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‘A Deep Connection’; Publishers Using Podcasts to Bring in New Vibe, and People

Podcasts are nothing new by now, but media companies are using them in more creative ways. Vox poured resources into “Unexplainable” and will now build around it. Crain’s Detroit Business is giving their Small Business Spotlight podcast good visibility and a lead-in to premium content. And with Access Beauty, Questex has brought in a sponsor and new, diverse voices.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the maiden voyage of the Small Business Spotlight podcast. I’m Jason Davis, small and emerging business reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business. Thank you very much for listening. This podcast will run once a month alongside a feature with the same name.”

That February podcast featured Ja’Nye Hampton (pictured here in a photo by Nic Antaya), who “fashions herself a typical 22-year-old, but her schedule isn’t like most people her age. The owner of Detroit Flower Co. gets up at 5:30 a.m. and works until 8 p.m. at her new shop in northwest Detroit. When she gets home, she catches up on orders, messages and social media.”

This content works in many ways:

monetization – it links to a story on Hampton that’s just for premium members and a free,  sponsored Small Business Workshop series in May;

diversity – it spotlights a younger entrepreneur in an interesting field;

trendiness – it’s in a form that just keeps getting more popular. (Podcasts, did not, as some predicted, lose popularity without our commutes—quite the opposite has been true as we found more time to listen.)

Given that popularity, there’s been a growing trend to start new brands with a podcast and branch out from there. A recent Digiday story by Sara Guaglione highlighted Vox’s newest podcast, Unexplainable—just introduced last month.

“Vox Media’s strategy is to launch a podcast show, make it a hit and translate it into a sustainable revenue stream through brand sponsors and advertising, Liz Nelson, [VP of audio at Vox,] said. The company’s podcast sales pitch spans ads that could run during a podcast episode as well as alongside related articles on its site, such as Vox.com’s science and health vertical for ‘Unexplainable’ advertisers.”

Advertisers for the five episodes of Unexplainable have included Comcast, Lenovo and Facebook. One of the advantages of Unexplainable—and Crain’s Small Business Podcast—is that it is not dependent on the news cycle. Another is that it is in the science realm, “by no means a saturated category in the podcast ecosystem,” said Hilary Ross, VP of podcast media at audio ad agency Veritone One.

Most importantly, both Crain’s Detroit and Vox are creating more good content. Vox came up with an idea, tested it in the fall, received positive feedback and then developed it further. Crain’s Detroit already had the Small Business section but needed more ways to connect. Small Business Spotlight will go “beyond typical profiles to offer insights and tips on issues common to emerging and mid-stage business,” wrote executive editor Kelly Root in a 2021 preview.

“Podcasts are interesting for publishers,” says Nic Newman, senior research associate, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “Because they are much more likely to attract younger audiences, since they can be accessed conveniently through smartphones and they offer a diversity of perspectives and voices… The deep connection that many podcasts seem to create could be opening up opportunities for paid podcasts, alongside public-service and advertising-driven models.”

Here are two examples of what Newman mentions:

The deep connection” – The Telegraph in London offers podcast listeners subscription deals with trackable links. “We see podcasts as a way to bring journalism to life in new ways, often for a new audience a little younger than our print readers,” says Telegraph Podcast Editor Theodora Louloudis. “And for a growing number of people, our podcasts are their first involvement with the Telegraph brand.”

“A diversity of perspectives and voices”  Questex brand American Salon and Ulta Beauty launched a podcast called Access Beauty! Each episode features Ulta’s creative leaders, and sometimes a special guest, who will discuss all things beauty, from salon life to trends and products to what’s impacting the industry.” Guests are diverse and topics current—The Impact of Social Distancing on Stylists and Inclusive Beauty: A Conversation With David Lopez. This is also a great way to involve a sponsor and keep the content excellent.

Finally, I like NPR’s mantra to podcast advertisers: “Be heard where it matters.” “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,” said said INMA report author Paula Felps. “Where audiences flock, advertisers will follow.”

