Should Your Organization Invest in Starting a Podcast?
Given the rising popularity of podcasting, should your organization start a podcast? Is that even the right question?
In this episode, Abbie Fink and Dr. Adrian McIntyre help executives and their teams to think this through, because the right podcast strategy for YOU might not be the obvious one. (Most "how to start a podcast" advice is for indie creators, not business or nonprofit leaders.)
Abbie & Adrian talk about why there's no "one size fits all" strategy for driving business results with a podcast. Adrian explains the 4 "results levers" a podcast can pull -- in different combinations, depending on your objectives -- and gives examples for different business types:
Read Abbie Fink's blog post for this episode: "Should You Incorporate a Podcast into Your Communications Strategy?"
If you enjoyed this episode, check out the PRGN Presents podcast, hosted by Abbie Fink, featuring conversations about PR, marketing, and communications with members of the Public Relations Global Network, "the world’s local public relations agency.”
- "Do You Listen to Podcasts?" by Abbie Fink
- "Podcasting – The Art of Story" by Abbie Fink
- "Learning to embrace technology" by Abbie Fink
- Podcast statistics from The Infinite Dial 2021
Need to hire a PR firm?
We demystify the process and give you some helpful advice in Episode 19: "How to Hire a Public Relations Agency in Arizona: Insider Tips for Executives and Marketing Directors"
Copper State of Mind is a project of HMA Public Relations, a full-service public relations and marketing communications firm in Phoenix.
The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B podcast network in Arizona.
Podcasting. It's a medium that was two-thirds male, very white, and very nerdy when it started in roughly 2006. It's now something that more than 78% of Americans are at least familiar with -- they've heard the term "podcasting." This is a podcast, you're listening to one right now, and so we thought we'd do something a little bit meta and have a podcast about podcasts. Joining me for this conversation is Abbie Fink, vice president and general manager of HMA Public Relations, a firm that has been around much longer than podcasting. Abbie, what's on your mind?Abbie Fink:
It's interesting that we're doing a podcast about podcasting. This is our 17th episode of Copper State of Mind. And we started thinking about, we, HMA Public Relations, started a podcast back couple years ago when we were hosting The Arizona 100, and we used it as an opportunity to highlight some of our client work and what was happening in the community. And then we evolved into this podcast, which talks about what we do for a living in terms of public relations and marketing. So it strikes me that podcasting is becoming such an important tool in our toolbox. And so thinking about what that looks like, the numbers are really quite staggering now. When we think about it, you mentioned 78% of the US population has at least heard the word "podcast" or "podcasting." About 116 million people say that they have at least listened to a podcast once per month. That's about 41% of the American population. And what we're seeing is that it's attracting a younger generation, but the all-important demographic for business leaders, that 35+, is really seeing an increase in usage, both listening to and potentially using them from a marketing perspective. So we're seeing the numbers increase across the board. And I think as I was looking at those that were broken down by age categories, and I'm now in that older generation category. But Millennials, that's your 25 to 40 year olds, they're claiming about 45% are listening at least once a week to a podcast and 15% listen on a daily basis. And similarly, 15% of the Boomers, that's your 57 years and older, are listening at least once a week. So as a marketing strategy and really trying to utilize your voice and your thought as a way to communicate with potential clients, I think podcasting is increasingly going to become an important part of your strategy.Adrian McIntyre:
It's definitely something we have to take seriously, much as in the late 90s, early 2000s, conversations began about taking blogging seriously. People were wrapping their heads for the first time around the fact that they had access to creating and distributing content that the literal internet, the whole world, could potentially find. Now, of course, whether they actually find it or not turns out to be a much more complicated endeavor, especially as there's more and more production every single day. We were looking at some of these statistics and every year there's media consumption reports that come out and are always analyzing the "share of ear," the "share of eye," how it all breaks down. One of the things that really hit me here was with regard specifically to the last 12 to 18 months, the period of time we've now come to all know and not so much love as the Covid-19 pandemic. On the production side of podcasting, the number of podcasts, the number of shows, and the number of episodes more than doubled during that period of time. On March 1st, 2020, Apple Podcasts, one of the main distribution hubs, had 906,959 podcasts that were valid, that were currently on the distribution platform. 26 million, almost 27 million episodes. Today—I looked the numbers up this morning, right before we record, October 21st, 2021—there are 2.3 million podcasts, that's a 163% increase. People are making more shows. The number of episodes has also more than doubled. There are now 57,913,594 episodes, but that was an hour ago, it's probably gone up by a thousand, by now. So this sort of begs the question, we need to take this seriously, but with so much happening in the podcast space, which so many new shows and new episodes being released every minute, should your organization start a podcast? And that's what we want to talk about today. Before we get into the meat of it, what are your thoughts about this? You're interacting with clients all the time. Is this a question that you're seeing come up, "Should we have a podcast?"Abbie Fink:
