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Podcasts now play a central role in many brand publishing efforts. They provide opportunities to dive deep into specific topics, showcase executives and guests in new and interesting lights, and experiment with new audiences and interesting ways to engage them beyond the written word or video. Of course, they’re also a good way to reach people while they physically cannot read or watch something, e.g., driving or commuting.
Why brand publishers should consider podcasts
There’s a reason podcasts have become popular for brand publishers. Brands doing publishing effectively usually have a deep bench of expertise — most firms, no matter what industry they’re in — have as part of their workforce a number of experts who can opine on diverse subjects and offer analysis rooted in experience on a number of different issues. Podcasts are a great way to show off that authority and expertise.
Whether they’re guest-driven or subject-driven, podcasts can provide a rare opportunity to have an intelligent, thoughtful discussion that words on a page simply don’t. They can prove effective in opening guests up and getting closer to unvarnished truths on potentially contentious subjects and topics.
Podcasts are also thriving because they can be relatively easy to execute with the right planning and approach. Guest-driven podcasts, for example, rarely necessitate anything more than a visitor who can speak knowledgeably about a subject. As long as a podcast has a good pipeline of guests and a clear purpose and audience in mind, it can feel easier to record a 45-minute conversation than report a story or generate and edit a piece of written content.
The downside, however, is podcast content is rarely held to the same standards or planning that written content is. This results in a glut of defunct, uninteresting and uninspired corporate podcasts that litter online radio apps and suck up time and budget without adding much value for audiences.
How to ensure success
That being said, there is still room to incorporate podcasting as part of many brand publishing initiatives. Along with the basics of being produced in a professional manner with good sound and catchy music, podcasts in this context will only be successful if they hew closely to many other tenets of editorial publishing. Teams, therefore, should ensure that podcasts, just like other content, have been modeled after successful journalistic endeavors and mirror the goals and strategy outlined for the overall publication.
Successful publishing podcasts should:
- Serve a clear purpose and are the right fit for overall publishing goals: It can be tempting to make a podcast because “everyone is doing it,” but podcast projects without clear editorial goals, intended outcomes and definitions for success can derail quickly.
- Adopt effective and engaging podcast formats. There are a multitude of ways to present and package podcasts that should be informed by publishing goals, audience needs, resources and more. Brand publishers should think about the formats that best suit their specific needs and circumstances, rather than simply mimicking the approach of others.
- Begin with operational approaches that yield high-quality and repeatable results. Consistent, repeatable and dependable processes underpin any successful podcast effort.
- Have hosts help that deliver optimal value to their audience. There’s an oversupply of podcast content, and cutting through the noise requires focus and quality. The “build it and they will come” approach no longer works, and hosting and editing now play a particularly important role in enticing new listeners and, more importantly, creating affinity and ongoing listening habits with audiences.
This Guide provides a step-by-step framework to think critically about if a publication should consider podcasting, how to make podcasts complement existing editorial missions and goals, and best practices for making podcasts consistent, interesting and valuable.
Creating a podcast is straightforward, but creating a good podcast with the ability to stand out in a sea of alternatives, requires a clear purpose and reason to exist.
Organizations must develop a podcast strategy that not only ties back to their overall brand publishing goals and editorial strategy, but that also complements and augments other publishing initiatives. A podcast should only be pursued if it achieves something other content initiatives cannot.
The following four questions should be addressed when deciding if a podcast will be part of an editorial plan:
- What is the intended outcome? Like any other editorial product, a podcast should have a clear and well-articulated goal and reason for its existence. This means specifying goals and outcomes, and arriving at a firm consensus on how those outcomes map to a broader publishing strategy and business needs.
- Will it be additive to the current publishing strategy? Podcasts should work alongside any existing publishing initiatives and add incremental value, both for the target audience and the company producing them. For example, podcasts could be a good way to expand the audience for an in-person event, or could be used as a vehicle to gain access to and attention from senior industry figures who might be more receptive to talking on a podcast format than being interviewed for written content.
- Does it fit within the wider editorial mission? An editorial mission is a specific statement that explains what a publisher is attempting to achieve – what it is delivering to the audience, and crucially, why that matters. (For more on creating an editorial mission, see the Guide to Developing an Editorial Strategy) A podcast’s theme, angle and topic should fit within the wider editorial mission, otherwise it risks feeling disjointed, both from the company’s overarching goal(s), and the audience it seeks to serve.
