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Podcast: Pandora Advertising with Mariela Ellis

Pandora Radio has become a regular part of my every day routine. It's my background music while I am working and mood setter when my wife and I are cooking dinner. In the early days of Pandora, ads were mostly from big time national brands, but you are starting to see more and more local advertisers taking advantage of the platform's geo-targeting features.

In this episode of The College Marketing Podcast, I chat with Mariela Ellis of Pandora Radio on how community colleges are using this innovative advertising platform.

If you haven't already subscribed to the show, what are you waiting for? You can find us on iTunes and on Stitcher Radio Apps. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @college_inbound, and on Facebook. Enjoy the show!

Show Note Links:

Pandora Blog: A Student’s Digital Journey to College Enrollment shows the impact technology has had on the education industry and how Pandora plays a role in the lives of future college student

Some interesting stats:

  • 97% of students have visited a school’s website on a mobile browser.
  • 55% of students throw out unsolicited direct mail from universities,
  • 42% of future college students who recall seeing an education ad recall seeing it on mobile.

Interview Transcription:

Tell us, how did you come to work at Pandora Radio?

Ellis: Yeah, great question. I actually worked at a publishing company in San Francisco prior to working at Pandora. One thing that really drew me to Pandora was that it was headquarters in Oakland, California and I grew up in Oakland.

It was a no-brainer to come to a company that was really quite cool, a great platform. With that they were looking to hire some people and so I joined on and actually was referred through someone else that I had worked with closely at my previous company.

Medford: Okay. Awesome, so are you an Oakland fan or a Giants fan?

Ellis: I am an Oakland fan. I actually have two older brothers, one, when it comes to baseball, one is a Giants fan and the other one is an Oakland A's fan, so growing up I was like oh I'm going to be a Giants fan and then I'm going to be an A's fan but since I'm older now I'm definitely an A's fan.

Medford: Okay, okay. Cool. Yeah, my cousin is Madison Bumgarner, he plays for the Giants. He's a pitcher.

Ellis: Oh really?

Medford: Yeah.

Ellis: Awesome.

Medford: Yeah, so even though I'm from the East Coast I'm an East Coast Giants fan now.

Ellis: Nice, yeah, I love their stadium it's really nice just walking around there.

Well, it seem like Pandora would be just an awesome place to work.

Ellis: It is. I have to say the work life balance here is quite cool. You play hard, you work hard. The employees here are awesome. They're really friendly and I can talk to anyone and anyone willing to help me if I have any questions. Another really cool thing is that our CEO, Brian McAndrews works right upstairs and I run into him in the elevators or walking out so he's totally going around the company and just really approachable. Overall, that's kind of the vibe here that everyone knows each other and you can say hi to, hello and goodbye, and yeah, everyone's just really friendly here.

Medford: That's funny you say that because one thing I always liked about Pandora is early on, your founder Tim Westergren, he would send out these emails to the entire subscriber base and it looked like it basically came from his personal account. On occasion, I would send him an email, I'd have like an idea for how to monetize the system or something and I'd send him an email expecting like a cease and desist. You know? "We have all the ideas already", but he would email back or somebody that did it on his behalf, I don't know, but it was always a very approachable company it seems like.

Ellis: Absolutely and we actually have company meetings where they will share listeners right in emails and we have the whole team that will respond to each email. We get to hear what listeners, Pandora was great when this event happened, or something like that. It's quite awesome, it is very personable. We will respond to emails and so it's not surprising that Tim emailed you back. Tim actually emails the company sometimes here saying, "Hey, anyone want to go to lunch?" It builds up quite quick.

Medford: That's neat.

For people that don't know what Pandora Radio is, let's say they've been hiding under a rock. Can you explain to these people what exactly Pandora Radio is?

Ellis: Sure, so Pandora is an online streaming service. We are the largest online platform in the US. When you log onto Pandora you can go ahead and create a customized station and in which the genome project does the work. Right now I currently have being it's the holidays, I currently have Kelly Clarkson as one of my stations and I just set it on the background or when I'm working out or working and the genome finds melodies and harmony and instruments similar to Kelly Clarkson's music and will feed in and feed in similar songs. Really, I'm listening to Holiday music similar to Kelly Clarkson's holiday CD. Yeah, it's really cool. One thing that's really great is it allows listeners to discover new artists too that they might not have thought to listen to. Which is quite awesome.

Medford: Yeah, that is great. My wife and I, we use it a lot just as soon as we come home we start cooking dinner.

Ellis: Yeah.

Medford: The Pandora gets plugged into the speakers and we start listening to whatever we're listening to at the time. You know?