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‘If Voice Works Better, Let’s Introduce That’; Audio Finding its Deep Footing

When the pandemic started, the concern for podcasts and audio to text was that with people not commuting, we would see a big drop in audience. But Twipe reports that “research from GlobalWebIndex found the decrease in commuters has been offset by people who are listening to more podcasts (ranging from 13-16% globally). There has even been growth in advertising revenue for podcasts.”
“This is backed up by publisher experiences as well,” writes Mary-Katharine Phillips, “with Norwegian media group Schibsted still expecting to see podcast ad revenue growing by 50% this year, due to factors beyond the pandemic such as the maturation of the market.”
There’s also evidence that audio to text has accelerated during this time. Dutch news website The Correspondent recently launched a new audio app for members. “We were a text-based site mostly, and our members asked us if we could also provide audio, because it’s easier to combine it with different activities like travelling or working out,” CEO Ernst-Jan Pfauth told What’s New in Publishing. “We figured, well, it’s not our mission to provide text. It’s our mission to be a daily antidote to the news grind, to give an insight into how the world works. The medium isn’t that important, so if voice works better, let’s introduce that.”
Here are some other factors on the growth of audio:
Your audience may soon expect it. “Unquestionably the standard should be that you have either vocalized your product, or at least designed your website content to work with text-to-speech systems,” wrote Molly Raycraft on the site B2B Marketing. “So while you may have aspirations of doing something futuristic and ground-breaking with voice tech, make sure you’ve got the basics covered. This could even be as simple as filling in a proper description in the ‘alt text’ box on website images.”
Audio has many uses. From Raycraft: “B2B tech copywriting agency Radix Communications gives a great example of how effective it can be to simply repurpose what you have into audio in order to increase its accessibility… The agency has been experimenting with reading its blogs aloud. This makes the content more accessible to those who potentially have a visual impairment, as well as those who are on the go and can’t sit down to read.” (Guilty.)
Paywalled podcasts. More and more, I’m going on media sites to listen to their podcast and they’re paywalled off. The Economist uses podcasts both as a subscription driver and as a retention tool. “Podcast listeners tend to be very curious and very engaged with their interests, which is also true of Economist readers, so podcasting is an ideal way to reach out to potential new subscribers,” Tom Standage, The Economist’s head of digital strategy, told Which-50. Bauer Media has launched a subscriber-only podcast, published twice a month, and also gives subscribers access to the podcast archive which was previously free. Even during lockdown in the UK, this subscriber-only podcast saw a boost of 77% in listeners.
An audio success story. When the Danish digital magazine Zetland was preparing to launch its daily news operation, they asked supporters what they wanted from the publication. One thing kept coming up: audio. “After months of persistent requests from readers, ‘Zetland decided to do the most simple version,’ says co-founder Hakon Mosbech. They had their reporters read stories into a microphone. The first audio article went online in fall 2016. The user experience was definitely really clunky, Mosbech says of the audio player embedded on the website. But people listened.” By 2017, Zetland reporters were narrating every story they wrote. Now, when the magazine’s 14,000 subscribers open the Zetland app, they get a sort of playlist for each day, starting with a conversational podcast and moving into narrated articles.
Closer to home, audio all the time. MediaPost reported in the summer that audio versions of all Washington Post articles are now available on the Postapp for Android and iOS. “Using text-to-speech capabilities built into the Android and iOS operating systems, every Post native article now has an audio option, indicated by a headphones icon.” And as I said above, the thinking that a commuter-less world would lessen that audio desire has been abated. “We conducted user research and learned that users want to stay informed but are busy,” Emily Chow, the Post’s director of site product, said. “So they appreciate an option to get up to speed on the latest news developments while cooking dinner, running errands or exercising.”
Podcast producing also fits today’s new normal. I wrote earlier in the week that member Putman Media’s Food for Thought podcast launched in early summer and is building audience each week. “We’re going to produce a lot more podcasts because we’re going to be stuck inside again this winter,” Putman’s digital strategist Erin Hallstrom told me, also saying that “adding the transcripts became a huge thing” as far as growing audience.
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You Can Keep Expenses Low and Vary the Length for a Successful Podcast

We know the huge hit that events are taking now. And we encourage everyone to register for next Thursday’s SIPA/AM&P/Connectiv webinar titled Coronavirus and Your Events: How to Make Decisions that Protect Your Business and the Safety of Your Staffthat will include our own Brian Cuthbert from Diversified Communications..