- Is it interesting and/or valuable? These are two key questions companies must ask themselves while working on any editorial products – and it’s no different with podcasts. Whether a podcast is guest-driven, news-driven or oriented around a narrative, its overall approach must feel interesting and crucially valuable for the target audience.
Developing editorial goals and a mission statement
Being able to articulate a clear goal for a podcast will go a long way in setting it up for success, and also creates a “North Star” for those involved with the project to strive towards.
Since an overall brand publishing strategy already has articulated goals, objectives and a target audience, the podcast may simply borrow from that and expand on it for specific outcomes that are unique to the podcast.
For example, if a brand publishing team’s overarching goal is to showcase the expertise of a company’s executives, the podcast might follow the same approach. It might, therefore, bring on the company’s executives as hosts or guests, and topics could be formulated that highlight that expertise.
Creating an editorial mission for a podcast is a key part of goal-setting. An editorial mission is the articulation of the goals and objectives.
The mission should:
- Be between two to three sentences
- Include why the podcast exists
- Include what differentiates this product from other similar or competitive products, both internally and externally
Here’s how to arrive at the mission:
- Do an internal analysis. Are the current editorial products or content enough to meet overarching goals? The audio medium can be extremely useful for telling stories that can’t be told with copy. For example, a brand that provides software for startups may find that there are many company founders, who are its target customers, who have interesting backstories and tales of how they decided to start their companies. When the characters themselves are interesting, audio can be a great medium. Additionally, if there is internal talent who regularly does analysis of certain trends in a pithy, interesting way that doesn’t lend itself to an article, that’s a good reason to have a podcast.
- Do a competitive analysis. Doing a competitive analysis helps identify a niche in which a podcast can sit, and will also help inform content types that might be emulated or avoided. Study competitive podcasts and outline the following:
- Focus: how do competitive podcasts describe what they do?
- Cadence: is the podcast aired weekly? Monthly? Which day(s) of the week?
- Guests: what kinds of guests (if applicable) do others have on? Can this conflict or be repetitive?
- Format: what kinds of formats do competitive podcasts use? (For examples of formats, see the section below on utilizing effective formats.)
- Host(s): who hosts the podcast? Is there be a rotating “cast” of hosts or does a single person lead every episode?
- Keep the target audience in mind. Just like with defining a publishing strategy , the podcast should also be clear on its audience and audience segments. A podcast’s audience may even be slightly different from the overall editorial audience — it may be broader, or narrower, to reach a subset of the overall group.
Podcasts require consistency and planning. And a lot of upfront investment, including time and money, goes into creating them. They also take time to attract listeners and settle into a rhythm from a content and production standpoint.
As a result, companies embarking on podcast initiatives should do so with a clear, upfront sense of what success looks like for the project and how it will be defined. They should be able to easily complete the statement: “this initiative will be deemed successful if…”
Definitions of success will inevitably vary from company to company. Some might choose to define it using harder, quantitative metrics such as audience size, total minutes consumed or social media and press mentions and activity. Others might rely on softer metrics, such as “brand perception” or “executive authority,” which are harder to quantify with data, but no less valid.
Regardless of how success is defined, arriving at a set of commonly accepted metrics will enable stakeholders across the organization to easily benchmark progress, determine whether changes need to be made and, ultimately, justify continued investment in the initiative.
Podcast publishers often track some of the following metrics to establish how they’re tracking against their goals and defining success:
- Downloads of an episode are an important metric that acts as a stand-in for how many people are listening.
- Subscribers to a podcast can create a good understanding of loyal listeners.
- Unique visits, content views and time spent are a good way to track engagement if publishers are also posting a transcript of episodes on their websites.
- Social media activity, when new episodes are posted, are a good way to track if a company’s podcast is seen as a thought-leader in its industry.
- Press mentions, citations and inbound links are a good way to measure the “halo effect,” or the tendency for an impression created in one area to influence opinion in another area, of a podcast on a company’s publishing efforts.
Podcasts take time to gain traction. Defining success is important, but so is patience. When embarking on a podcast endeavor, groups must be realistic with themselves about how long “success” may take. For example, for a weekly podcast that is consistently created and produced, it could take up to six months for it to see some listener traction, as long as it’s being distributed correctly and has some promotional muscle put behind it in terms of paid advertising and/or other organic promotion.
