101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior
Chief Marketing Officer of The New York Times
“There’s a certain connection between the teller and the listener that can only be done when you don’t see them.”
David Rubin, Chief Marketing Officer, The New York Times
David Rubin is the Chief Marketing Officer for The New York Times where he is responsible for enterprise-wide brand strategy, external and internal communications, creative, and media, as well as audience definition, strategy and targets. David was previously senior vice president and head of audience and brand where he led the development of the award-winning advertising campaigns “The Truth Is Hard,” which premiered on the Oscars broadcast in February 2017, “The Truth has a Voice,” which premiered during the Golden Globes in January 2018, and the most recent “The Truth is Worth It” campaign, which won two Grand Prix awards at Cannes Lions in 2019 and was cited by The Drum as 2019’s 2nd most awarded creative ad in the world. Prior to joining The Times in April 2016, David was at Pinterest where he led the community, marketing, brand and research teams and was charged with expanding the appeal of the Pinterest brand, particularly internationally. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two daughters.
Uli Reese: Describe your role at the New York Times Company.
David Rubin: I’m the Chief Marketing Officer, the first that we know of in New York Times history which goes back 160 years. My job is to help us tell our story so that people understand why they need to pay for the news.
Certainly 100 years ago journalists couldn’t let you hear the things they were telling you about and now you get to hear it for yourselves. It has become a critical part of journalism and because of that, it’s now integral to our marketing.
Reese: You joined the NYT in 2016 and led the development of award-winning advertising campaigns; The Truth is Hard, The Truth Has a Voice, The Truth is Worth It and more recently, The Truth is Essential. Tell me about them.
David: Part of my hiring was that we wanted to tell our story more proactively and I spent my first six months trying to define the brand. You may think of news as this several hundred-year-old enterprise – and it is – but what people do within the industry is very different. We see the Times in a really small category, which is subscription supported journalism that’s not yet fully proven out. We were trying to figure out what we wanted to say about ourselves and then the 2016 election happened. A big debate that came out of it was about fake news so it felt like a good time to talk about what we are and what is different. We made ‘The Truth is Hard’ and ran it in the Oscars as a way to talk about independent journalism and how it helps you understand the world. It struck a chord. A year later we were coming up on the 2018 Golden Globes, and at that point we had published the Weinstein work that journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor had done, plus the Bill O’Reilly work. We thought it would be a good place to write about the impact journalism had, hence The Truth Has a Voice. The third campaign, The Truth is Worth It, was why you need to pay for independent journalism and understand the world better. And our most recent campaign, The Truth is Essential, is to help you figure out what you want to do on a personal and societal level.
Reese: When you think about sonic or audio in journalism, what role does it have and what role will it have?
David: One of the things we believe is that we are marketing our journalism and that’s a real mind shift. That’s why you’ve seen the Times branching out. We used to largely be the printed word and today we have a multimedia experience, the TV show and one of the nation’s largest podcasts in The Daily. Audio is obviously really important to that. Certainly 100 years ago journalists couldn’t let you hear the things they were telling you about and now you get to hear it for yourselves. It has become a critical part of journalism and because of that, it’s now integral to our marketing.
Reese: Why is The Daily so successful?
David: Many reasons. If you told me to start a podcast about the news I would have assumed it would contain a lot of headlines. One of the reasons The Daily has been so successful is that it tells one story at a time. It’s counter intuitive but you walk away feeling more knowledgeable, even if you end up feeling more uncomfortable. Secondly, I think the way the host Michael Barbaro guides the program and the role his voice plays is incredible. He’s rarely doing any of the news-telling himself but his voice is a guide and a sonic cue. Thirdly, there’s an expert team behind all of that who tell the story incredibly well, and fourthly the time is right. People are interested in how people do their job, the role that journalists play and The Daily does that very well.
Reese: If you can build a bridge from The Daily to the role that sound has in the digital age and the experience economy, where do you think it’s going?
David: It’s interesting that TV never fully killed radio. It was predicted to and again digital and video never killed radio. I think that’s because there’s something that happens when you can only listen. There’s a certain connection between the teller and the listener that can only be done when you don’t see them. Reuters and NPR always do well on trust and our theory is that it’s because you’re hearing the journalist and that you feel like you know them. It creates a depth of listening and that’s the value of The Daily for us. Trust brings people closer to the work and that’s extremely valuable.
There’s an objectivity which we are trying to explain in our journalism and making that multi-sensorial, through audio, is really helpful.
Reese: Sound goes through our system about seven times faster than visuals, so are you promoting a different kind of intimacy?
David: The New York Times has a global presence. People like to talk about us all over the world. It’s not always positive and that’s okay, we’re fine with that. Our role is to help people understand the world and we don’t always get it right. We want to be held accountable as we have real power. But we often get defined by a small percentage of what we do. Our marketing is there to define us by our reputation, as opposed to the main article that may find the reader, or what they hear about us in other news sources. We have a relatively small budget and we’re trying to put a finger in a dam. But we believe that it helps the audience if we can show how we remain independent, the reasons you should trust us and the thoroughness of the process. There’s an objectivity which we are trying to explain in our journalism and making that multi-sensorial, through audio, is really helpful.
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