Be Conversational, Industry-Focused and Give Thought to Titles, Podcaster Experts Advise

Jeff Lenard, vice president of industry advocacy for NACS (National Association of Convenience Stores), put up a chart of downloads of their podcast Convenience Matters. On the left we saw the previous year and short podcast titles with downloads of like 500 and 600. On the right were the latest podcast titles—many of them turned into questions: How Stuckey’s Is Bringing Back the Road Trip; Is the Great Resignation Over? What’s the Tipping Point for Gas Prices?—and a clearly more dedicated effort at snappier titles with triple the downloads.

“It wasn’t a huge content shift,” Lenard said. But moderator Blake Althen, co-owner and producer of Human Factor, who works with NACS on the podcast, said “It was everything around it [that changed].” The takeaway: little things matter.

Althen, Lenard and Kat Shamapande—director, professional development, National Association of Surety Bond Producers, and host of their podcast Let’s Get Surety—waxed thematically and entertainingly to a large gathering last week at the AMPLIFY Content & Marketing Summit during a session on podcasts.

“We needed ours to be industry focused,” Lenard said, after initial attempts at trying to be too broad. “We also decided to get two hosts for every episode, rotating them. It’s just better for the conversation to play off each other.”

They decided on a length of time—22 minutes; that’s about the average commute, he said, though not here in DC. “Or that’s maybe a usual dog walk. We were just thinking of the ways people might consume it now.”

But there was more. They took it on the road, to one of their large trade shows with 20,000 people. “These were face-to-face conversations with people you’re not going find anywhere else,” Lenard said. They also tied the podcast to a bigger initiative. “When we have speakers at an event, they also have to be on a podcast. You have a magazine article about you, you have to be on a podcast.”

So when Mike Rowe spoke at an event, that subsequent podcast gathered a few thousand downloads. And when William Shatner “went crazy when he learned he had to do a podcast, “then we couldn’t shut him up,” Lenard said. But after a COVID bump, they weren’t seeing sustained increases. “Let’s test and learn,” Lenard recalled. “We decided to focus on what the audience wants, not what we have. Let’s tell stories, focus on themes.”

So the whole month of May centered on road trips. A member of the band The Nighthawks appeared on a podcast to talk about their song Gas Station Chicken and played it on the podcast. “Take people who have followings and use that following to your advantage,” Lenard advised.

For Shamapande, the goal was to “get more information about sureties out there. This allowed us to get beyond our paywall to reach a broader audience that didn’t want to pay.”

They average about 1,000 downloads for two podcasts a month. For sponsorships, they’ll put it into various packages with other products. The prices vary from $7500 to as low as $3500. A sponsor can propose a speaker and topic, “but this isn’t infotainment,” she said. “We avoid anything heavily promotional. Sponsors love when we record it live at an in-person event.

“Before us [our audience] didn’t listen to podcasts. So it was an uphill battle in selling. We brought in a panel of past presidents who have political capital in the industry,” and that helped propel it. It’s made our industry more well-known.

Her podcast advice: “Make sure it’s more conversational—and fun. And don’t treat an episode as filling holes. As soon as you treat it like that, it will start sounding like that.”

Althen delved a bit into the sponsorship options:

  • a permanent message that’s in the episode forever;
  • stitched messaging “where we put a hole in the show and the message can be taken in and out so you can sell that slot”; that can be pre-roll or middle roll.
  • packages for live events—including deal sweetening to do the podcast from your booth.
  • Duration – some people sell it for the year. Maybe $120k for a permanent message in 52 shows.

