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The Roles of Engagement: Podcasts Must Connect First, Pursue Dollars Later

In a Lunch & Learn we had last week, Nicole Racadag, managing editor at the American College of Radiology, spoke about their new podcast. “This was something totally new for our organization,” she said. “We launched the first season of the ACR Bulletin podcast in the summer of 2020. The first installation was on population health management, which had a lot of implications for our members, especially with the pandemic. In November we did [a series] on lung screening to coincide with screening awareness month.

“We are also going to look at branching out into doing some visual podcasts. Looking at stats the podcast has also driven a lot of traffic to our magazine’s website. It was downloaded more than 500 times in 2020 and it’s taken a lot of traffic to our landing page.”

I set out to write about monetizing podcasts this morning, but after looking at what our members are doing, it appears that building engagement must come first. The International News Media Association just came out with a new report concluding that “Connecting with listeners must initially be a higher priority than monetization.” However, they also write this: “Revenue from podcasts is growing and is predicted to resume pre-pandemic projections in 2021.” Sponsorships, subscription-only podcasts, transcripts, branded episodes and live events are paths to revenue.

Here are a few great examples I’ve listened to from members:

Interview industry luminaries. Steve Barrett hosts Haymarket Media’s PR Week Coffee Break every week, 15-minute chats with major people in their industry. He spoke with Linda Thomas Brooks recently, the new CEO of the PR Society of America. They also write a short article about the podcast to make skimming easier. Previous guests have been Jim Vandehei of Axios and Edelman’s new Los Angeles GM Jonathan Jordan.

Tackle big issues. Crain’s Detroit Business conducts several podcasts—most are around 20-25 minutes long. One series, Gist: Business Voices Out Loud, focused recently on leadership insights during the pandemic. “Wellness is becoming more important than engagement, because without wellness, no one is engaged,” said one of their expert hosts. Another podcast is just called Voices and another, Small Business Spotlight.

Provide “Thought” leadership. Erin Hallstrom does the excellent, 30-minute Food for Thought Podcast for Putman Media’s Food Processing Brand. She has fulfilled what she told me back in the fall, that they would do a lot more podcasts now “because we’re going to be stuck inside again this winter.” She added that “transcripts became a huge thing” as far as growing audience.

Be informative, use transcripts as a value-add. Spidell, a tax analysis and information publisher, has been doing their popular California Minute podcasts for a while now. These are closer to around 4 minutes. Interestingly, they offer transcripts only to subscribers.

Field questions. Early on in the pandemic, MedLearn Media increased their crisis coverage by boosting their podcast, Monitor Mondays—which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary—from 30 to 60 minutes. “Because of the pandemic, there was so much confusion to deal with and just a tangle of regulations,” said Chuck Buck, publisher. “So we would have 30 minutes of content with our regular panelists, and then field the questions, which just kept coming on a daily basis. We saw big audience numbers.” This helped MedLearn Media sell more subscriptions.

“As podcasting becomes as much a standard part of news media offerings as print and digital, publishers will have to change how they approach product development,” said INMA report author Paula Felps. She believes that “media companies are uniquely positioned to capitalize on podcasts as they have everything a successful podcast requires: compelling stories and information, professional storytellers, and an audience at the ready.” And, she added, “Where audiences flock, advertisers will follow.”

We also believe that’s true. Advertisers and sponsors are looking for more ways to engage with publishers, especially with events still quiet. So if you can build thought leadership, engage a bigger audience and create a popular brand, then revenue should find you.

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Sponsors, Ads, Lead Gen, Subs – These Podcasts Are Leading to Revenue

In a podcast last year for Putman Media’s International Women in Manufacturing series, Christine LaFave Grace spoke with Nandita Gupta, process controls engineer at Georgia-Pacific and a 2019 IWIM honoree. They talk about Gupta’s experience entering the workforce with a mentor, and “how she hopes to provide new engineers with a similar or better experience through a formal mentoring program at Georgia Pacific.”
An article on the Media Voices Podcast site last week gave eight ways publishers are bringing in revenue from podcasts. Number eight was promoting other revenue streams. “Whether it’s mentioning an upcoming event or referring to other products across a portfolio, a bit of self-promotion can help make podcast audiences—who are often a little different to online or print ones—aware of what else you offer. A podcast audience is a particularly strongly engaged user base, and is likely to be extra responsive to messages that fit their interests.”
Through IWIM, Putman Media has brought in significant sponsorship dollars, and happily, the popular program continues. So including one of the honorees as a speaker on a podcast amplified the program’s success.
Here are other ways podcasts are bringing in revenue.
Selling subscriptions. At the beginning of the pandemic, MedLearn Media increased their crisis coverage by boosting their popular podcast, Monitor Mondays—which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary—from 30 to 60 minutes. “Because of the pandemic, there was so much confusion to deal with and just a tangle of regulations,” said Chuck Buck, publisher of MedLearn’s RACmonitor. “So we would have 30 minutes of content with our regular panelists, and then field the questions, which just kept coming on a daily basis. We saw big audience numbers. Wanting to leverage that and create more engagement led us to doctors on frontlines dealing with these issues.” This has helped MedLearn Media sell more subscriptions.
Advertisements. According to the Media Voices article, revenue for The Economist from podcast ads increased by 50% in 2018 across its five podcasts. They use hosting and analytics platform Acast to serve podcast ads. “There has been so much demand for sponsorship that it more than pays for itself,” Economist’s head of digital strategy, Tom Standage, told NiemanLab. “The big change is commercial, which is that we had advertisers who started to come to us last year and say, ‘We are only going to buy two kinds of ads next year: print and podcast. What have you got?’”
Sponsors once a series gets going. Lessiter Media has enjoyed success with podcasts. They recently reposted one of their best ones with this intro: “In this episode of the Precision Farming Dealer podcast, ‘How We Did It: Conversations with Ag Equipment’s Entrepreneurs’ (sponsored by Osmundson Manufacturing), Executive Editor Dave Kanicki sat down with Frank, Pam and Mike Lessiter of Lessiter Media. Osmundson then gets another shout-out in the podcast’s opening.
Sponsors from the start. Some publishers have developed podcasts from scratch alongside a sponsor, Media Voices reported. “Mail Metro Media launched The Wellness Connection podcast in association with Pukka Tea, in order to leverage podcasting’s appeal to younger audiences. ‘Knowing that 71% of our audience leads a healthy lifestyle, we seized the opportunity to create a podcast and content series that would promote the product, while providing the health education that our readers love,’ Mail Metro Media said in a case study.” The series resulted in 50,000 downloads over the six episodes, with nearly 1 in 3 listeners buying Pukka teabags or searching for more information.
Good lead generation. Both Spidell and EB Medicine use their SIPAward-winning podcasts in this manner. “It’s a big lead gen and brand-building effort, and also adds value for our subscribers,” said EB Medicine CEO Stephanie Williford. [We] have “seen an increase in our renewal rates and revenue since we’ve launched it. We think it has played a significant role based on feedback we get.” One move that Spidell does to give subscribers more value is to offer them free access to transcripts. They have also done a Salvation Army Listener Drive where they contribute money for every new name that people send them.
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Turning Yesterday’s Content Into Today’s Gold

