The Walt Disney Co. VP Ivan Heredia on Reinventing Radio for the Digital Age

Landis Smithers, Chief Creative Officer at The Standard

With his early career days spent listening to Indie Rock and underground hip-hop, Ivan Heredia never thought he’d be in the kids and family entertainment business. Now, as the VP of Marketing for the Radio Disney Network, with previous roles at Warner Music Group and Nickelodeon, Ivan has oversight of Brand, Digital, CRM, Data, Promotions and Creative for the brand’s youth-focused media network. In his seven years with Radio Disney, Ivan has orchestrated the positioning and launch of successful tentpole brand events including the Radio Disney Music Awards which yielded 5B earned impressions, as well as a multi-platform artist discovery program. But his biggest challenge yet in underway… to reimagine and refresh Radio Disney for the digital world. Read on to hear how Ivan balances the rise of new media in a very saturated space and how they engage with the youth audience while staying true to the legacy brand.

Why did you choose to join Radio Disney?

I joined Disney to learn more about how one company that creates that elusive ‘magic’, can seemingly do so consistently from every area of its business. I had spent several years the kids and family entertainment business and I viewed Disney as the pinnacle in that space. I’ve always been a fan of their storytelling which is fundamentally rooted in optimism and community. My goal was to bring a renewed energy and focus to Radio Disney, so to play a very small part in the brand’s continued legacy is an honor and a privilege. It’s a brand that brings back great childhood memories for many - we want to rekindle that for the modern family.


What current developments in marketing are most exciting to you?

I’m excited by the purpose-driven work coming from some of today’s most innovative brands. The thought-provoking communications that encourage us to make the world a better place is truly inspiring and takes the marketing craft that I love to another level. I believe young people are the ambassadors of this movement. They are more relentless about authenticity and can immediately identify when a brand is “trying too hard.”


What are you working on now that is innovative?

Mock-up of interactive quiz for the Radio Disney app.

A few years ago, Radio Disney evolved its business model, going from at one point was nearly 60 traditional terrestrial local market radio stations to what now is a digital and content focused business. So we were traditional radio for a long time. Now, we’re doubling down on digital, telling stories grounded in music with a uniquely Disney lens. For example, we’ve taken that storytelling on the high seas, literally. Live streaming games and performance right from the Disney cruise. We’ll combine our own properties like the Disney Cruise Line, live streaming platforms like a lively, or Instagram stories, Facebook live and bring artists and social media influencers together to create a fun and engaging experience. That’s something we hadn’t done before but we know this is how our audience is consuming entertainment.

More recently, we partnered with Amazon and leveraged its powerful Alexa platform to create the Radio Disney Alexa skill. And we’ll be doing more with them later this year to further enrich that family listening experience through that powerful tool. Lastly, this year, for our tent-pole music TV event on Disney Channel, we’re going to create an exclusive AR filter in partnership with Instagram that’ll help fans share the magic with their friends and family. So, it's not about the technology being front and center, it’s technology continuing to enable great narrative and storytelling.

How do you balance growth as a media network in an already crowded space?

As a company, we like projects that have clear positioning and purpose, and we look at platforms through the same lens. For example, Instagram is where we get high engagement, so we’re precious with that platform. With the Radio Disney app, which is currently going through a redesign, we realized that with the proliferation of Spotify, Apple Music and other music streaming services, we need to reposition our app to what we do best, and that's to curate great aural and live experiences for the youth audience, a demographic that is generally ignored by all these other platforms.  So in the case of Radio Disney app, we’re leaning into fun trivia, and milestones for our audience – we’re leaning into what matters to them most. So we’ll look at it case by case, platform by platform and ask ourselves: what does each platform do best, what are the stories that we want to tell, and which platforms make the most sense, in priority order.

Radio Disney is using Instagram Stories to share branded content.

Radio Disney is using Instagram Stories to share branded content.

What big learning moments you’ve had along your career path? Do you have any notable mentors?

I started working as a sales rep in the music industry, at a fiercely independent record label. I didn’t plan to be in sales, but it turned out to be a great crash course on knowing your product, knowing your customer, goal-setting, and relationship management. A few years later I began the work of marketing music. I was fortunate enough to collaborate with incredibly talented artists, executives, and wear many hats. You quickly learn that in order to get things done, relationships are everything.

I’m grateful to Neil Levine, one of my early bosses and very first mentor. He’s a legend for his efforts in the early days of hip-hop in NY. Neil taught me that relationships built on mutual trust and integrity enable opportunities to learn and ultimately grow as a professional. Neil led by example, showing me that I didn’t have to pick a lane - if I’m into everything, then I can be a successful generalist and be the hub that catalyzes collaboration. At Nickelodeon, Doug Cohn drove my creativity. His energy was infectious. I appreciated his trust in me on many projects that had no real history. The 2 PKs – Paula Kaplan and Pam Kaufman - are a force to be reckoned with. Bad ass leaders who raised the bar of excellence for all those around them. I’d like to think a bit of that drive rubbed off on me. Those are the attributes and experiences I carry with me to this day.


How do you pick and develop the talent on your team and ensure there is collaboration?

Passion is always a key ingredient and attributes that I look for. You can have impressive experience and hard skills. But you either live and breathe what you do, or it’s just a 9 to 5. It’s cliché for a reason – love what you do, do what you love. I’m blessed to be surrounded by talented and passionate people who show up and bring their “A game” every day. We try to create an environment where all ideas are welcome. I personally pull back and want to hear all the voices in the room. I find that when you reinforce the objective to a passionate group, you enable collaboration because ideas begin to take shape and the group takes ownership.


What one thing do you need from your CMO to help you be successful?

Honesty and trust should be at the root of all conversations. This allows for clarity of expectations, goals, and the confidence to question and push against the status quo when it’s needed the most.


What’s the best advice you’ve received that has helped you in your career?

Stay hungry and be a life-long learner. If you find your areas of passion, work hard to stay in the mix. Stay on top of the innovations and innovators and experiment by putting what you learn into practice.


Bonus Questions:

  • Favorite place to vacation? I’m a New Yorker living in L.A. I really enjoy going back home. The Dominican Republic is a close second place.

  • What’s something that most people don't know about you? I played piano professionally for about 15 years.

  • If you weren’t a marketer, what would you be? I’d produce hit songs for artists. If I can work up the mojo, I’ll go on tour with them, too.

  • What book would you most recommend to fellow marketers? “This Is Marketing” by Seth Godin