Like any national crisis, audiences are turning more and more to their news sources for information. And within that, publisher podcasts are experiencing serious upticks in listeners. According to a Digiday article this week, since Jan. 22, podcast network Acast reports that there have been 650 episodes which reference “corona” or “covid” in the episode titles. These have been downloaded 16 million times. A number of individual Coronavirus-related podcast episodes have had over 300,000 listens each, including one day (March 5) that had over 875,000 listens.

Here are some tips for starting a podcast:
Fit your schedule to your audience. “People get it wrong if they think they have to pump out a podcast every week,” Riordan said. “You really need to think what your true podcast value is, what the audience is, and whether a [time-limited] series is a better fit.”
Over-explain how to listen. There’s still a gap in podcast awareness and listening, particularly among older audiences—who listen least, but like Facebook, will most likely be jumping more on board. “Podcast creators still need to explain to potential listeners how to find, subscribe to and download their show.”
It doesn’t have to cost a lot. For Stephanie Williford, CEO of EB Medicine, the annual cost of her EMplify is $6,500. She pays the hosts $500 a month, and they handle entire production. “They send us the audio file and we upload it to Blubrry which pushes it out to iTunes and Google Play.” Another SIPA publisher, Spidell, does it all in-house. Editorial creates the content. Audio is recorded in Audacity, and production done in Audition. Then editorial and marketing review a draft.
Podcast length can vary to your audience. EMplify is 20 minutes because Williford believes her audience “has a short attention span and not a lot of time. They seem happy with that.” Spidell’s California Minute is actually 3-5 minutes. President Lynn Freer also said it just feels right for her busy audience, and the numbers—around 700,000 listens and counting and an average of 4,148 per episode—bear that out.
Celebrate your launch. “My biggest recommendation is to have a big bang launch, and I’m not talking about an ad on page 5,” said radio futurologist James Cridland. “I’m talking about ads throughout the day on your website, a strap on your [publication] for the week.”
Look inward for talent. “Firstly, use your brand and your talent,” said Cridland. In listening to some of the SIPA member podcasts, I’m always impressed by the hosts, who are usually staff members. Kathryn Zdan of Spidell comes to mind. Ask your staff, in all areas, who might be interested in hosting. You never know.
Capitalize on your legacy brand. “There’s a temptation to launch a new brand around podcasts, rather than using your legacy brand,” Cridland said. “But if you do that you end up not having any heritage, and more importantly no points of difference from all the other podcasts out there.”
Get some advice on selling ads or sponsorships. Cridland recommends approaching an agency that can provide specialist advice on how to sell a new podcast product to potential advertisers. “People who sell full-page ads in newspapers find it quite difficult to go out and sell audio, so having sales people and teams that understand the specifics of selling this kind of content is absolutely essential.” This might be a question for the SIPA webinar.
Get the word out. “You can leverage it through social media, through newsletters, through making short-form videos,” said Riordan. “And if you’re an independent podcaster who can’t lean on the ‘network’ effect’, you can tap into communities and influencers in your genre.”
Build off of your podcasts. EB Medicine has created “video” podcasts, which most of their competitors are not doing. It’s just slides and text but still represents another communication vehicle. Spidell does a little product marketing now in their podcasts and then follows up with people who open that podcast with an email with more information on that product. “It has generated some revenue for us,” Freer said, “enough to justify the time.”
Check out the recent webinar on podcasts that Freer and Williford did here.
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Starting a Podcast? Here Are Steps to Consider.