And lastly, some more advice from Lenard:

  • Tell them in the first 30 seconds what they will hear.
  • Tell them why it matters.
  • Provide direct links—make it easy to listen. He said too clicks were needed to play their podcast.
  • Trivia episodes have been successful. Or putting a question on social media and say, “find the answer on our website.”
  • Push it out on social media. But here Lenard made a great point. We all urge our speakers to send information about our event or podcast to their following. Lenard compared that to how a parent might encourage a child—not always with the best results. So when Stephanie Stuckey’s episode passed Mike Rowe to go into their top 10 for downloads, Lenard congratulated her. She wrote back: “You made my day—I’m going to post this on LinkedIn and Facebook.” Lenard advised “find a way to celebrate something with your speakers.”

He admitted it’s hard to monetize podcasts. They charge $3,000 for a full podcast. “That’s less than a full page ad in our magazine. I think we should charge $10,000; we have to do a better job of selling it and allow our sales force to talk about it differently [because] it’s like [the sponsor is] talking to an audience of 2,000 for 22 minutes.”

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Best Practices for Publishers in Working With Freelancers and Contractors

This article was written especially for the AMPlify newsletter by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, AM&P Associate Member and Freelance Connection Member

Congratulations! You’ve decided to use a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, designer, photographer, indexer or other service provider for a project, and you’ve found the ideal contractor through the AM&P Service Provider Directory or Freelance Connection or another service/recommendation.

What should you do next to make sure it all goes according to your best expectations? These “Four Key Elements to Ensuring Successful Relationships with Your Contractors” should help.

Define the project’s scope.
Provide as much detail as possible about what you will need and expect, from number of words for an article to types of images for photos or illustrations, scope of entries for an index, pages in a layout, and any other aspects that will shape the project.

Set deadlines.
Consider asking for an outline or sketches first, especially the first time working with a new freelancer/contractor. It also can’t hurt to set a “false” or early deadline for a first-time contributor, just to be safe.

Create a contract or agreement for all parties to agree to.
It doesn’t have to be complicated or full of legalese, but it should spell out all important points:

  • Scope/definition of project;
  • Rate/fees;
  • Deadline(s);
  • Copyright;
  • Kill fee (what you’ll pay if you can’t use the submission for some reason);
  • Publicity (whether the provider can post a link or the actual project to their website or announce it in their social media channels);
  • Payment policy (on acceptance, on publication, 30-60-45-90 days after invoice), etc.

Share your communications preferences.
Do you want to discuss the project by phone (what a concept!), email, Zoom, Slack or some other option? How often do you want to hear from the service provider? And be sure to notify providers if you change your contact information!

Tales from the trenches

Publishers can create great relations with AM&P Network service providers by establishing clear communications and expectations. These lessons-learned illustrate how the “Four Key Elements to Ensuring Successful Relationships with Your Contractors” can help avoid headaches for all concerned.

1. A freelance writer was self-editing and proofreading an article before submitting it, and the association editor called to ask where it was—she expected to see it as soon as she walked in the door on the day it was due, but the writer thought they had until 5 p.m. of the deadline day to send it.

Lesson for clients: If the time of day matters to you, communicate your specific preferences about when you expect to see finished work.

2. The CEO of an association in a heavily male-dominated industry told a graphic designer never to use lavender, lilac or other light shades of purple in suggested illustrations for the association magazine—but every issue included at least one sketch with such color elements. The CEO gave the designer several chances to follow this very specific direction before firing them.

Lesson for freelancers: Follow directions!
Lesson for publishers: Make your expectations clear, consider asking the provider why they have ignored those expectations and respond appropriately if problems continue.    

3. A freelancer sent an email message to let an association publisher know that they were running late on an assignment because sources weren’t responding to interview requests. Two days later, the email message bounced back as undeliverable. The freelancer didn’t know that the publisher had changed email addresses, and the publisher hadn’t gotten in touch to ask why the assignment hadn’t shown up yet.

Lesson for freelancers: Ask clients for backup contact information to use if you don’t get a prompt response to an urgent message.
Lesson for publishers: Give freelancers/contractors more than one way to reach you or at least new contact information as appropriate.

