move from my “mom mode” to my “work mode” while sitting in the same space. I am making it work (ha) by drawing clear start times and end times for both personas and trying my best to stick to it.

What videos do you like watching when you are enjoying yourself and not doing work?

Since I watch and create so much music content for work, and often find myself watching that type of content for “research” — when I am officially not working, I am either binge-watching dramas (most recent was Netflix’s “Dark”), educating myself with new documentaries (most recent was “The Social Dilemma”) — or totally spacing out and watching “selling sunset”. Clearly, Netflix has a lot of my COVID viewing habits captured!