How Bob Pittman’s marketing podcast helps him as a leader

IHeartMedia’s CEO said hosting his own show helps him stay “in tune” with the company.
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· 4 min read

It seems like everyone has a podcast these days, including marketers and CEOs. For Bob Pittman, the broadcasting executive who helped create MTV and the chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia—now the biggest podcast publisher in the US, according to Podtrac—it only makes sense that he’d get behind the mic.

Pittman’s podcast, Math & Magic: Stories from the Frontiers of Marketing, dropped its first episode in May of 2019 and is finishing up its third season, which featured guests like Gwyneth Paltrow, Paris Hilton, and Jon Bon Jovi.

“It keeps me tuned in to what we’re doing in podcasting…and plugs me into the system,” Pittman told Marketing Brew.

In addition to his work at MTV and iHeart, Pittman has served as CEO of AOL Networks, Six Flags, Quantum Media, Century 21 Real Estate, and Time Warner Enterprises, plus he helped found an investment firm and a tequila brand—so he could probably podcast about anything. Why focus on marketing, then? Pittman sat down with Marketing Brew to answer that question and share more about his personal experiences with podcasting.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What’s the origin story of Math and Magic?

I wanted to understand [podcasting] on a more visceral level. I started out as a radio announcer, so I’m comfortable with a microphone, so I said, “I want to do a podcast.” But I didn’t want to do mass market—I wanted to do it for marketers, because I spend a lot of my time talking about marketing to marketers. I’ve always talked about the math and magic of marketing. The math is: You’ve got to understand the consumer, and you’ve got to understand the situation. You’ve got to have the analytics, but understanding it doesn’t get you any customers. Once you understand them, you have to do something for them or talk to them about something that gets them excited. That’s the magic.

Do you set any goals for yourself with the podcast?

First and foremost, it’s a great way for me to connect to podcasting, which is such an important part of our company. It keeps me in tune with what everyone who’s making a podcast is going through, and our own process, and how we’re doing it, and what we’re doing—from the production of it to the marketing of it to the distribution of it. I think that’s insightful.

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Before they even had Undercover Boss, in my days at Six Flags in the early ’90s, we had a problem with service and couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t get it right. So I went into the park as a street cleaner one day just so I could get a sense of what was going on…I like to do things like this. In the past, I’ve actually walked into a radio station and gone on the air with somebody…I think when you go to the front line, you learn a lot.

Are you doing a fourth season?

I think there’s been a fourth season greenlit already. I’ll probably keep doing it for as long as I’m sitting in this job.

Are there any lessons that you’ve learned from hosting about marketing or podcasting or anything else?

It’s allowed me to participate in the conversations about marketing with a lot more granularity…In terms of production, sometimes when you’re looking at budgets and you’re looking at people, they look like numbers and facts, but you miss the whole thing. Being in the middle of it, when I look now at that budget with those people or those numbers that come out, I have a much deeper understanding of it, and I think that’s helpful to me as the senior leader of the company. As a CEO, the hardest part you have is you get very isolated from the organization. No one really wants to tell you anything except something that’s cheery and wonderful and they think will make you smile. That rarely helps you do your job better.

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