4. A consultant entered a newsletter they had worked on for a critique of its content and design. The critique was positive, but the client misinterpreted some of the comments and was—understandably—furious that (a) they weren’t asked if it was okay to submit their publication and (b) the assessment wasn’t all roses.

Lesson for freelancers: Never share a client’s project anywhere without permission, especially the “before” and edited versions, even if it could be anonymized to hide the publisher’s identity.

5. An association publisher asked a writer to compile a newsletter index. Instead of suggesting or handing off to a professional indexer, the writer tried to handle the request—and failed miserably, to their embarrassment and the publisher’s fury.

Lesson for freelancers: Don’t take on tasks you aren’t qualified for, or at least ask clients if it’s okay to use their out-of-scope request as a learning experience.
Lesson for publishers: Invest in trained, skilled service providers even if it costs more than assigning a task to someone else.

6. A publisher assigned an article and provided 15 sources for interviews. The first few that the freelance writer tried to reach weren’t available, resulting in a panicky, “I don’t think I can include everyone; are some more important than others?” The publisher responded with, “Oh, you don’t have to include all of them; I assumed not all would be available. Just use whichever five you can reach first.”

Lesson: Make expectations clear—provide plenty of sources but tell your freelancer how many should be featured, and which are essential. And try hard to make those sources diverse.

Have you had success or headaches in working with contractors? Send your anecdotes to Freelance Connection member Ruth E. Thaler-Carter at Ruth@writerruth.com for possible use in future AMPlify articles to help colleagues create better relationships with freelance service providers. All responses will be treated as confidential and neither publisher nor freelancer/contractor names will be used.

Freelance Connection member Matthew Cibellis contributed to this article.

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New Brands, Spurred by Juneteenth, Showcase Much Welcomed Content

With the Juneteenth federal holiday yesterday, many media brands acknowledged the occasion with new written and video content and statements. Twitter even added a new Hashtag emoji that they displayed on any Juneteenth related tag this year. Tony Silber takes a look at a couple of these new initiatives and the trends they might create.

I’ve written two items in a week about major media companies that rolled out initiatives related to the commemoration of Juneteenth, which was officially celebrated yesterday.

First, Hearst Magazines and Oprah Daily announced last Monday that it’s launching the latest iteration of its sponsored “Project Tell Me” series, called Future Rising, timed to coincide with Juneteenth. It is part of a storytelling initiative celebrating the impact of Black culture on American life.

The series began just over a week ago and includes interviews with “Abbott Elementary” star Sheryl Lee Ralph; Jessica Watkins, the first Black woman to live at the International Space Station; Mickey Guyton, who went down in history as the first Black woman to earn a Grammy nomination in a country category; and architect Nina Cooke John, whose new endeavor is the Harriet Tubman Monument in Newark, set to open to the public this summer.

“Big storytelling efforts around underrepresented communities can often center on activists and politics, which is important for telling the story of social change, but is only one slice of experiences, accomplishments and people,” Alison Overholt, Oprah Daily general manager, told MediaVillage. “What I love about Future Rising is that it involves 34 pieces across a dozen brands that span every genre imaginable.”

And Friday I posted a story about Dotdash Meredith’s Parents brand launching Kindred, a digital destination and community created for the parents and caregivers who are raising the next generation of Black children.

Both brand extensions are well timed and, most likely, harbingers of more niched content to come. The Hearst and Dotdash Meredith launches deal with contemporary issues and concerns relevant to their audiences. That’s completely appropriate. But in marking this day, it’s always good to reflect on how we as a country got to where we are. In particular, “Kindred” makes a point of referring to “free” Black children, which means for parents to reject all the many assumptions, impediments and biases that Black kids especially face as they grow up.

“Culturally, we parent differently, and we do family differently,” Kindred editorial director Kelly Glass said. “There’s so much nuance in the Black family experience that parenting publications don’t capture. Kindred is filling that gap. We’re also inviting the entire village of people into the fold because we know firsthand how important the aunties, the grandparents, and those key figures in Black families are to the lives of Black children.