When it comes to podcasts, “don’t skimp on your own home on your site or content hub,” Chris Blose, VP of content for Imagination, told us last year in a session on what it takes to start a podcast. “Build a mobile-optimized podcast page with show notes, speaker bios and links, and relevant resources for listeners.”

(A separate tip I received is to set up a specific URL for your podcast to maximize the brand and make it easy for people to find. Spidell does this for their California Minute podcast with the url www.caltaxminute.com.)

Access Intelligence’s AdExchanger hosts two podcasts: AdExchanger Talks and The Big Story. On their site there’s an introduction—”Listen in as AdExchanger, the leading voice in ad tech, explores the evolution of data-driven digital media and marketing in a series of podcast interviews…”—followed by titles and brief summaries of all 161 episodes. (The Big Story “only” has 75.) The word “episode” denotes that it’s part of a bigger storyline and you need to come back.

Here are more of Blose’s recommendations for starting a podcast:

Make it mobile friendly. Almost 70% of people who listen to podcasts do so on their mobile phones. Almost half listen at home and about a fourth listen in their car.

Know your purpose. Blose quoted from Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation: “Podcasting is not for direct response or lead gen. It’s about social proof and showing competence in the market.”

Define your goals. “Do you have data on what audience you are trying to reach? Are you trying to demonstrate thought leadership in your field or industry? That will determine the type of guests you have. How specific will each episode be?

Find your format.

  • The free-for-all is almost all discussion with little narrative and editing.
  • The serial is narrative-drive and ongoing.
  • The high concept has an overarching theme and basic structure.
  • The hybrid mixes those forms. (NPR’s It’s Been a Minute With Sam Sanders does that.)

Consider who your host will be. I’ve heard shows with all combinations of hosts, and they do set the tone for the content to come. Maybe you have someone or two on staff who would be good. I would probably avoid the Oscars’ decision today to go host-less for a second consecutive year.

Pre-plan multiple episodes for launch. It will help you get past any pilot jitters. I also read a social media conversation about the TV show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and each person talked about binging. It’s what we do now. So be ready.

Decide on the right type of guests. “The answer depends on the topic,” said Blose. “Source a podcast very much like you’d source a magazine or digital feature story. Who can speak eloquently, and who represents the issue best?”

Use a pre-interview. It can be a short call with sources before the actual recording. It’s beneficial both for reporting and for putting sources at ease. Also, it will give you a chance to test the sound if you’re doing the real interview by phone or skype.

Choose your music wisely. “Music matters,” said Blose. “Think about your audience. You can’t please everyone, but aim for something that matches the tone of the discussion.”

Leave time for editing. Never underestimate the power of editing.

Plan enough time in advance to ensure you can be placed in iTunes, GooglePlay, etc. And find out first if your organization already has accounts with them. Blose said it’s a little bit like the wild west out there now with where you can be. Even Spotify and Stitcher are possibilities.

Mention relevant old episodes in current episodes wherever possible. “To make this more likely, the host should have an updated cliff’s notes of past episodes, who was in them, what # podcast it was, and what ‘short’ URL they can send listeners to when referencing an old episode on the fly.”

Send to your existing email list, both as a preview and in ongoing form with each episode. You can even use your podcast to help build your list.

Send an email to all guests of the show once it’s live encouraging them to:

  • Share it on social (short-term traffic and listens);
  • Link to the episode URL from their blog if they have one;
  • Share on appropriate social channels multiple times since only a small percentage of audience sees any single post.

Track your performance (e.g. downloads) everywhere your podcast lives: iTunes, GooglePlay, your website, etc. How long are people listening? Are they dropping off? Studies say that 23 minutes is the point when people start to lose interest.

Ask. “Chances are good you’re performing reader research for other properties—add the podcast to the mix,” said Blose.

Include these four key elements:

  • Powerful storytelling—a phrase we hear often today;
  • A hook to re-engage—does anything today truly end? Episodic storytelling creates loyalty and engagement.
  • Industry expertise—”Your insider knowledge is critical to success,” Blose said.
  • Strong calls to action—”We need to inspire the audience to take action.