Build a Top-Flight Mobile Marketing Department, the New York Public Radio Way

“You want to find people who are natively curious.”

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What collection of qualities makes for the most effective marketing team? We asked that very question of Peter Weingard, Chief Marketing Officer of New York Public Radio. He oversees podcast marketing for WNYC Studios, and works on WNYC am/fm and WQXR, New York City’s only classical music radio station.

Weingard, and public radio in general, are at an interesting crossroads. They’re restructuring, rethinking, and with great vision and agility, they’re turning a traditional media company into a digital media company. “Mobile is in the fabric of everything we’re doing, and how we think,” says Weingard. “We’re very focused on mobile because, to quote someone else, ‘radio isn’t going anywhere, it’s going everywhere.’ Audio is in a renaissance because of the penetration of smartphones.”

Reaching their audience is the big-picture focus of his team’s marketing efforts. His team is small but mighty. Under a dozen people split up and focus on overlapping tasks, including those related to mobile. So, what does he look for when he’s hiring marketers to throw the weight of their energy behind a diverse set of marketing needs, with mobile at the forefront?

Mobile & social savvy

What exactly is mobile savvy? According to Weingard, it breaks down to understanding the form factors of mobile, and simply, how mobile fits into the life of its user.

“It’s important to have a team that’s on the cusp,” says Weingard. Is “on the cusp” code for “young,” I asked. He laughed. “I think it is.” He was clear to point out that his team, and the group in general, are highly diverse in all ways including age. But for a mobile team, it does seem critical to be “fluent in the form factor and software environment of mobile.”

“There’s always a new thing, something to get ahead of or stay on top of,” something to anticipate in terms of what’s coming next, and where we’re going. “We need people on the team whose lives are tied up in this media in ways mine can’t be.”

Tied to that, he says, is the need for a team with social media savvy. “Social and mobile are inexorably linked. Like many media companies, we find that we have to distribute our content through third party platforms we can’t control.”

Comfort with mediums and platforms you can’t always control

In the old broadcast model, or the old print model, there was a direct line from the content creator to the end recipient. Now we create content, and have to distribute it through a number of intermediaries. We have apps for streaming and listening, device manufacturers who control the desktop experience, social media platforms that control who sees what, and when.

“A modern marketing team,” says Weingard, “needs to understand how to reach audiences through platforms they don’t control.” This understanding comes from an organic experience of these third party spaces, and speaks to the need for those “on the cusp” employees mentioned earlier.

Cross-capabilities, especially dev skills

Weingard actively looks for team members who pair their marketing skill sets with development skills. He seeks out people who are comfortable getting their hands dirty in technology. He doesn’t specifically look for candidates who claim to be fluent in SQL or Javascript. Instead, he looks for folks who have broad interests and are willing to dabble.

A designer who moved from graphics to motion graphics, for example, who has a hobby of making music videos. Or a data analyst who knows enough SQL to hack together some dashboard creators.  

“I like to find people who can connect the pieces of marketing together in meaningful ways.” For Weingard, this is how he’s created an incredibly powerful, productive, modern, agile marketing team. And it’s not just marketing teams who are thinking this way, Weingard observes. “A lot of the thinking within organizations is about how to evolve. Marketing is increasingly taking on a dev role, dev is taking on an editorial role, all these pieces of the pie blend together.”

Degree shmegree

We asked Weingard if marketing degrees matter to him at all. He shot back a casual, “Oh, not at all.” But don’t run and cry to your student loans officer. Not having a degree won’t rule you out. It just doesn’t mean as much as your social and mobile savvy, and your unique blend of capabilities and interests.

“Marketing is still about psychology,” says Weingard. “Sometimes it’s about art. Sometimes it’s about data and analytics. I want a team that has a mix of skill.”

Balancing team dynamics

So, how do you build this team that’s diverse in age, gender, and race; skilled across multiple platforms and areas at once; a team balanced in knowledge and ability?

“It’s like making a band,” says Weingard. “The keyboard needs to make the guitars sound better. In formulating the team, I’m always looking to find the one person who’ll enhance the skills of the other person.” We asked how he knows which drummer will work best with the bass, and he explained it’s largely instinct.

One tip he offers marketing managers who are perhaps still honing those instincts, “You want that spark. That curiosity. If there’s one attribute to value above the others, it’s that you want to find people who are natively curious.” This curiosity, he explains, makes people wonder. They wonder if they can solve this or that problem, if they can use this or that tool to create something new.

“In every aspect of our organization,” says Weingard, “I want data people who ask the questions I wouldn’t have thought of. Writers who pitch the pieces I wouldn’t have guessed at. And for mobile, I want a team that thinks beyond the set of products that currently exist. I want to hear the sentence that begins with, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could…’”

“I want data people who ask the questions I wouldn’t have thought of.”

What if your company isn’t all that cool or sexy?

It occurred to me that it might be kind of easy to get a team galvanized and energized around a brand whose mission is overtly altruistic and cool. Just read their mission statement, for heaven’s sake: “to make the mind more curious, the heart more open, and the spirit more joyful through excellent audio programming that is deeply rooted in New York.” Who couldn’t get behind that?

So we asked Weingard, what if you’re working for a brand that just isn’t all that cool? We can’t all work for the WNYCs of the world.

Here, Weingard echoed what we’ve heard again and again from some of our favorite sources. “Anybody’s work can be great.”

“Think about GE,” he said. “They’re this major industrial company, that works on B2B industrial products like gas turbines and jet engines. Yet they’ve come up with incredibly sexy and innovative B2B marketing. What matters is leadership, and whether you’ve inspired your team to do the work or not.”

Team structure & using limited resources

Weingard’s small marketing team (again, they’re fewer than a dozen) is broken down into seven groups across research, PR, events, branding and advertising, audience development, and more. Almost all of these segments touch mobile in some way. How do they manage to do so much with so few?

Well, the team has to pick and choose where they’ll put their energy. These tough decisions, says Weingard, are often largely creative decisions. They look to how to best fulfil their mission as a public trust organization. They look to see where the biggest audience potential might be. They refer to their mission statement. And they consider whether it’s an important enough project to throw resources behind, according to their values, even if it might not reach scale.

We have lots of audiences to find and target,” Weingard says. For this reason, they’ve had a hard time automating their processes. Mobile marketing automation platforms, of course, can help; and while these tools are built for scale and scheduling, they do not remove the need for creativity and thoughtfulness about how to reach people.

Develop your audience, build a balanced team

The recipe for marketing team success at WNYC is probably a fair one to try to emulate elsewhere.

Loads of time and attention are put into their products, so the marketing team has worthwhile content to put into the world. Their task becomes audience development, which means finding the people out in the world who have interest in their content topics, and engaging with them.

At the crux of all this is a team centered around balance. A team where each person’s individual contributions enhance the work of their colleagues.

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