Using effective podcast formats
Podcasts aren’t simply conversations that happen to be taped; they’re editorial products that have a strong connection to a company’s goals and the target audience they are trying to serve. Like all other editorial products, such as a company website, a magazine, a video series or a newsletter, podcasts must be planned upfront with the same careful consideration toward formats and presentation. And it’s also important to note that the same format does not necessarily work for every type of podcast. Some podcasts may even be a mix of formats, starting with, for example a monologue, followed by a conversation.
Teams should consider the following formats:
- Host-on-guest: This format is the most popular for a reason. It is a basic introduction, followed by a conversation, preferably done in a loose interview style, that follows some kind of linear thought process. This works best when companies want to use each episode to focus on a specific theme that works with an overall angle, and have a plethora of guests to pick from — each an expert, preferably, on that theme.
- Host-on-host: This one can be tricky to pull off, but worth it if companies have two internal “hosts” who provide, for example, diametrically opposed points of view or just a a natural rapport that leads to interesting conversations. From a logistics perspective, this one is easier to manage but does run the risk of feeling insular or boring.
- Host monologue: Perhaps the hardest one, and best left for professionals, a singular host monologue podcast is exactly what it sounds like: one host, who speaks the entire time. This can be useful if companies want to use revolving hosts — one per episode, perhaps — and don’t want to bother with guests. These also work well with explainer podcasts or quicker, shorter episodes.
- Panel podcasts: Panel podcasts can have a set of guests, either the same ones every time or a rotating mix, hosted by one person. With great dynamics, these shows can be very entertaining. Good podcasts of this nature make audiences feel like they’re part of a great dinner party, but these can be tricky to ensure they aren’t boring, and can be logistically difficult to put together.
Like with events, using games to stimulate conversation and drive interesting audio, can be effective. Podcasts with multiple speakers and guests can “play a game,” such as a rapid-fire round, quizzes, trivia or even company-approved drinking games while they’re recording the conversation.
- Audio postcards: Audio postcards are the audible equivalent of drawing a picture. They can work well for podcasts, for example, that depend on the context of the place and the time they are recorded or produced. They’re production intensive and difficult to create, but extremely valuable in their pay off, if done well. They need a strong host who acts as a narrator, and a lot of production power to record background noises (B-roll), multiple interviews and a plethora of viewpoints. These can work well for say, a large scale event, for example, or an industry confab.
- News shows: As the name says, news shows are dependent on a news cycle. For content creators, the news cycle might be an interesting or important event in a given industry — conferences for trade organizations, draft picks or practice games for sports teams, maybe a big piece of tech news that affects the B2B industry. News shows can have one or more speakers who focus on reporting and analyzing that specific piece of news.
- Repurposed content: For teams that don’t want to start from scratch with a new podcast, but have a plethora of other content, such as video, or conference sessions, for example, it can be effective to use that content and create an audio product. All it requires is a new introduction, followed by the audio, with some light editing.
- Narrative podcasts: Narrative podcasts, often known as storytelling podcasts, are slightly more involved productions. They usually have multiple hosts and speakers, and each episode (or set of episodes) is focused on a specific story. The host narrates the story, using a glut of other sounds and voices to prop it up. A host can open the episode, then use quotes and voices from other people, and/or background sounds, music or dialogue to tell the rest of the piece. These can be useful when teams want to focus on a story, rather than a guest or their opinions.
Brands should consider the use of a series within podcasts. For example, a show can be made up of a number of different series, each with a set of episodes, focused on a certain topic. It can feel easier to divide up a show into chunks of a series, and also allow some flexibility in formats. Plus, a series can allow shows to go deep into certain subjects, during important times where they may be highly relevant or newsworthy, for example.
Organizing podcast operations
Podcast operations largely depend on the organization at hand – who is involved, what kind of resources are available to them and how people like to work. But an efficient and clear process will mean having episodes that are planned ahead of time, guests who are booked in advance (where appropriate) and topics and angles that are well fleshed out and thought through.
Precision is particularly important with podcasts because, by nature, they have to be consistent. If it’s a weekly podcast, for example, a new episode each week is necessary and important in order to create loyal listenership and real traction.
