SXM Media Wants to Educate Audio Experts

Sep 8, 2021

Want to become an audio expert? It's time to develop your AQ (short for audio quotient) through AQ Academy, a new online learning platform created by SXM Media that is designed to teach media professionals the ins and outs of digital audio. At a time when digital audio listening is booming, SXM Media wants to help media agencies and their brand partners better understand the industry and how to harness its power to achieve their marketing goals.

SXM Media, which owns Pandora, SiriusXM and Stitcher, is vested in the program's success. If more media agencies boost their AQ, it will pave the way for increased investment in digital audio and encourage advertisers to design more innovative campaigns. It also solidifies SXM Media's position as audio experts and industry leaders.

"Our customers have been asking us for training, and we have a deep repository of knowledge and tools," said Leanne B. Chiazza, Vice President, Training & Enablement at SXM Media. "It's not just any training, either. It's industry specific training that is otherwise hard to come by."

This year, brands are expected to spend more than $5.59 billion on digital audio advertising, up 16% from 2020 levels, according to eMarketer's latest forecast. Podcasting alone will attract more than $1 billion in ad dollars, a 41% year-to-year jump. Such explosive growth has media agencies hungry for more education and training.

To start, the AQ program offers three tracks: Digital Audio Advertising Principles, Podcast Advertising Foundations and Creative. Participants take online classes to earn certification, badges and rewards. The Digital Audio Advertising Principles track is the most detailed, with five courses that take about three hours to complete. By the end of 2021, SXM Media plans to add three more tracks and 12 more courses covering Programmatic Audio Foundations, Audience Data & Targeting and another Audio Creative series from its in-house creative agency Studio Resonate.

"Graduates" will become the resident audio experts at their firms, which should spur growth in digital audio ad spend and produce better results for clients, said Priscilla Valls, SXM Media's Vice President, Agency, Advertiser, & Industry Development.

"They'll be at the forefront of what is foundationally important to know in the audio ecosystem," she said. "But they'll also be experts in things like podcasting, which is the fastest growing area of digital audio. They'll better understand the nuances of different platforms, when we're talking about smart devices, connected devices or connected cars."

SXM Media already had AQ Academy in development when it accelerated the launch last year. With millions of Americans working from home, media professionals had more time and attention to invest in online learning. But AQ Academy isn't your average online seminar. Chiazza said it is designed to inspire and engage, with interactive content that is highly visual and auditory. It offers "bite-sized, digestible learning moments," that can fit into a media professional's hectic life.

"You'll find a very high level of engagement, with a lot of retention techniques such as pop quizzes, simulations and scenarios," she noted. "And because we're an audio company, you'll hear a lot of audio and examples of creative work."

To create the program, SXM Media leaned into their own internal training programs and institutional knowledge. They also surveyed longtime media partners about what they wanted to learn. From there, the company partnered with media agency GroupM on a pilot program and then a wider soft launch. At first, 40 GroupM employees from across departments and levels participated, and a second-round increased the enrollment to 400.

Valls said GroupM wanted to deepen its teams' audio expertise, and participants ranged from senior execs down to junior staffers. "They'd had a long-standing focus on better understanding the impact and efficacy of audio as part of a total media mix," she said.

In focus groups and debriefs, the GroupM pioneers shared overwhelmingly positive experiences, she added. Participants were particularly intrigued by a module called "Six Dimensions of Sound," which explores the science and history behind audio. For example, sound is the first sense that is developed in the womb, and why bird songs make people feel calm. (Hint: If birds are singing, it means there aren't predators lurking about.)

The GroupM participants were also impressed by how audio science could spur better creative campaigns and more accurate targeting. Valls said they wanted to learn practical information to improve campaigns, from scripting better creative copy to improving sound design. When listeners' respond well to spots, she said it leads to better consumer engagement and builds brand affinity.

Since the digital audio industry is a fast-moving space, Chiazza said her team keeps a close ear to clients' needs. She said they've asked for help understanding digital audio measurement and how it ties back to audio creative. That kind of feedback helps SXM Media develop new courses and certifications, and make sure existing offerings are on point.

While professionals at any stage of their career will benefit from the program, Chiazza said it can be most beneficial for young professionals seeking to establish themselves. When they complete the coursework, they can be the audio experts at their companies, and share their expertise and knowledge.

"They want to really develop and sharpen their skills to make themselves that much more competitive and be that much more empowered to ask for the next step," she said.

Demand for Audio AQ is so high there's currently a waiting list for the program. Chiazza said SXM Media is working quickly to add courses and increase its capacity. Agencies may find it easier to partner with a media company like SXM Media who can offer such a training program, particularly where content and measurement move at lightning speed.

"I think there is a tremendous opportunity for our agency partners to look at companies like SXM Media, who are willing to open up their IP, and share what they know about audio," Chiazza said.

There's a lot at stake for digital audio, too. In the competitive advertising industry, both Chiazza and Valls said if agencies have better AQ, it will lift the entire digital audio industry. Valls said the company is careful not to push its products in the coursework, but participants have been asking for more information about SXM Media-owned platforms and opportunities.

For now, SXM Media is focused on elevating digital audio as a whole. When brands and their media agencies have a better understanding of digital audio's creative and targeting capabilities, they'll be able to craft campaigns that are more compelling to listeners and lead to better return on investment.

"Better ad experiences lead to better business results and better business results lead to more investments," Valls concluded. "My hope is by sharing our expertise, we're helping to elevate the entire ecosystem."

This article was originally published on MediaVillage.

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