A decade after their debut, podcasts finally are getting attention from marketers. The percentage of Americans over 12 years old who listened to at least one podcast during the past month grew 2 points over year-earlier numbers. While 17 percent may not sound like a lot, it represents 46 million people. Few marketers dismiss an audience like that, especially when accounting for its high-income, high-education characteristics.
Some brand managers took a shot at podcasting in its earliest days. Westinghouse produced a wonderful podcast called The American Family. Speedo, BMW, The Walt Disney Company, and a respectable list of other top-shelf brands tried their hands at podcasting. They were too early. The numbers weren’t there to produce the kinds of results a corporate branding effort required. For most listeners, the process of finding a podcast, subscribing to it, and transfering an episode from a PC to a portable device was just too daunting. Some companies have stuck with it, from Oracle to the International Spy Museum, figuring the niche audiences they reached were worth the effort.
Today, however, brand managers see the lift MailChimp got from its affiliation with the first breakout podcast hit, “Serial.” With the kinds of numbers Edison Research is reporting from its Infinite Dial and Share of Ear studies, marketers are paying much closer attention to the podcasting’s potential.
There’s no particular reason to wait. There are several ways a brand manager can take advantage of the continued and accelerated growth of podcasting:
Become a podcaster.
The most obvious way to tap into the surging popularity of podcasts is to produce a podcast. Of the various content channels available to organizations, podcasting is among the simplest and cheapest to produce. Offer interesting content about something your audiences cares about or is interested in, back it up with some marketing and promotion, and you could wind up building a loyal audience of listeners.
Become a sponsor.
MailChimp’s success sponsoring “Serial” has a lot of marketers wondering if some of their budgets might be well-spent finding podcasts to sponsor. Most sponsorships are organic, with the podcast host talking about the brand rather than playing a recorded 60-second spot. Listeners get to know the host, trust him, and when he talks about a sponsor, they listen. At Igloo Software‘s request, we take this approach with their sonsorship of the podcast I co-produce with Neville Hobson. The company reports they get enough inquiries and traffic from my 60-second discussion of the company to continue the relationship. The folks at Igloo tell me they’re getting equally good results from the other podcasts they sponsor.
Even a recorded spot can work, however. On my podcast, For Immediate Release, our sponsor CustomScoop contributes a report gleaned from monitoring using the company’s product. Only at the end of the report does the company’s president, Chip Griffin, make an offer. Listener surveys have found the reports are popular, and I have to believe Chip’s getting good results, since CustomScoop has been with us for nearly 10 years.
Pitch an interview.
Interviews are gold for a lot of podcasts. Your organization has subject matter experts who would make outstanding podcast guests. All you have to do is find the right podcast and the right employee (or client), and make the pitch. Several of the interviews we’ve done on FIR were the results of pitches. When he was an executive at Cisco Systems and a member of Sprinklr’s board of directors, Carlos Dominguez suggested Sprinklr founder and CEO Ragy Thomas would make a great interview, and he did. It’s just one of several interviews we’ve published that resulted from a pitch.
Pitch a story.
In addition to interviews, PR practitioners and marketers can pitch stories for podcasters to cover. In this regard, podcasters are no different than journalists. They’re looking for material that will resonate with their audiences. Shows such as This Week in Tech use a runlist of topics that have to come from somewhere. A story that is consistent with the theme of the show and of interest to listeners is just as valid coming from a brand as it is from scanning the headlines. Just this week, Neville reported on a new product offering from a company that pitched the story. We went with it because it was a legitimate report on a new content management innovation, but we probably never would have known about it had a representative of the company not reached out to Neville.
Make audio content available to podcasters.
With services such as Public Radio Exchange, you can upload short audio clips that podcasters and public radio stations can find, download, and include in their reports. On episode 798 of FIR, we reported on Edelman Chair Richard Edelman’s blog post pronouncing podcasting as PR’s next frontier. Had Edelman recorded a 1 or 2-minute clip summarizing his thoughts and made it known it was avaiable through PRX, I guarantee you I would have included it in the report. You don’t even have to use PRX; you can send a clip directly to a podcaster, most of whom are looking for variety in their shows and are often happy to include a contribution.
Partner with a network.
As podcasts become more popular, we’re seeing a concurrent rise in the number of podcast networks. Networks host collections of podcasts, usually similar in theme. Leo Laporte’s TWiT network, along with Revision3, is focused on tech. The FIR Podcast Network, which Neville and I are behind, deals with organizational communication. Newer networks, like Slate’s Panoply and PodcastOne, host shows with a variety of themes. The advantages include greater visibility for these shows as well as the ability to sell advertising across the network or segments of the network. Rather than paying for an ad in a single podcast, marketers can have their product or service promoted across multiple shows, expanding the message’s reach. If the network’s demographics and the show’s themes are consistent with your message, you could build awareness and generate leads through a network deal. Ads are currently selling at around $40 or 50 per 1,000 listeners, so smaller, niche podcasts with loyal audiences could be an advertising bargain.
Participate in a podcast community.
When podcasting was new, critics argued that they didn’t belong in the social media category. After all, what’s social about something recorded and listened to in isolation? Podcasts, though, are particularly good for community-building. Listeners engage with each other and, often, with the hosts of the shows they love. By becoming a participant in one of these communities, you can advocate for your company’s point of view, share relevant content from your organization, and even get on the host’s or producer’s radar.
(The primary FIR podcast community—with 572 participants—is on Google+.)
Share podcasts internally.
Every now and then, I get a note from a listener asking if I mind if she or he plays a segment of FIR to her or his staff. I point out that our Creative Commons license gives them this ability without having to ask. When you hear content that can benefit your staff, providing them with special insight or motivation, by all means, play it for them. For decades, we’ve been routing print material and sharing online articles and posts. Audio content is just as valuable.
Produce podcasts for employees.
Staff is a great target for podcasting, and a growing number of companies are turning to podcasts as an appealing alternative approach to reaching employees. Hearing leadership’s voices can be far more credible than reading their words (which, let’s face it, they probably didn’t actually write or say). Add to that the ability to listen to a podcast while doing something else, like driving home, means consuming company information doesn’t conflict with doing other work, like sitting and reading an article on the intranet does.
As podcasts and their audiences proliferate, it will be more and more important to be aware of what’s being said on those shows about your brand and your marketplace. While there is no real solution for searching audio (yet), podcast show notes and the transcriptions some producers include with each episode mean you should add podcasts to the sources you listen to in order to detect trends, find opportunities, and identify looming crises.
Become a podcast listener.
If content overload is an issue, but you want to consume more good content that helps you do your job, podcasts are a solution to your dilemma. Listen while you’re driving, walking the dog, mowing the lawn, or doing the dishes. These are times you can’t read or watch videos, but you can listen to audio. There’s a wealth of solid marketing podcasts available from which to choose, and the value you can get from a podcast is just as good—maybe even better—than you get from reading an article or a blog post.