Planning topics and episodes
A simple content calendar will suffice to make this happen, but podcasts should, ideally, be planned three to four weeks in advance if they’re not weekly, off-the-cuff news shows. Each episode should come with a topic attached to it, that has a specific angle and is mirrored in the publishing team’s editorial calendar. Ideally, at least four to five episodes should be planned ahead, to account for scheduling changes for guests. Consistency is important for podcast performance.
Each episode should have:
- A topic that is current and focused
- A list of takeaways or an outcome that listeners can expect to leave with
- A list of suggested guests – ideally, two or three, ranked in order of preference
Just as with events or conferences, having a variety of guests from various backgrounds is imperative for podcasts. Part of the planning process should include tracking for gender, race or other demographic features to ensure that the podcast remains diverse and open to different points of view.
One person, ideally, should be in charge of booking guests. A template email or factsheet should be created, and have all the necessary information that can be sent to prospective guests to cut down on back-and-forth and other issues pertaining to recording the podcast. Brand publishing teams, including the host of the podcast as well as another content leader, must be closely involved with the podcast, production process, including coming up with angles and topics.
The fact sheet should include:
- The name of the podcast and who is creating it
- A three to four sentence description of the podcast
- How often the podcast runs and on which days it is published/recorded
- Which topic(s) the guest is expected to speak about and what each topic entails
- Three to four sample questions the host may ask
- Logistical details, such as time expected for recording, parking information, building entrance requirements and any other special preparation necessary
Prep calls have become common – and frankly, overdone – particularly in the professional world, when it comes to podcasts. For podcasts, prep calls can be especially problematic because they make the final product sound exceptionally flat. Hosts may be worried by this, but trading a prep call for a few sample questions, sent to guests ahead of time, can do wonders for making a podcast feel conversational, fresh and entertaining.
A good podcast needs a trailer, and intros and outros (the pieces spoken at the beginning and the end) to pique interest.
These should always include:
- A sense of why this podcast exists
- What makes it different from others
- What listeners can expect from the podcast in terms of voices they’ll hear, length of time and other information that may be of interest to the audience
While this Guide does not cover the details of editing and post-production, there should be a clear understanding of the editing process after recording and how much, if at all, episodes are edited for content and length. This will depend on the format.
Hosting podcasts effectively
The podcast’s mission is ultimately to create something interesting and valuable to an audience — and also satisfy business goals, whatever they may be.
The job of a podcast host is especially difficult in this scenario. Hosts for brand publishing podcasts may not be (and almost always aren’t) professional radio hosts. They’re often executives or employees at a company, and therefore have the right expertise and mindset to be able to discuss the subject matter intelligently and thoroughly. This section focuses on the basics of asking questions that spur conversation, rather than to simply “get answers.”
Here’s how to do it:
- Prepare the way reporters do for an interview. Hosts should keep a list of salient points from the company’s own research or work, or other studies, in front of them to refer to. Have a list of questions ready to go. Hosts should be prepared with about 10 open-ended questions for a 30-minute interview. Hosts may not get through all of them, but it’s better to have too many questions to ask a guest than not enough. Hosts should always have a pre-written intro.
- Listen. The best hosts expand on what’s being said by asking relevant and thoughtful follow up questions. Podcasts should feel like conversations, not question-and-answer volleys.
- Put personal stories in. This is a departure from written content, but audio is a different medium and needs to be treated as such. Hosts should be personally engaged and include anecdotes and stories from their own lives. This element makes podcasts unique and exciting for listeners.
- Speak as if the audience is in the same room, listening along with them. Listeners are hearing the guest’s answers, just like the host is, so they should be spoken to, whenever possible.
- Watch for accent and voice confusion. For example, if a podcast’s host and guests consist of three men from the same country, state or region, it’s possible that they will sound very similar to listeners, who won’t be able to differentiate who’s speaking. This can cause confusion, so it’s best to make sure the audience will be able to tell speakers apart. A good way to do this, and also achieve diversity and inclusion, is by inviting guests who represent varying locations, ethnicities, ages and genders.
- Ask two key questions of guests: “why [is something happening]?” and “what does that mean for the audience/listeners?” Hosts must force guests to go beyond their talking points and connect the dots to make the product interesting and valuable to the people listening. Keep room for amicable disagreement.
Checklist and next steps
Podcasts have become a key part of editorial and publishing strategies for good reason. Done effectively, they can be a great way to tell stories in a new medium that encourages audiences to really listen to what’s being said.
Organizations should ask themselves:
Formats and operations
More guides and resources: