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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.