“All of us who take seriously the responsibility to raise Black children with a radical sense of freedom and joy are going to find community here in the news, stories, and experiences we share on Kindred.”

Kindred by Parents has four original video series created by senior video producer Kareema B. Partin. Episodes are now available on parents.com, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.

I could go on literally for hundreds of pages about the contributions of Black Americans to our country and culture, many of whose stories are never told. But for now, I’ll salute Hearst and Dotdash Meredith and all the other media brands making the effort to celebrate Juneteenth and publish new content in that realm.



‘Believe in What You’re Doing’; at Brief Media, Success and Social Good Go Hand in Hand

For her keynote talk this morning titled Mission Critical: Social Good as a Core Business Principle, Elizabeth Green (pictured), CEO and founder of niche publisher Brief Media—“our purpose is to care for veterinarians”—drew immediate positive vibes by quoting the great Jane Goodall.

“What you do makes a difference; you just have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

The happy occasion is AMPLIFY, AM&P Network’s Content & Marketing Summit—our much-welcomed and well-attended dive back into in-person events. (Yes!) Green has made making a difference a core principle of Brief Media, most specifically through a partnership with Mission Rabies, an organization working to eliminate human deaths from rabies throughout the world.

“We had an audience in the U.S. [and the means to] vocalize and educate our veterinarians.” Green said, recalling her initial reaction to a partnership. With a sponsor in hand, Brief Media has done six drives to places like Malawi and Goa—where rabies has been eliminated—over seven years (with a pause the last two) and vaccinated 65,000 dogs, saving countless lives.

She spoke of employee excitement and retention, and sustained revenue growth. “Ever since we’ve been involved in Mission Rabies, our bottom line has gone up,” she said. “I can’t say it’s tied to that, but we are seeing that growth within our organization.”

Data from a recent Axios/Harris poll found that public perception of companies is deeply impacted by how much those companies can promise a better future for society. According to the poll, companies with the most momentum included those brands putting those commitments front and center—like Brief Media.

Green offered six tips for organizations looking to follow this path.

Make it matter for you and your stakeholders. And do something that’s sustainable over a long time.

Be authentic. This is not a check box; it’s something you have a passion for, Green said, telling how she got involved with Mission Rabies. “It wasn’t a big strategic process; it was much more organic and serendipitous,” taking place at an overseas conference where she was told about the problem of rabies and that it could be solved. “I then saw someone wearing a shirt with the Mission Rabies logo on it. ‘I need to talk with you. How many people from the U.S. come on these?’ ‘No one.’ ‘I can help you.’”

Form partnerships. That discussion led to the partnership. “Partnering with a not-for-profit was among the best things we ever did,” Green said.

Look for sponsorships. “You can have a coalition of sponsorships around what you do,” Green said. She told about her initial sponsor, Merck Animal Health, which withdrew after initial doubts but then came back in strongly after seeing the impact.

Measure the impact. Take a step back from “we are making a difference” to look at the overall impact your commitment is having—on staff, company growth, retention, recruitment.

Tell the world. “It really made a difference in our profession and now for Mission Rabies, where the number of volunteers from the U.S.” increased greatly,” Green said. The more you can get volunteers to tell their stories—videos work well here—the better. “So it’s not just us saying how great this is.” Their next trip will be in January.

“We’re not seeing the Great Resignation at Brief Media,” Green said, adding they’ve been recognized many times for being one of the top small businesses to work for. “The younger generation is demanding [this type of action] in the workplace.”

It matters to customers as well. Almost 85% of millennials say it’s important that companies they buy from also align with their values, and 73% of 35-54 year olds and 60% of 55+ year olds agree—so it’s not just younger folks. In a Disqus survey, people said they pay for content to “support a publisher’s mission and success.”

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you,” Goodall said.

“Believe in what you’re doing,” Green said. “And find something that really matters. We could take the knowledge of our veterinarians and save lives in the human world.”