Yes it is, and I think what's interesting is if we think about how businesses are communicating these days. And again, you mentioned blogging and we have other social media platforms and all sorts of ways that we have at our disposal to interact with our customers, our current and prospective customers. And it comes down to, what can we own? What can we manage? What can we control? Because sometimes when it goes out into the ether, we lose that opportunity. And so when you think about blogging and if we want to consider sort of that evolution, and we move here to podcasting, that really falls into that owned category, where we can manage the content, we can determine what we're going to talk about, who we're going to talk to, what our subject matters are going to be, how long we're going to do it. And it becomes this place where our thought leadership can live. Now relate this to movie studios or television production, they don't say, "Oh, we're not going to put this television show up. There's already too many TV shows." They're going to figure out a way to make it a little different, appeal to a different audience, consider all the ways that they can push that content, and I think podcasting becomes the same thing. My first entry to being a listener of podcasts was more entertainment. I was seeking Hollywood gossip or something along those lines. I've recently begun listening to podcasts that are more storytelling. And it struck me that these were probably what my grandparents would call the serials on the radio all those years ago. The short stories, 30 minute episodes, a couple commercial breaks, and they're over in 10 episodes. And so there's something there for everyone. And if you are a business owner, or a business leader, by category, you can find hundreds of thousands of topics of interest to you. And because of the way we can consume content these days, podcasting has in a lot of ways become a version of talk radio or other things where they can be playing in the background. You can decide to pay attention to it for a particular subject matter. And from the, should I host a podcast or should I agree to be on a podcast? The point of entry is really quite simple. We've talked a lot about the fact that you're in your home office and I'm in my home office and thanks to a pretty decent microphone and technology, we have a recording studio and can create this content in a pretty easy fashion with a little bit of technology editing experience, and we can produce this. And so the question becomes, I think, the commitment to it and the consistency. If you're going to say, "I'm going to have a podcast," then you need to be saying, "I'm going to do this on a regular and ongoing basis."Adrian McIntyre:
I often find people asking, "Should I start a podcast?" And I'm not sure that's the right question because the answer is, "Well, it depends. And it depends on a lot of things." I think a better question, and it puts us, especially for business leaders, more squarely in the conversation we need to be having, is: should we invest in a podcast? Because this is a medium that requires an investment of time and money. There are specialized skills that are involved. There's a lot of advice out there about how to start a podcast. Most of it is aimed at the indie creator, the do-it-yourself-er, the person who wants to make something neat or interesting, someone who has something of their own to say. It's not actually all that helpful for a business that needs to run their business, not become a full-time content creator, or have someone on their staff who does that. So if the question is, should we invest in a podcast, or why would we invest in a podcast? I think it's the right starting point for the conversation. And then what I always want people to really think about is you would advise your clients, Abbie, regardless of whatever content program or campaign they were looking at is, what do we want from this? Why would we dedicate the time and the resources to make this happen? And then equally important, how will we know when we get what we wanted? When it comes to podcasting, there are some unique aspects of the medium that are not immediately obvious if you're only going to think of this as yet another content strategy or thought leadership program. And so I think it's important to dig into some of those details. What are your thoughts?Abbie Fink:
I love what you said about investment and that fits with many of the conversations we've had when it comes to thinking about your communications efforts is really the recognition that this is an investment in your business, an investment in your growth strategy. And it isn't just the dollars and cents part, because that's certainly part of it. You have to allocate for the equipment and such, but it's really as well about the time investment. And when we get together for a show, you and I have had a handful of email exchanges back and forth. What's the topic going to be? What's our end game going to be when we get through with it? Who's going to lead what part of the discussion? What other resources are we going to have available when we post our content? We're good conversationalists. We can get out on here and talk for -- listeners wouldn't want us to -- but we could talk for hours about something. But we really do have a run of show that we're trying to accomplish and where we want to head these conversations. And so, even if podcasting or public speaking or giving speeches isn't your bailiwick, is not something you do on a regular basis, you are the most knowledgeable about your topic. And you have an opportunity for that thought leadership to come through. But to take it back to your point about investing, you have to make the decision that this piece of marketing exposure is something I want to take the time to develop. I want to use it for this particular purpose. It is not just the record it and load it up to the platform and be done with it. There needs to be a post-production strategy. How am I going to use this? Where is it going to live? Is it on my website? Am I pushing it out socially? Am I going to push people to download? However you're going to use it, the recording is part one, but there's other things that need to go along with it. And so I think you're absolutely right, is whether you should do it or not, yes or no, but really, what are you investing in and where do you want this to take you? What purpose does it have and are you willing to make that investment over time to see it through to its success?Adrian McIntyre:
One of the things that I find, because I talk to a lot of podcast experts who are providing that kind of advice to the indie creators, all of which is awesome by the way, because I think the fact that someone with something to say, can start a podcast in their apartment and it's hard work, but they can get it out into the world and they can be heard. I think that's wonderful. I also talk to a lot of business leaders and on my own shows, Valley Business Radio and others, I'm talking to executives who might think it's nice to have a creative self-expression, but that is not the point of the conversation. So we really have to triangulate between, what does it take to make something meaningful? What does it take to grow an audience for that thing? And what does it take to grow a business? And this is where I think a lot of the "podcast advice" stuff misses the point for organizations. Because they may understand how to make something meaningful, and they may have a lot of good things to say about how to grow an audience, but they often don't understand what it takes to drive business results. And for an organization that's going to make the investment at whatever level -- it doesn't have to be a lot, but it can be -- they have to know that this is how this is going to work for us. And here's the way that I've started to think about this. There are four levers, if you will, that any content program could be pulling on in a certain number of combinations, one of them is Reach. That's something that PR firms are very familiar with. You know how to amplify a message and get it out to as many people as possible, so reach is one factor. Reputation is another factor. The creator, the business, the organization, is trying to be more visible, but not just more visible, more highly regarded, their reputation matters. As we've seen and we've talked about in some of the episodes of this show, having a high reach on content that reduces your reputation is a problem, so there's that. But then how does business actually get done? Different businesses, different organizations, different nonprofits have very different models. But one of the key factors in that is Relationships, actual human connections, deep and meaningful relationships. If you're only going for reach, you might get awareness and exposure, but you might not get relationships. So you have to figure out again, there's no right combination, it's what's right for you. The final R in the four R's is Revenue. How does our organization make or raise money? How do we actually convert our exposure, our reputation, our relationships into results? Depending on the nature of the business, depending on the nature of the organization, the right combination of those four R's is going to produce a very different type of podcast. So one of the things I want to underline here is that it's not that a podcast is a podcast is a podcast. Thought leadership might be the right framework for one organization and the wrong framework for someone else, so we need to talk about strategy.Abbie Fink:
That doesn't mean that that organization couldn't have multiple podcast opportunities as well, and that this is our new business development tool. This is our community relations tool. This is our thought leadership, whatever it is, whatever their categories are. The thought behind doing this is no different than the thought behind any other communication strategy that you're going to do. What is our goal? What do we want to accomplish? And are we setting ourselves up for that success? Where my challenge is, and I'll toss this out to you as a question, is that, although it's been around for 15 years, give or take, podcasting as a thing, it's introduction into the business world is relatively new. We've had a couple guests on this show asking us about, what's your reach? Who are you reaching? Who's listening? And the numbers are still a little bit wishy-washy because the industry itself is figuring out what are we measuring and what is a download versus a listen and things like that. So I'll toss it back out to you in terms of, what numbers, what are some of the things that consider a success measure that ... yes, did I get a new business call as a result of listening to my podcast? I can measure that. But what other things, are the things that we should be looking at, or in this case, advising, to determine that our podcast in fact, is a success?Adrian McIntyre:
