Whether Attracting New Members, Engaging Current Ones or Amplifying Voices, Podcasts Mean Business

“Authenticity is in great demand, especially now when people are craving straight talk and a break from their Zoom meetings. A podcast is like delivering a personalized TED Talk or conversation straight to someone’s earbuds and can help you become a voice of experience that literally speaks to your customers. Are you ready to be that voice?”
Elizabeth Shea writing in Forbes

Podcasts mean business. They attract new members, engage current ones, bring sponsorships, convey thought leadership, amplify diverse voices, give your own staff more exposure, and may even win you an EXCEL Award!

(After all, it is awards season. Golden Globe and SAG nominations came out this week, and the early-bird deadline for EXCEL Award nominations is next Friday! Nominate here today! You worked hard in 2020! Get recognized for it by your peers.)

The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies checks a few of those above boxes. They won a 2020 EXCEL Award for their Insurance Uncovered Podcast, and, in their latest episode, Charles Chamness, president and CEO, interviews Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) about what to expect from the new administration. Catherine Imus, their VP of public affairs, is the very able host for the podcast.

And you can become pretty good pretty fast. Chitra Sethi, executive editor, media, for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, attended an excellent session at the 2018 AM&P conference on podcasts by Blake Althen of Human Factor. She then helped to create ASME TechCast and presented on her 12-episode experience at the 2019 AM&P Conference. Now they’re a 2020 Gold EXCEL Award winner—for Engineering the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, spotlighting the engineers who made the 1969 moon landing happen.

One reason podcasts continued to thrive in 2020 is that interviews were often done by phone and computer before the pandemic. So there wasn’t much need for transition. Some thought the lack of commuting would hurt audience, but listening during other activities—exercising, house chores, car rides, weekend errands—made up for it. Almost 70% of people who listen to podcasts do so on their mobile phones.

In a recent Sidebar survey, only 50% of the respondents said that their association is doing a podcast. Could it be right for your association this year? (Or if you have one, could you add another?) Here are some questions to help your answer:

What are 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? Do you want to promote other money-making activities you do? Do you want to give sponsors another avenue to use, especially with in-person events on hiatus? These may also determine the type of guests and format you have. “We had to ask ourselves, ‘What is our mission? Why do we want to do this?'” said Sethi. They also created an attractive logo and chose a segmented format over solo and interview “And what’s in a name?” she asked. “Everything. It took us weeks to pick a name. We had Geek Speak and Mechanically Speaking. Once we picked ASME TechCast we had our designer create the logo. We launched with a pilot episode on diversity in the industry” featuring an interview with a woman engineer.

Do you have time? “You might feel compelled to cut corners and take the webcasts or videos you’ve already posted on your YouTube channels and turn them into audio broadcasts, but that doesn’t gain you as much value…” Shea said. “If you’re going to do a podcast, do a podcast.” Also never underestimate the time editing may take, the need for pre-interviews with guests, and just the extra time overall. This might also affect the length you choose. ASME realized after recording a few episodes that a long podcast was not in their cards—or 8-hour workday. “We did like a 45-minute interview that we had to cut down to 12 minutes,” Sethi said. “We did not have the time for that going forward so decided to try to keep the recordings short.” Now the podcasts average about 10-12 minutes with this winning one just a quote or two over 10 minutes.

Are sponsorships out there? Monetizing podcasts might not be as important for associations as it is for B2B publishers, but that could change if event sponsorships continue to be slow. However, Shea says monetization might not be easy, so it might be better to go into podcasts with the idea of raising “your thought leadership profile” and perhaps sponsors could join later. But you know your niche best. Are you getting webinars sponsored? Is there perhaps a vendor hole from the lack of in-person events that a podcast could fill?

Could you use more audience engagement? When COVID-19 began, MedLearn Media invited more healthcare professionals to their Monitor Mondays podcast to share and tell their stories of what they have been experiencing and seeing each week, said executive director Angela Kornegor. “The response on the new format was astonishing. Our live attendance to our podcasts increased by 50% which not only gave us great insight and feedback into what our customers were looking for and craving, but gave us intel on topics we could produce webcast topics around.”

What format is best? Deep dives seem to be the format of the moment now, averaging about 25 minutes. But a little less time-intensive would be a free-for-all—almost all discussion with little narrative and editing. Or something short like Spidell’s under-five-minutes California Minute. “Podcasting is not for direct response or lead gen,” wrote Mitch Joel in Six Pixels of Separation. “It’s about social proof and showing competence in the market.”

Who will be your host? 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—more female and diverse voices are definitely needed!—and the added exposure would benefit them. Do you know a good storyteller on staff, someone who shines on Zoom?

Does your sourcing need more diversity? Do people already come to mind as guests? Perhaps you can address a lack of diversity in your coverage. 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? Look for new voices.

Lastly, do you like to have fun, Shea asks? “One of our clients who runs a successful podcast once remarked that it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done, but she also said it’s the most fun.” The importance of fun cannot be lessened these days. We’re working more hours, the holidays are over, it’s winter—whatever we add should have at least a tinge of fun attached.

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