26 50

CMO50 2020 #26-50: Nikki Clarkson

  • Name Nikki Clarkson
  • Title Chief marketing and communications officer
  • Company Southern Cross Austereo
  • Commenced role January 2020 (joined January 2008)
  • Reporting Line CEO and managing director
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 30 staff, 6 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Media and entertainment
  • 2019 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    The COVID-19 crisis has been a time of old and new thinking for Southern Cross Austereo’s (SCA) chief marketing and communications officer, Nikki Clarkson.

    “While strategic pillars and growth areas for the SCA business remained constant, the way in which we targeted our audiences and the messages and creative we used to connect with them and evoke action during these times changed considerably,” she says.

    SCA reaches more than 95 per cent of the Australian population through its radio, television and digital media assets. Under the Triple M and Hit network brands, SCA owns 99 stations across FM, AM and DAB+ radio, reaching 7.5 million people. In addition, the group provides national sales representation for 34 regional radio stations and broadcasts 92 free-to-air TV signals across regional Australia, reaching 4.4 million people a week.

    As the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 hit the media industry, Clarkson’s B2B marketing response was more critical than ever before. She points out clients and agencies made many quick assumptions when COVID hit. The first was that with diminishing in-car commuters during lockdowns, no one was listening to the radio.

    The second assumption was there was no way to measure audience size and engagement with GfK Radio surveys being suspended until July. And crucially, with the pandemic influencing retail behaviour, the third question was: Why should I even advertise?

    An existing trade marketing strategy was promptly replaced with a simple four-point strategic plan reinforcing the value of SCA’s total audio offering for the short and long term. The first component was the ‘Everyone’s Listening’ campaign, which reinforced audio audiences were growing.

    “Radio streaming was up, radio catchup show podcasts were up and original podcast listening was at an all-time high,” Clarkson says. “Trade advertising was booked with fun but relevant messaging and all new sales collateral, fact sheets, newsletters, educative webinar events were conducted. Clients responded immediately and briefs started coming back.”

    All SCA on-air content also reinforced sales messaging to demonstrate ongoing audience engagement.

    A further part of the plan was ‘Shop Local’, developed to reinforce the value of local advertising to SMEs. This helped drive incremental revenue and inquiry within 24 hrs of launch.

    “This initiative engendered trust and overtly supported SMEs with creative expressed by local on-air talent promoting their local businesses,” Clarkson says. The campaign was developed and implemented by SCA marketing in three weeks and relied heavily on cross-function collaboration. Its execution plan saw 80 versions of the radio campaign created, along with multiple versions of campaign materials to reflect genuine local messaging.

    $1 million worth of owned media was also planned and scheduled across the business to support Shop local and JCDecaux contributed $1m worth of digital street furniture to promote Shop Local.

    “Our profile and reputation skyrocketed,” says Clarkson. “We recorded significant incremental revenue from national brands and local businesses.”

    Thought leadership activity was another component of Clarkson’s trade marketing response to COVID and led to creation of SCA’s first branded podcast, Brand New World. Hosted by Russel Howcroft to address the value of building strong brands now and for the future, Brand New World was published and achieved over 4000 downloads in three weeks.

    “None of these initiatives existed pre-COVID and were all marketing initiated and led,” Clarkson says.

    Innovative marketing

    On the consumer front, Clarkson had already been working on several significant brand projects across the network. A key one was Triple M’s new strategy aimed at delivering growth and brand engagement.

    “The Triple M Network operates in a highly competitive FM radio category with 48 stations nationally,” Clarkson explains. “Our task was to leverage its relevancy and unique 40-year heritage, broaden its appeal to a bigger Generation X audience, and achieve 10 per cent growth in 12 months.”

    Leadership was required to establish the new brand strategy and deliver an effective and differentiating campaign, Clarkson says. The strategy had to resonate with 48 markets, thousands of advertisers and millions of listeners. It also needed to be embraced by content teams and understood by sales. This was achieved using an inclusive and collaborative approach, she says.

    Triple M’s new brand promise ‘Never boring’ came to life. Working with Thinkerbell, marketing delivered the ‘Sounds Like Triple M’ campaign featuring the irreverent giraffe, Bruce, rocking out to Whitesnake’s iconic track, Here I Go Again on My Own.

    “At concept stage, this campaign was loved throughout the business. When it launched in a cross-platform, cross-function campaign, it took off. We delivered a comprehensive PR campaign reaching millions, over 110 in-agency activations, trade and consumer advertising across multiple media channels, merchandise and more. It’s proven to be widely loved and a hugely successful.”

    Results include 5 per cent audience growth achieved in the first two months against a target of 10 per cent over 12 months. Half took positive action to listen to Triple M after seeing the campaign, and consumers engaging with the campaign were found to be 19 per cent more likely to tune into Triple M. Positive social and direct on-air audience feedback across the country also continued for months

    “The campaign across all platforms has outperformed any previous SCA campaign and is a new benchmark for fan appreciation and engagement,” says Clarkson. “During COVID-19, this song and the uplifting creative engaged audiences, positioning Triple M as unique, never boring and the radio station to listen to during unprecedented times.”