One of my favorite SIPA member features continues to be MedLearn Media’s Compliance Question of the Week. There are weekly questions in six categories: Cardiology, Laboratory, Pharmacy, Radiology, Respiratory and General. So this does take some upkeep. There’s also a search function—”Looking for an answer?”—a Compliance Question Archive, and a simple SIGN UP button.

This week’s question for Radiology is: “For reporting MRA procedures, is it required to have 3-D post-processing stated in the report?” Hit READ THE ANSWER, and you get a succinct solution, with this sales addendum: “This question was answered in our Breast & Bone Density Procedure Coding Guide. For more hot topics relating to radiology services, please visit our store or call us at 1.800.252.1578, ext. 2.”

This is need-to-know content AND it builds up a comprehensive Compliance Question Archive. Their archives go back much longer than the patience I have to keep hitting “Older Posts.”

Archives can provide a useful resource for you and your audience. Here are other ideas that make use of archives.

Dig for historic value. Your institutional memory doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. There’s a good chance you have old publications with significant value, just sitting on shelves—print or digital—somewhere in a makeshift morgue. (I know I do. Who remembers Hotline?) It might be worth doing a little digitization work every once in a while to ensure that this info isn’t getting lost. Republish old ads and photos occasionally. We love nostalgia. “On this date: 1/15/1892,” Axios wrote, “James Naismith published the original rules of ‘Basket Ball’ in Triangle Magazine, a monthly journal published by Springfield College, where Naismith was a graduate student and instructor.” And if you’ve been doing this a while, 5 Years Ago on This Day or May 9 in SIPA History can make for a fun look back. (Hmmm, I should do that more.)

Use for gamification. We all like the occasional quiz—look at the ratings-bonanza Jeopardy Greatest of All Time that just took place—and your archives can be a great source of information for the questions for those quizzes. Education Week and Kiplinger both do a great job with their quizzes, and again the information piles up the more you keep doing them.

Look for evergreen content ideas. Spring Cleaning (of Your Email). Summer Reading Lists. Things to Be Thankful for at Thanksgiving.  At the start of our conferences, I’ll update and publish Making the Most of Attending Live Events and always hear from a grateful publisher who is sending someone new. Last year, a member told me about a post they had first used in 2013 offering reminders or ideas to try. “While it’s still highly relevant, it’s not exactly earth-shaking advice,” she wrote me. Yet the article received 144 likes and 45 comments from people sharing some of the advice. Five of those comments came in well after the post, so it was still resonating.

Use content from your online discussion or forum group—or your webinar Q&As. This has become one of The Washington Post’s biggest repurposing strategies. They will have one of their travel or restaurant or relationships experts do an online chat and then you’ll see some of that dialogue in the print newspaper. It actually makes for good, easy-to-read copy.

Take a quarterly look at what has resonated most. You have the analytics. Be transparent—let your audience know what your most popular posts were. We’ve been doing this for the last couple years and have received good feedback. Everyone is in a time crunch these days and is likely to miss an article here or there. It also brings attention to the moments where the content really sparked interest and revenue-generating ideas. “People forget about 90% of what they read after 12 weeks,” said Luis Hernandez, editor in chief for InvestorPlace Media. “Check your analytics and repeat your most popular posts every quarter.”

Make access to your archives a valued commodity. In 2012 Harvard Business Publishing made the decision to open archive access to subscribers on hbr.org and haven’t looked back. “We heard people recognized [back] issues by covers, so we started posting images of covers [to help them find key content],” said Emily Neville-O’Neill, director of product at HBR. “We saw a 20% increase in subscription revenue right away.”