Ellis: Yeah. I have a niece and nephew and they're about 2 to 3 years old. When I was watching them I was like oh no, I want to play some music so I actually created a children's station so that they could hear it while we're goofing around and, but it's children's music so, yeah, it's pretty awesome because I'm like I don't know any children artists but hey, Pandora can do it for me.

Medford: Yeah, we play Kidz Bop station quite a bit around our house. I know all about that.

All right, so are you seeing more schools of higher education using Pandora as an advertising platform?

Ellis: We are. We are definitely. We see community colleges, we see universities, we see technical schools. They're using Pandora for various things. It could be for open enrollment or open houses or bringing awareness to the university just in general. Some might be wanting to target students for their undergrad program or graduate schools, so across the board we are seeing an increase in universities utilizing Pandora's products. One thing I wanted to share with you is that we have about 80% of listening that happens on mobile and we also are seeing that students are using their mobile devices on a daily basis. There are some stats that I wanted to share with you on this, in that, 97% of students have visited a school's website on their mobile browser. It makes sense that universities are using Pandora being that we have 80% of listening of it happens there and then students are great outlets to reach students there. We have some really cool stuff on Pandora's blog. We have a blog on Pandora. I would definitely encourage you and your listeners to visit there and find some cool case studies.

The one thing I noticed, early on with Pandora it seemed like most of the advertisers were these big national brands, but it seems like over the past year you're starting to see a lot more local advertisers use the platform.

Ellis: Yeah, absolutely. When a listener first joins Pandora we ask for some first party registration information. We ask for age, we ask for gender, and we ask for you location. Although we can target nationwide we can get really more granular to local markets, so we can do metro areas, the DMA, MSH, the one would be the radio or the TV market. Then we can also some county targeting which is great for small businesses looking to grow.

The biggest difference I see between Pandora and broadcast radio is that you have the ability to pick and choose your audience. With broadcast you're just buying the entire, whoever is tuning in, but with Pandora you can really choose and target who you want to listen to your ads. Can't you?

Ellis: Exactly, we can. For example, for college [inaudible 00:09:38] and universities are looking to target a student. Pandora, we can target as young as 18 but we have different demo buckets so we can target students that are between 16 and 17 years old and maybe that's a college looking to reach them. We can also target those maybe 25 to 34 for graduate colleges or graduate schools looking to reach students looking to go back to school.

Then for open houses. We can also target parents that have children between a certain age so there's a lot of capabilities that we can do in regards to targeting. Another thing very different from broadcast radio and Pandora is that broadcast radio, they don't know that we don't have to guess what station you're demo group is on because on Pandora we have the first party data and that we're going to be able to target your ad to your specific demo group that you're looking to reach. We don't have to guess, oh they're looking at classical so they must be this age or they're listening to hip-hop top 40 they must be this age. Things like that.

Medford: That's amazing. That's what makes the system so powerful.

Ellis: Yup. Yup. Yeah, one example is that we both listen maybe to toddler music and so, but we have different demo groups in targeting, so advertisers can target us with their ads just because they have our age demo targeting.

I think another good thing about Pandora is the ability to target by geography's. Explain to us how that works.

Ellis: Sure, so geo-targeting, we can target obviously nationwide, statewide, metro areas, and county targeting. I would say for each campaign really is going to vary what the market reach is going to be. I was encourage, give me some information about your demo group and your geo-targeting and I'm happy to pool with listener-ships that are in the market. In your specific demo group, how many Pandora listeners are there, where to the population and provide the market reach number there. I will say in all that, we have 1 in 4 teenagers that listen to Pandora between the ages of 13 to 17 and another group is about 3 and 5 young adults, 18-24 listen to Pandora. 1 in 2 adults 25-34 listen to Pandora so that's going to be our core demo group. 1 in 3 parents listen to Pandora maybe between 45 and 49, so those are going to be our core demo groups and so usually it resonates when we go into the market and looking at the market reach numbers based off those, how many Pandora listeners are there.

A lot of people use Pandora on their phone and their computer. They knew that, but you guys infiltrated so much more than that. Haven't you?

Ellis: We have, yeah, so we are on tablets, we're in cars, we're on CE devices such as your Roku, and then we're actually on refrigerators as well. We are continuing to grow. We're new devices coming to the marketplace.

Medford: Oh, well that's neat. Yeah, and cars. People can stream it straight from their car and even if they don't have a smart Pandora app in their car, built in, a lot of people are tuning in via Bluetooth from their phones, aren't they?

Ellis: Yup. Yup, yup. Exactly.

Medford: I want one of the refrigerators.