I think this is a central and very, very important question. So I hope we can do it at least the beginnings of some justice. I think those of us, especially who work and play in the traditional media world, have to be a little careful not to unthinkingly adopt the metrics of success that work in that world. And it comes back to this question of the revenue and the results. How does a podcast make money or help your organization make money? It's very different, for example, it depends on what kind of business you are. So let me just come up with a couple of things. I talked to a number of folks from the legal cannabis industry here in Arizona, just over the weekend, so this has been a little bit on my mind. If I am a product-based company and I manufacture or distribute something, and my transaction value is typically $7 to $30 to $50, it's a retail type model, then my goal is to reach as many of those very specific customers as I can. Do I need to have 18 million people listen to my podcast? No, I need to have all 47,000 people that might buy my $20 product listening to the show. That's one revenue model. Another revenue model altogether is I need to grow a big audience because I need the show itself to make money, and I'm going to do that through advertising or sponsors. Advertisers and sponsors are going to want to know what is the reach, because they're going to be calculating their investment on a CPM basis, much like they would any other advertising program. There are other types of revenue models, however. For example, I'm a CPA. I want to work in the legal cannabis industry. Maybe I have one client in that industry. I'm sympathetic to it, even though maybe I'm not a consumer of the product, and I want to build relationships with other people in that industry. It's typically an industry very close to outsiders. You really got to know people and be known by people. What I might do is very different. I might design a show that's not about reaching the listeners, but is about reaching the guests and building relationships with people who come onto the show. In other words, I'm a CPA, but it's not a show about accounting. It's a show about leading the field in cannabis. And I might reach out to 20 or 30 of the top executives of companies I might want to build a relationship with and say, "I have a show about people leading the cannabis industry. Would you like to be a guest on my show?" Now you're building relationships with the people in the room. That's the primary audience. The listeners are secondary. It doesn't mean they're not important. You should still make something good and you should still try to get it heard. But your focus is on this audience, these relationships. So as I said, these four levers can get pulled in different combinations depending on what you need. What a lot of people don't understand about podcasting is there is no one right framework. If you want to go down the thought leadership path, it might actually be harder because what you're hoping is that this expertise is going to be found by the person at the right time and listen, this is all possible. This is all doable. It's what we're doing on this show ...Abbie Fink:
I hope it's doable, since that's what we've decided this podcast is all about!Adrian McIntyre:
But it requires a very different approach. The strategy around exposure for this show requires SEO keyword research before we create the content, not after. Designing the topics and the occasional guests that are going to help get some leverage and so on. But it's different. There is no one right way to do it, and simply building a large audience is not the only option.Abbie Fink:
Well, and I think that logic is how we explain a lot of what we talk about in this sort of online digital communications tools that we have. We have moved away from how many Facebook fans do I have? How many followers do I have on Twitter? That's not the number that we need to be looking at. We need to be talking about engagement and interaction and such. And so, I think that is applying here as well, that it's more important if you're going to look at numbers is who is represented in those numbers versus necessarily the quantity in that category. Even when we talk about statistics, if if I'm trying to reach a business owner, executive, decision maker, then the smaller category that I'm trying to go after is really where I need to focus. It's nice if I have listeners and interactions with those outside of that market, but I'm really trying to target. And for us on this particular podcast, it's the content that we're delivering here, during the recording, but it's also what we're doing with it once it's been published, and how we use it as a part of our overall marketing strategy. So it becomes content for our social media. It becomes content for our blog. It becomes something that we include in new business development, if the topic fits. I will now have a link to share with a client that wants to know, "should I do podcasting?" "Here, listen to me talk about at it with Adrian for the last half an hour." And so, it's really, again, that thought that goes into what am I going to do beyond just the conversation I'm having in that short a period of time?Adrian McIntyre:
I think that's exactly right, and that's also why circling back to the idea of investment, you need to understand that the podcast is more than the audio file. Yes, fundamentally, what is a podcast? It's an MP3 file that lives on a server that you can call via the Spotify app on your phone or Apple Podcasts, or it can be embedded on a website, et cetera, but fundamentally a podcast is an audio file distributed through the Internet. But it's so much more than that. And if you want it to work for you, you have to understand what you want to accomplish so that then you can go about accomplishing it. One of my favorite quotes ever is about strategy from Sun Tzu, the Chinese general who wrote the book Art of War. It's probably one of the most cited books in business, even though it's not a business book. He wrote more than 2000 years ago: "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." So what do we mean, in the case of marketing a podcast? Well, strategy means really thinking, what is our objective? How are we going to plan and position ourselves using this military metaphor? It's all about positioning. How do we position ourselves to achieve that objective? Tactics are about the implementation, the execution. How are we actually going to get there? If your podcast is about reaching decision