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Tom De Napoli

Tom De Napoli

· Time to read: ~11 min

This interview was first in the Podcast Business Journal newsletter, with the latest podcast news and data. Subscribe free today.

Tom De Napoli is Vice President of Revenue Strategy at American Public Media Group — this interview has been lightly edited for style and readability

Tom De Napoli is Vice President of Revenue Strategy at American Public Media Group — this interview has been lightly edited for style and readability

TDN: I’m the Vice President of Revenue Strategy at American Public Media Group, and in that role, I oversee revenue strategy for the entire organization.

JC: APM Studios was launched in September 2021. Was the thinking behind giving a separate brand to American Public Media and how does it fit into that wider organization?

TDN: American Public Media is one of the largest producers and distributors of public radio programming in the United States. We’re regularly heard on a thousand public radio stations that reach 17 million listeners every single week. Serving the public is in this organization’s DNA - it’s basically the reason why we exist.

If you’re in the media business today, you have two main jobs: one is to be able to build premium offerings for your audiences, and the other is finding ways to reach them with it. We need to find ways to serve as many people in as many places as they want to engage. So, if you’re a public media organization, that takes on a whole other level of importance, because we build this trust with an audience through relevant, timely, trustworthy storytelling that’s building a community - I guess to use a trendy term, we “build fandoms”.

We are ranked as being fact based, and unbiased, and we have listeners who feel compelled to support us in many ways: but we have to adapt in order to stay relevant. If you’re a non-profit public media organization that isn’t backed by a venture capital or shareholder capital, you have to be really thoughtful about the ways you pursue that. Podcasting is really growing as a way to reach our audience, especially among young, younger audiences that are 18 to 34 year olds. We went into the podcasting space through APM Studios as a way both to preserve our positions as leaders in shaping the future of public media, but also as a way to proactively extend the type of storytelling that we specialize in, for a next generation of audiences.

JC: So how has APM Studios grown over the last 18 months?

TDM: One of the most important hires and growth decisions we made was bringing on Joanne Griffith as our Chief Content Officer and as the leader of APM Studios. Her focus has largely been in developing programming that appeals both to younger audiences, but also broadening the demographic of who we’re reaching specifically by increasing the diversity of both who’s in front of and behind the microphone. In the past two years, the scope of our content has grown to be younger and more diverse: we’re amplifying more diverse voices, which is aligning with our enterprise’s goal of growing these prospect audiences. As one example, over the last twelve months, each of the hosts that we’ve hired have been people of color. If you look at APM Studios, 73% of those hosts are people of color now, which is up from 37% just one year earlier.

You can see that in programming like our interview show, Truth be Told, hosted by Tonya Mosley; our mental wellness show, The Angry Therapist hosted by John Kim; our choice of Major Jackson to be the new host of our daily poetry and mindfulness podcast The Slowdown; and Joy Dolo, who was brought in to host Forever Ago, which is our kids-and-family history podcast. So APM Studios is creating more impactful content and experiences for younger and more diverse audiences.

On the brand solutions side we built out a brand solutions team which collaborates directly with Joanne’s editorial team. We identify original IP and new content initiatives from across the podcast portfolio, to develop measurable revenue generating multi-platform content formats that are designed to connect the dots between our creators who are our host and producers, and the quality content that we produce as a public media company, and then our clients right? And if we do that right, we’re helping brands participate in this trusted conversation that we’ve built with our fans.

We’ve seen pretty tremendous year over year growth with that for the past few years. So effectively that brand solutions business has doubled in revenue over the two years.

In a big and complicated world where advertisers have a ton of choice over where to reach customers, and they have increasingly sophisticated ways to target them, we’re offering a solution to make really small changes in their media mix that could drive major impact by building these one-to-one relationships between their brands: using our purpose-driven content and the relationship that we’ve built with audiences. Podcasting engages audiences - it’s super intimate, it’s living inside your ears. The best podcasts have this reciprocal relationship between the creators and the audience.

So we’re delivering an audience that’s highly educated, affluent and socially conscious, and we’re doing it all in a brand safe environment - right now that can be really challenging to find in podcasts, which is still in its Wild West phase of development.

We decided to develop a set of principles for how we partner with brands because we’re aware that we’re capitalizing on the trust and reputation that our programming has built up with audiences over time. Our brand partnerships have to do three things for a client and for our audience and for our creators: provide cultural meaning to our listeners, elevate the content that it surrounds, and it needs to drive business results for our partners. We collaborate really closely with the teams that are producing each of these shows to make sure that the brands that we partner with are aligning with their shows and their audiences values. As a result, we’ve seen a pretty healthy growth of our business.

JC: One focus that you have is kids and family. How do you see that market grow and other are the differences in how you market, how you monetize the kids and family sector to the other programming that you do?

TDN: Well, first - very carefully!