    Business smarts

    Another significant brand project for Clarkson and her team in the past year was supporting the ‘Hit Grows Up’ strategy. The objective was to develop a progressive growth brand and marketing strategy to complement the new network’s fresh content approach. This was aimed at broadening the network’s appeal with women under 40 as well as people 30 – 54 years old.

    Clarkson says her team built a ‘start from scratch’ brand strategy for the network. The project involved significant change to 48 stations and 43 markets.

    “The strategy needed to be clear and concise and consider the challenges around developing a strategy that was contemporary and sophisticated to meet the audience insights we understood as well as ‘bring back’ two 40 year-old radio brands in a meaningful way,” she explains.

    SCA marketing created a sophisticated and appealing new brand mark, brand strategy and marketing campaign. Over 20,000 pieces of artwork, collateral, merchandise, sales materials and digital assets were delivered on time and within budget. The communications team also delivered a comprehensive communications plan reaching SCA’s 2000 staff, millions of consumers and trade audiences.

    “Benefits also include production and audio efficiencies with all stations reflecting consistent on-air packaging and embracing the one single national positioning line across all outputs - ‘Get that feeling’,” Clarkson says.

    Data-driven approach

    On the marketing insights front, meanwhile, Clarkson’s team have been working to support two new under-30s products under the PodcastOne Australia network.

    The Briefing with Tom Tilley, Annika Smethurst, Jan Fran and Jamila Rizvi addresses daily news issues and has grown 83.3 per cent since launch. The Matt & Alex podcast with Matt Okine and Alex Dyson, of Triple J breakfast show fame has also grown 59.9 per cent since launch.

    “Both these new podcasts provide very different content offerings but appeal to a similar younger, digital native audience. Both have achieved in their first three months, a ranking in the top 30 podcasts in the Australian Podcast Ranker,” Clarkson says.

    Discoverability is one of the biggest issues facing podcasting. So the marketing strategies for both products were heavily dependent on well-positioned media channels, SEM and organic search. Branded on-air commercials and direct digital marketing linked to website recall and organic search were key elements.

    “In addition, all our digital-led campaigns rely on tech-based audience insights with activity focused on driving outcomes of audio consumption and repeat listening,” Clarkson says.

    SCA’s instream audio advertising is one of the strongest drivers of trial and listening conversion and was also employed to promote both podcasts, while mobile display digital advertising resulted in CTRs between 40 and 60 per cent above benchmarks. Digital street furniture with clickable QR codes further encouraged listening.

    Customer-led thinking

    Supporting these programs of work is a fresh brand strategy model adopted throughout the business aimed at delivering universal brand capabilities.

    “Insightful and clear strategy enables brands to retain relevance and grow, to be differentiated from the competition and to ultimately become more engaging and recognisable to customers,” Clarkson says. “This is critically important in a content-led business such as SCA, where there are hundreds of creators developing content that all contribute to our company’s brands.”

    The marketing function initiated new cohesive brand strategies to enable the business universally to understand what makes SCA’s brands unique and successful. The easy to understand brand model was based on in-depth qualitative and quantitative insights studies undertaken by SCA Research & Insights division, SCA iQ, and with its valuable insights community. It also takes a ‘consumer-first’ approach informed by a series of collaborative workshops conducted with content leaders.

    A reverse brief was written with key findings for further input and refinement, a workshop with a smaller group was again conducted, and final brand position was agreed upon. The models were finalised and presented to all areas of the business collaboratively, with marketing and content aligned.

    These brand strategy capabilities were delivered for consumer-facing portfolios and embraced business wide for The Hit Network, Triple M Network and PodcastOne.

    As well as achieving senior management and board buy-in, Clarkson says the new creative strategies enabled by this effort were developed quickly and efficiently, achieving some of SCA’s best results to date.

    Cross-functional collaboration

    Such a mammoth repositioning and rebranding strategy required significant cross-function collaboration.

    For Clarkson, must-have ingredients to achieving such cross-function success include clear, collaborative strategic thinking from the beginning, strong leadership that empowers others to make good decisions to keep the project moving, and ongoing communications to ensure everyone understands the strategy and why changes are occurring.

    “Open and honest dialogue throughout the project across all involved functions led to confident and quick decisions made with a clear outcome in mind,” she says.

    “You also need to understand all function needs. In our case, marketing to content, digital, product, technology, PR, finance, operations, legal and sales were all involved. We constantly and regularly reviewed progress and milestones, and prioritised tasks to help teams achieve the high volume of deliverables.”

    Respect for each other has also led to safe and trusted working environments that are enabling SCA to overcome challenges along the way, Clarkson says – not least of which the COVID-19 crisis.

    “And celebrate the wins along the way and at the end – even remotely,” she adds.

    Share this article