At a time when the U.S. seems to be in political turmoil almost daily, Meg Goldthwaite, CMO of NPR, says now more than ever people need to have a consistent, trusted source of news.
Goldthwaite has 25 years of experience in the marketing realm, where she has held jobs in branding, visual storytelling, digital communications, and media for major brands and nonprofits.
Originally from Washington, D.C., and having grown up listening to her local NPR member station, WAMU, Goldthwaite has a long association with the station. Even before working for the company, she often woke up to the sounds of its newscast or ran while listening to its award-winning podcasts.
Goldthwaite recently talked with CMO.com to discuss how NPR is enhancing its digital offerings, while finding new, innovative ways to attract the next generation of listeners.
CMO.com: You’ve been at NPR for several months now. What are some of the initial goals you hope to accomplish?
Goldthwaite: The first thing that I wanted to do when I got here is to just listen and understand how the organization works ... [getting] the lay of the land, getting to know broadcast media, getting to learn about the incredible talent that I have on my team, and understanding what the various products are.
CMO.com: How has discovering the big-button issues in the broadcast space helped you plan for getting out your marketing message?
Goldthwaite: It really is an incredible time to be here in this business. It’s sort of the golden age of content. There’s complexity there. It’s always changing. Our audiences are growing as more and more people go to new methods of taking in new platforms, digital platforms, and podcasting, in addition to the terrestrial listening we’ve been known for.
My focus here now is: How can we build on the brand and enhance it? We’re always looking to grow our audience, and we want to make sure that we’re looking to reach diverse audiences in age and ethnicity. That’s a big initiative for us.
CMO.com: Some would say there’s a perception that NPR is for an older audience. How do you get Millennials and the younger generations to think about NPR?
Goldthwaite: I think it’s through shows like “Embedded” and “Code Switch.” “How I Built This” is actually incredibly popular among young entrepreneurs who feel like they’re going to come up with the next great thing. It’s also the work we do with [tapping] someone who is well-known in the Millennial market. For example, we were going to have Lena Dunham on our show “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” [this winter], but because of the weather in New York, she couldn’t be there. Someone happened to have Stephen Colbert’s cell phone number and called him up, so he popped over. That’s somebody who people are excited about.
We did a great interview last [February]: David Green with DJ Khaled, who is incredibly relevant right now. He Snapchats all the time. That is a way for us to reach new listeners who want to come and listen to that interview and then are introduced to this incredible network.
CMO.com: You mentioned NPR has a lot of different programs that people who aren’t regular listeners might not know. What is your role in getting the buzz going?
Goldthwaite: You can take a look at one of our most successful podcasts right now, “How I Built This.” It’s not even been a year, and we’ve already got an incredible audience for it. We’re making sure that we continue to push that and promote it through our social media channels.
One of the interesting things we have here, which is different than other organizations where I’ve managed marketing, is that there’s two types of social media. There is our social media channels that are managed through our newsroom, which are providing editorial channels that use social to tell the story, gather information, and inform. Then we have resources where we are promoting our journalism, so using our social media channels like NPR Extra or talking about promoting a new podcast that just came out on WAMU 1A. It’s a chance for people to get behind the scenes at NPR.
CMO.com: I’m sure mobile plays an important role in all of this as well.
Goldthwaite: Mobile is huge for us. I mean, we are National Public Radio, but a large number of our people who take in our news are taking it in digitally, so we sort of jumped our platform of radio and have moved big time into digital. That’s a huge percentage of people that come to either our website for news or listen to their local stations [via mobile].
The other thing that’s interesting when you’re talking about digital is if you ask somebody under the age of 30 where the radio is in their house, a lot of people think they don’t have one. The fact that people can listen to their local public radio station on their phones means that absolutely everybody who has a phone has a radio. It’s not just in your car that you’re listening to NPR; you can also listen to NPR in your earpods as you’re walking through the grocery store or as you’re sitting at your desk. Digital does that for us.
CMO.com: What is the marketing environment like at the company?
Goldthwaite: I think in the initial years, when marketing wasn’t something that NPR did on a regular basis, there was some skepticism, but now there is a very warm appreciation, acceptance, and excitement about what marketing can do. We are a social mission-driven organization. We are not a for-profit organization. Our marketing efforts generate revenue that fuels journalism and our podcasts and programs. So there’s a virtuous cycle that exists between what our journalists are doing, me telling their stories, and us being able to generate revenue for them to tell more stories.
CMO.com: I understand there’s a big push around NPR1, the company’s app. How is that progressing?
Goldthwaite: They started the push right before I got here to make sure people know about NPR1, download it, and use it regularly. We’ve been very successful in that. NPR1 allows people to listen to the radio on their smartphones, but it also lets them appreciate and enjoy new podcasts. It also learns which podcasts you tend to like, which ones you skip over, and so it provides a curation mechanism.
We roll out enhancements to that app what seems like on a weekly basis, which makes things pretty exciting. I am looking forward to packaging all of those enhancements up and putting out another big push around NPR1 so that people can fully understand the value that’s there. We can use that NPR1 platform to cross promote and to introduce new podcasts to listeners, so someone listening to “Embedded” might all of a sudden have “Code Switch” fed to them. The next thing you know, we have a new listener.
CMO.com: As you settle more into the position, what is your strategy for the rest of 2017?
Goldthwaite: You can expect 2017 to be a lot about NPR1, continuing to push our podcasts, and continuing to reach out to new audiences. That means talking to people in a voice they recognize, be that because it’s a Spanish language podcast or because people are using language in “Code Switch” that they’re used to hearing, rather than something that they might think of as their parents’ newscast.
My overall strategy is to make certain people know the treasure trove of products and programs we have here at NPR. We really do have something for everyone. It is this cultural exchange that is so important right now. It’s taking people from across the aisle, from different political views, and putting them together to have conversations to broaden their minds and to make sure they know NPR is a safe and wonderful place for that level of social discourse.