When we were going into this fiscal year, I had set kids and family programming, and building partnerships around them, as our key strategic imperative for the year. I felt that there was really strong strategic logic for focusing on this genre: there has been significant growth in the past few years, and a large part was due to the 2020 COVID lockdown. Families were seeking out smart, engaging screen free content, and because it has a very highly engaged audience. And so in looking at that space and using tools like Magellan AI and different reports out there in the market, I was tracking that advertising spend in this genre had grown significantly. I think at the end of last year and into 2022, it’ll reach $21 million, which is still tiny in comparison to the overall $200 billion digital spend, but it represented significant growth. We are now a dominant provider of those podcasts, and we produce four of the top rated kids and family podcasts right now on Apple.

And so basically that’s I don’t know how familiar are them, but the grand-daddy is Brains On; we have Smash Boom Best, which is a debate series; and Forever Ago, which is a history series. The podcasts that we produce in that genre are done through grants with the National Science Foundation, and also we do a lot of work with Kids Listen, which is a non-profit kids podcast advocacy group.

We’ve been studying that audience really closely with proprietary research, and we saw that 75% of listeners trust recommendations that come from kids and family podcasts, which far outperforms any other form of media or any other form of kids media. We saw that it was the leading way to reach millennial moms, which in my press job at Viacom was, you know, the target audience to be going after.

And also these podcasts become family, become part of a family routine in a way that other media just can’t. It becomes part of that car ride to school, or shuttling to after school activities, winding down before bedtime. We know that it’s a really powerful place for brands to connect with listeners, but at the same time, it’s a sacred place. And so we had to be really cautious about how we went about doing that.

JC: In terms of brand suitability, do kids and family shows have an opportunity there as well?

TDM: Absolutely. But I think not all kids and family shows or that that market is not created equal.

If you look at a lot of the other shows in that area, there’s some people who are maybe creating content that - well, maybe they’re just leveraging growth in that area. So, it’s safe for brands, but: are they creating content that kids and especially the parents listening trust? We know that almost 100% of the unique listening sessions include a parent in the room, after all.

So - I would say we’re providing content that is brand safe, or brand suitable, but it’s also of a significantly higher quality than a lot of other people in the field.

JC: In terms of the ad market overall, are you seeing a slowdown in that? And if so, what are you doing to mitigate that?

TDM: Yes, we are. But, at the same time, we’ve also had a year of tremendous growth.

I think two things are mitigating against the slowdown.

The first is the quality of the offering that we’ve built out for clients. Even in a year where if you’re a brand marketer or a CMO and you are cutting all your budgets and you’re really leaning in on on performance marketing and programmatic advertising, we still offer one of the best alternatives for augmenting that in a way that is going to drive significant impact for your brand. In the past year, the kids space has been down for a lot of people. But we did our first ever sponsorship for Brains On with Disney - a dream client to get, especially in a year that’s been challenging. Disney was releasing a new animated series on Disney Plus called Moon Girl and Moon Girl had a African-American lead character. They wanted to launch it during Black History Month. And the character in the show is a super genius who’s into science. And so with Brains On, we had a show that is aimed at kids, it’s all about science, and we’ve focused on diversity. And so we were able to build this Black History Month campaign where we created a bonus episode of the show called Do Scientists Have Superpowers? We cast all black female scientists. We had an African-American woman Joy Dolo, who’s our host of Forever Ago, to host that special episode. So we were able to create this purpose driven bonus content for an advertiser that they just couldn’t get anywhere else.

Another show we have is Million Bazillion. That’s a show that’s all about financial literacy for kids. And that’s another area where we’ve seen a tremendous emphasis across the country. It doesn’t matter what political party you’re in, you want to make sure that your kids, you know, have financial literacy. And we were able to pair that with a company called Greenlight, which makes a debit card product for kids. They have renewed every season. And, we’ve added a video series, we’ve added a newsletter, and social media content. We’ve created new programming, and we have a really big announcement coming later this summer about how Greenlight is going to help bring Million Bazillion into entirely new storytelling spaces that will dramatically increase the public service impact of that series. That’s all a function of connecting that touch point between the creators, really quality content and clients.

In a down year we’re winning on quality - and I may be biased, but I think you really only get with public media companies in an era where brands are really concerned about brand suitability and purpose driven goals.

JC: Where’s the future headed for APM Studios?

TDM: The future is to learn from the success that our brand solutions teams had in the past few years and creating these brand partnerships that connect all those dots between creators, content and clients - and bringing that across the entire organization so that we can build this sustainable, resilient revenue stream that can support our organization’s ambitions to create the future of public media.

I truly believe that’s an important thing in the United States, where media has become such a divisive topic. For an organization like us to find a way to to create sustainable revenue in a way that satisfies all these stakeholders is a big achievement. And it’s definitely something that we take really seriously and look forward to building the future.

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