makers, the tactics, the execution has to include what you do with the show, with each episode, after it's been created. There's a concept that I like a lot, although it means something very different, which is Account-Based Marketing, as opposed to just general marketing, where you just spraying it out to the world. Account-Based marketing says, listen, we know, especially in the B2B context, these are the 100, 150, 200 accounts, actual people that we need to meaningfully interact with. So you design marketing campaigns, usually leveraging technology and automation and things, to go after them. I think there's something to be said for account-based podcasting, which is, look, we are making a show with the idea that this will help these specific types of people: executives, business leaders, directors of marketing and communication in Arizona. That's the concept for Copper State of Mind. You've got a lot of experience and ideas to share, I'm along for the ride, asking some questions and occasionally having an answer. And our goal here needs to be, how do we take this content and distribute it beyond just pressing "Publish" and uploading the file, getting it into the feeds, the LinkedIn feed, the Facebook News feed, as well as the podcast subscriber feed so that the people we're meaning to help, get helped by the content. They know your thought leadership and expertise is credible. When they have an issue they need you to help solve, you get the call.Abbie Fink:
Right. And I think it's again, this is what we have determined Copper State of Mind is going to be about very specifically, and as a consumer of podcasts, as I said, my evolution through the podcast world has taken me from just listening to interesting interviews with celebrities, to interviews with authors that I'm interested in, or listening to these episodic programming that has nothing to do with anything in particular, but interesting subject matter. And a lot of them, I found by listening to some other podcast, somebody references this book or this author such and I engage that way. And the idea here for me is that this option is really something that any kind of business can consider. You mentioned the CPA in terms of using it as a new business tool, for businesses he wants to reach, not so much what he's doing, but he'd like to be known within a particular industry. So think about all the things as a consumer, you might be interested in, and there's a pretty good chance there's a podcast of some sort that you could listen to that would give you some ideas. If you're particularly interested in healthcare topics, exercise, wellness, cars, horse racing, dog showing, pick a topic, there's probably a podcast of some kind that's out there. And you either listen in because you have an interest in it, or you might be trying to interact with as well. And whatever that number was, millions of podcasts and episodes that are available, finding those that fit your interests are no different really than how we find what we want to watch on television, what we want to listen to musically, what we're interested in and and our entertainment options. We have our filters. We use those to find what we're listening for, what is of interest to us. And as the producer and the content provider, we know we're fighting through a lot of stuff. There's an awful lot to rise to the top. And the only way really to be able to break through is as you said, is that post production, strategic effort around now that it's done and it's recorded and it's out there, how do we use it? How does it become a tool for us to achieve whatever those goals might be, and use it and commit to it in such a way that it becomes a valuable part of your strategy for any kind of business, really. And I think back to how you and I met, and we talked about this podcast, and at that point, it was how we were going to get our clients on your podcast as guests and utilizing that. And I had you come and speak with my students at the community college program that I was teaching. And it was relatively new in that thinking, it was another step in the what is available to us in the digital space. And we've learned, at least for me, by doing, we're better at it, the more that we do it. And I feel like this is one of those areas that's going to stick around for a while. I think it will be similar to what blogging has done for a lot of businesses, as long as we as producers of the content make that commitment and our listeners continue to follow along with us. I think it's a pretty successful piece of the marketing tools that we have at our disposal.Adrian McIntyre:
I want to underline one thing that you said, and I sort of hinted at, but I want to kind of highlight it here, as we conclude this episode. You've got options. Making a show about yourself and your own expertise, is really just one of those options. It might be better suited given what your objectives are, that you make a show about dogs, but you're an attorney. I don't know what the combinations are here, but what I do know is that when you have a thoughtful conversation about who are we trying to reach? What do they need to hear and how can we best accomplish that goal? What's the strategy and what are the tactics that we'll need in order to get there? You might actually discover that you're thinking outside the box and that your show does not need to be the lawyer's show about the law or the CPA's show about accounting, it might actually be some other combination of things. And the beauty of this medium is that it's all fair game. You can create anything for anyone.
If you enjoyed today’s show, please find and follow Copper State of Mind in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any other podcast app. You can also find the show online at HMAPR.com. For all of us here at PHX.fm, I’m Adrian McIntyre. Thanks for listening, and please join us for the next Copper State of Mind.