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‘The Content That Drives Frequency [Must Be] Highlighted’; Thorough Onboarding Is the First Step for Successful Renewals

To ensure reader loyalty, Michael Silberman, senior vice president of strategy at media consultancy Piano, emphasizes the importance of a comprehensive “onboarding” process for new subscribers with messages that highlight exclusive content and website navigation. He also urges emailing daily round-up newsletters to subscribers and making sure that the content that drives frequency is highlighted. “Putting all those pieces together is really important,” he said.

In the Medill study that I wrote about a couple weeks ago—Reading Frequency Outweighs Page Views and Intensity—some of the success of the business publication being studied stemmed from their popular political columnist and additional restaurant content they were experimenting with. But Silberman tempered this a bit.

“Somebody who is only looking at article pages and not going to the home page, they are less likely to subscribe. They probably got there from an email they read,” he said. “Because of the way paywalls work, you may have very limited ability to read even if you’re visiting several days in a row. They may look like they are loyal, but they are just trying to read. They may only be loyal to clicking on the website.”

Instead, he pointed to the importance of thorough onboarding. Medill Spiegel Research Center research director Edward Malthouse agrees, adding that the onboarding process should “show subscribers how to get the most out of their subscriptions. If they receive value from the subscription, then they will continue to pay for it.” As publications move further towards reader-supported models, engaging subscribers early becomes increasingly imperative.

Here are 5 onboarding successes I’ve come across:

Monitor early. “If a subscriber doesn’t have at least 10 page views a month, we run campaigns to engage with them, send them letters from the editor and the CEO, try to understand what they are looking for, and make relevant changes,” said Vaibhav Khanna, former product head, BQ Prime (formerly Bloomberg Quint), a multiplatform, Indian business and financial news company. In a retention study last year from the American Press Institute, the biggest gap between what publishers deem valuable and what they aren’t doing well is in identifying at-risk subscribers—83.5% to 19%. The next two are using metrics to evaluate churn—82.6% to 28%—and track what subscribers read—75.7% think it’s important but only 30% believe they are good at it.

Perfect your welcome letters. I recall one open-rate survey that had welcome letters far ahead of any other type of communication. When it comes to onboarding, welcome emails are by far the most effective at 77%. The more value you can throw into a welcome letter, the better. And the more people you can get involved from a member/subscriber organization will also help you come renewal time. Almost everyone (90%) encourages new subscribers to sign up for their newsletters. However, only some publishers send educational information about how to use their products (46%) or send personal notes from a person in the newsroom (43%).

Dedicate specific space on your site. The Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA) created a new member guide and a special page on their website with practical tips for new members. During the pandemic, HIDA went away from sending out physical packets but then heard from members who preferred receiving something tangible in the mail. Perhaps you could get a sponsor for that.

Provide the breadth of what you do. Especially during the pandemic, customers/subscribers/members may have come to you for one special thing, be that COVID coverage, ways to move forward or how others are dealing with this crisis. So it’s important that you expose them to everything else that you do. “If you are one of the almost a million people who subscribed to our COVID-19 email newsletter, what are the other newsletters that may be valuable to you?” asked Jeremy Gilbert, then of The Washington Post, now of Medill, early on in the pandemic. “What kinds of coverage did you click through from the email newsletter and how can we use those interactions with our site or native apps to get you to stay?”

Show and tell. In the personalized onboarding webinars that Lia Zegeye, senior director of membership at the American Bus Association, conducts, she “shows a short promotional video from ABA’s tradeshow, providing a testimonial about the value of the event. Zegeye said she often gets thank-you notes from those webinar attendees who say, “Wow, I had no idea you guys did all of these things!” “It’s a great way for me to connect with our members,” she added. On their website, there’s a pdf guide titled How to Access and Utilize My ABA. The webinars immediately put a face with a name, and members are more likely to reach out to her directly with questions.