How to successfully pitch podcasts

Podcast audiences are a great, captive resource for PR pros looking to expand their reach. Here are some tips on working with these nascent media heavyweights.

The power of podcasting presents a bevy of new challenges for PR pros.

How can marketers like you get your CEO or brand spokesperson interviewed on a podcast that’s heard by tens of thousands, or even millions, of listeners? Just as challenging, how can you convince your CEO that securing a podcast interview could be as valuable for your company as an interview in “Bloomberg Businessweek?”

Until recently, getting a client interviewed on a podcast was seen as a peripheral “nice to have,” built upon “must-have” interviews with traditional media such as USA Today or The Wall Street Journal. However, the success of podcasts such as “Serial” (downloaded more than 340 million times), “This American Life” (2.5 million people download each episode) and the “Tim Ferriss Show” (300 million episodes downloaded), plus hundreds of business-oriented podcasts, suggest that the medium has morphed from entertainment into an essential channel for offering industry insight.

What’s so appealing about podcasts for clients? Consider:

  • The time required from a client is minimal, compared to the time commitment of collaborating on a bylined article for a trade publication.
  • The podcast is easily shareable on social media channels.
  • Many podcasts combine the audio interview with text, so your audience can consume your messages in both print and audio form.
  • Podcasts give clients the opportunity to express their personality in a way that infographics, e-books and print interviews seldom do.
  • Podcasts lend themselves to depth and nuance. Which PR opportunity would your CEO prefer: a two-paragraph quote in a magazine article or a 60-minute wide-ranging interview for a podcast?

We spoke to three podcast producers—Gabe Howard of “The Psych Central Show” podcast, Bill Banham of “HRchat” and Jim Davis of the “HR Works” podcast—to find out how you can get your spokesperson interviewed on a top-tier program.

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How to avoid ruffling feathers with your pitch

“I wish PR professionals understood what our show was about,” laments Howard. “We get pitches for potential guests who simply aren’t a fit. This wouldn’t be so bad if the pitch explained why they were thinking the guest may work (i.e., a mommy blogger might have something to discuss about postpartum depression). But more often than not, we get a pitch that doesn’t fit at all. It’s a time waster.”

(Pro Tip: Check out Pandora’s Genome Project podcast recommendation engine, along with searching Apple’s iTunes and the podcast directories to find podcasts that reach your target audience.)

The biggest mistake PR pros make in approaching his “HRchat” podcast, according to Banham, is “pitching without offering educational content ideas.

“We get a ton of applications to showcase services and products, without connecting their goals with meeting our requirement of educating the business community about how to improve the world of work.”

“The best podcast pitches tell us why a potential interview would work on our podcast,” adds Howard. “We had a pitch once that said, ‘you’ve covered this topic before, approximately six months ago, but from the male perspective.’ The fact that they did their homework and knew how to stand out made us really want their guest on our show!”

Tips for getting a podcaster’s attention

How do you approach producers with a guest idea?

“Email me … although LinkedIn messages are also a great option,” says Banham. “We aim to make the guest selection process as easy as possible.”

“Send us a single email; we do pretty much everything via email,” says Howard. “Have everything summarized in that email. We don’t need to know the person’s complete backstory – so many pitches I receive are 10,000 words! But if you want to, yes, include some links.”

“When a PR pro wants to give me a heads up about a great potential guest, a simple email is all that’s needed,” adds Davis of the “HR Works” podcast. “Our wait time to record is often three to six months, and PR people have to respect that. The entire podcast process is long, and the Jack Russell Terrier approach of some PR people adds unnecessary stress—which I can easily avoid by not selecting those guests.

He adds, “It’s unfortunate that a potentially great guest might miss out because of the actions of their PR people. Of course, if it’s a really big name, the added stress can be worth it!”

How to make your guest appealing

“Perhaps the most important thing to me is that the guest sounds natural,” says Davis. “I may have gone over the content of the podcast with the guest ahead of time, but I need to be able to explore topics beyond the scope of the preparation if the guest brings up something that deserves a closer look. When guests sound like they’re reading their answers and waffle when they’re asked questions they didn’t prepare for, the whole episode sounds flat.”

Perhaps, some media training is in order for your potential podcast guest. Remember that a podcast should sound casual.

“I think of each podcast episode as a conversation, and that flow is really important to me,” says Davis.

Don’t get it twisted: Podcasts aren’t advertising.

“The biggest mistake that PR professionals make is when they think that our podcast is for promoting the organization or products,” continues Davis. “I know that can be hard for PR people to hear. Promotion should be as [non-intrusive] as possible.

“We’re dedicated to providing useful information and guidance to our audience. If a guest or host talks about something at the end of the podcast or makes a brief callout in the beginning, I find that to be a little more acceptable.”

Understand the format.

Research shows that half of all podcasts are consumed in the home, and one-fifth are consumed while driving.

“We offer both a magazine and a podcast,” says Banham. “The biggest difference is that podcasts can be consumed passively; for example, while you’re commuting. Typically, our ‘HRchat’ podcast is 20–25 minutes in length—that equates to 2,000 to 2,500 words in print—so the podcast is much more in-depth than typical 600 to 800-word articles.”

“Magazine articles are summaries of quick information,” notes Howard. “Our ‘Psych Central Show’ podcast is a conversation about a subject—complete with deep dives, analogies, questions and even tangents—all tied together to give listeners a real world understanding of the topic.”

Expect long lead times—and then double them.

“Podcast interviews can be booked and recorded pretty quickly,” says Banham, “but the release date is usually at least four weeks later due to our backlog of shows.”

Howard says his show needs at least four, but sometimes as much as eight weeks of preparation.  “Unless the subject is in the news or VERY hot,” he agrees, “but generally, our average is four weeks’ advance notice.”

Other shows might take even more time.

“Our podcast airs every other week, and we receive five or so guest requests a month,” says Davis. “We begin talking to guests four to six months ahead of the broadcast of their episode. Much of that is due to the time it takes to book a guest, prepare questions, conduct the recording, edit the episode, post it and distribute it. Even if we rushed the whole process, it would be at least a month from start to finish.”

Paul Maccabee is president at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency. A version of this article originally appeared on his agency’s blog.

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