Ellis: Yeah, right? I know. I have to open my app and then plug it in and listen when I'm cooking, but yeah. If I had one of those refrigerators, hit play and Pandora music plays.

The advertiser has some options available in terms of running audio or display ads or a combination of both so can you kind of explain to us how that works?

Ellis: Yeah, sure, so I would say audio is going to be our bread and butter. It's 15 to 30 seconds, audio spot that Pandora can actually help produce, that's one cool thing about us. Audio is going to be served on a timer, so after about 10 to 15 minutes is when you might hear an audio spot. With the audio, it does come with some clickable banners so a listener can click through to the banner. There's going to be two different touch points there. Primarily it is that audio because you can be in the other room doing chores or whatnot and you hear that audio spot.

Now, the display banner is going to be served differently because it's served only upon engagement so a listener has to be thumbing up a song, thumbing down a song. Skipping a song is when our ad server knows there's eyes on the screen, so great opportunity to serve them an ad. I would say when both audio and display run together performance overall is just great. One being that audio's great for awareness and you hear that message but you might not have the opportunity to go to your phone and click through to the banner, but if they're in a display product, down the road when the listener is engaged with their phone, so thumbing up, thumbing down a song, and they see the banner ad with the company logo on it it just brings back brand recognition there.

I don't think I would consider a client's campaign doing it without the display component.

Ellis: Yeah, yeah, I know a lot of times we have advertisers that reach out to us looking to do purely audio to do what they've done maybe with traditional radio but I was encouraged [inaudible 00:15:38] in display because I think it's a great product and it's served only upon engagement so running both of them together I think is key.

It seems like I've seen you guys do video ads too, is that more of a national brand campaign, or can you do that locally as well or am I just thinking of something out of the blue here?

Ellis: Oh. No, no. We can do video. Video, which is one of our premium products. It is also served upon engagement so inventory isn't as great as I would say, audio. Many times in smaller markets we just might not have the reach or the inventory to do an audio campaign. However, if the audience is quite large and we have inventory there I recommend doing video as well as if an advertiser or client has a video asset. Video is cool because it serves upon engagement, so either when you're creating a new station or maybe you're skipping multiple times, our ad server knows that there's on the screen, so great opportunity to run a video ad, and it is going to be clickable and it does come with a following banner so a listener can engage with the campaign a few times there.

Okay. Explain to us how Pandora is priced. How are advertisers charged for Pandora advertising?

Ellis: Yeah, great question. Pandora, we really don't have an off the shelf pricing. We can't say, "Oh, you want to run an audio ad it's going to be this price." Well first off, we typically bill on the CPM model, the cost per thousand impressions.

Recommended budget range would really depend on the product the client is looking to do. Whether it's an audio display or video, but then also it really is going to be how large the target audience is, so the larger the audience the larger the budget. For maybe focusing on a smaller market then the budget's going to be lower. Large markets like LA or New York City, it's going to be a hefty budget.

It really is going to vary. I would say campaign to campaign.

Okay, and is there a campaign minimum that advertisers should keep in mind?

Ellis: Yeah, so it's going to depend on the market. Campaign minimums can range between a 5 to 10k campaign minimum. Depending on the market. It really is going to depend on how large the audience is for it to really have an effective campaign.

I would love for community colleges to go through College Inbound if they're considering Pandora but, if somebody out there's interested in Pandora advertising, can they reach out to you or can they reach out to the website? How does that work?

Ellis: Yeah, absolutely. Feel free to reach out to me. I can be reached two ways. One is through my email. That's going to be, or they can call me directly at 510-740-8512, or if you don't have my information, you totally forgot, we do have a way that you can inbound a lead here and a Pandora representative will reach out right away.

Terms of a typical county, for instance. What kind of market share, what kind of market reach does Pandora have now? I know that figure's growing everyday, is there a typical reach that you have? Nationwide?

Ellis: Yeah, so it's going to vary depending on the county. I will say the market reach for a specific demo group in a specific county will likely be higher, maybe for ages 25 to 34 because being that nationwide we have 1 and 2 adults that listen to Pandora. That's 50%, so market reach there's going to be quite high. If we're targeting in a county maybe specific, 45-49 the market reach will likely be lower because we only have 1 in 3 adults that listen to Pandora, Nationwide. That gives you a scope if we're kind of narrowing down county level.

Medford: Okay, that makes sense.

Ellis: Yeah.

Medford: Well, all right, well, Mariela thank you so much for coming on the show today and sharing your knowledge on Pandora radio advertising.

Ellis: Yeah, absolutely, thank you for having me Jonathan.

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