iHeartResearch: Radha Subramanyam on Media, Metrics and Mentoring

By Charlene Weisler WomenAdvancing Archives

Radha Subramanyam is, to me, a new breed of researcher easily navigating between the two worlds of "classical" research and the new discipline of data analytics. She is currently President of Insights, Research and Data Analytics for iHeartMedia.

After receiving her doctorate, Radha taught for a couple of years before beginning her media career. "I always wanted to work in media," she explained, "but I wasn't exactly sure where. What I did know was that I wanted to be part of the action." And she has been in the center of the action ever since.

In this interview, Radha talks about her career in research, the differences and co-mingling of classical and new data research, metrics, research principles, mentorship and attaining work/life balance.

Charlene Weisler: Can you tell me how you got into research as a career? 

Radha Subramanyam: It was logical for me, with a doctorate, to start in research but I actually started on an internal consulting team at NBCU working on all types of projects in several departments. When I finished my rotation I wound up in research, which was a good fit for someone highly analytical and driven by curiosity.  I was able to work in all areas of research -- programming, branding, marketing, ratings, ad sales, digital -- the entire spectrum. I moved to Viacom and after more than a decade in pure TV, I moved into pure play digital at Yahoo. Next, I had the opportunity to be part of the Nielsen / McKinsey joint venture, which included a deep dive into social media.  I have been at iHeartMedia for four years now and have been building a next generation insights function.  We are transitioning research into the Big Data universe.

Charlene: How do you marry classic research with new data analytics?

Radha: I think of data as a way to tell the consumer's story. It's a way to illuminate and understand the consumer journey through various touchpoints. Both classic and new datasets have robustness, statistical meaning and thinking grounded in years of practical research. Adding digital data  to broadcast data has more granular capabilities and might offer a more interesting story. At iHeartMedia, we have tons of digital data and classical research databases that we merge together. We have announced investments in companies like Unified Social and Jelli to enable us to think of broadcast media in a digital way and to activate broadcast in the programmatic universe. The blending of classical thinking with the expansion of big data is where the action is.

Charlene: What metrics are most important to you?

Radha: We look at a whole range of metrics depending on what problem we are trying to solve. At iHeartMedia, we are strong in both digital and broadcast performance and can now talk about the listener across devices with a high degree of granularity -- what interests her through the day, what she buys and what drove those decisions.  We are in the results business and harness all ROI capabilities.

Charlene: How are you able to bring all the behavior back to ROI?

Radha: iHeartMedia has over 850 radio stations, several TV shows, 20,000 live events, concerts and festivals each year and we reach over a quarter of a billion people in an average month. This is massive scale and we are in a growth mode. We can measure ROI in many ways -- Nielsen Catalina tied to Nielsen audio, for example, can literally show how we can move product off the shelves. We also have multiple attribution models to ascertain the impact of marketing.

Charlene: How does research need to be done today vs. years ago?

Radha: We've had multiple datasets for decades. All of those datasets -- from digital to ratings to surveys -- were siloed. Now, data is a core asset and we try to stitch it all together.  And we bring in outside datasets to enhance the internal dataset. We have partnerships to build something unique and different. Today we are data creators, not just data analysts.  We have become product people. For many this is a scary scenario but for me it is exciting and full of opportunity. If you are comfortable with uncertainty, if you are adventurous and if you are open to rethinking things every few weeks, analytics is for you.

Charlene: What is your research process?

Radha: I always focus on the business problem and then look at the dataset and toolkit to solve the problem at hand. We used to count on the facts, now I am more comfortable using data as a starting point and then taking a leap of faith.

Charlene: How do we get the next generation interested in a career in research?

Radha: We currently have significant interest in research and analytics from students. But how you train them is important. You need more investment in grooming and training. Hire for smarts and not for skills. Hire those who are nimble in their thinking and truly curious.

Charlene: Tell me your thoughts on mentoring.

Radha: It is very valuable and important for both the mentor and mentee. It helps me keep in touch with the next generation. I invest a lot of energy mentoring young women who seem to lose confidence in the STEM fields. There is no one place to ascribe blame though.  We need larger cultural shifts to young women really engaged in STEM fields.

Charlene: How do you attain work/life balance?

Radha: That is a misnomer. I don't know anyone who is truly balanced. There are times when parts of your work command a lot of you and vice versa. For me it is about being flexible in both my personal and professional life.

Charlene: What is your philosophy regarding career success in research?

Radha: Stop thinking of media through the classic channels approach: It is not just TV, it is not just radio and it is not just digital. Think of the whole consumer journey and you will be much better off. We are holding on to things we will need to shed. You need to be willing to be flexible and you will have fun.

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