Fresh thinking in horrible times: rethinking podcasting best practices in a pandemic

Fresh thinking in horrible times: rethinking podcasting best practices in a pandemic
Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

With well over a month of working-from-home, self-isolation, and lives turned upside down by the pandemic and the damage to economies across the globe, it’s clear that the status quo is no longer the status quo. Best practices that were developed for a pre-pandemic world clearly need to be revisited and questioned because everything that those best practices are based on has changed.

Our team at Pacific Content has evaluated the way we make podcasts and found that some assumptions are more important than ever… and some need to be rethought in the current environment.

Reaffirming some best practices…

Serving instead of selling

Many brands are shifting their marketing strategy to serving instead of selling. There is a strong focus on helping, supporting, and strengthening relationships. This shouldn’t be interpreted as a call to jump on the bandwagon of “we’re all in this together” messages — this is about authentically serving, authentically creating value, and authentically being selfless. The best brands are putting audiences first instead of their products and services first.

This is exactly the right mentality to approach a podcast from a brand, whether you are in the middle of a pandemic or not.

How can I create value during this exact moment? How can I help?

Moving one step further into marketing decision-making right now — ask yourself why you are choosing to do marketing during a pandemic. Are you creating value? Are you helping your listeners and customers? Are you adding value or creating more noise?

A great example we’ve seen first-hand is Choiceology’s special bonus episode with Laurie Santos. It’s not a COVID-19 episode for the sake of having a COVID-19 episode. It’s a genuine, topical and timely gift to the audience, sharing unique insights from world experts on behaviour change.

So before you decide to make a podcast right now, ask yourself: do audiences really want to hear from you right now and will your message really be heard?

Again, this is an exceptionally valuable question to ask before you decide to make a podcast in non-pandemic times as well.

…And rethinking other best practices

Evergreen versus timely and topical

While Dan Misener has wisely pointed out that you don’t actually need to choose between evergreen content and timely/topical content, the pandemic has made us think differently.

Pacific Content has almost exclusively recommended focusing on evergreen content that creates long-term, lasting value for listeners. Audiences will continue to discover your podcast episodes as time goes on if they are evergreen and relevant, allowing your podcast to create more and more value (and build more and more relationships) over time.

However, at its core, Pacific Content’s job is to help our clients solve business problems through audio. And the problems that some of our clients are trying to solve right now are not evergreen — they are urgent and unprecedented and they require a different strategy.

To return to the previous best practice — creating value in this environment often requires being more timely and topical and that is the best way to serve audiences right now.

Speed to market

Pacific Content has traditionally recommended a measured approach to launching a podcast. Our best practice has generally been 3 to 4 months from kicking off the project to launching the first episode. Why?

  • We make sure it’s exactly the right show and allow enough development and feedback cycles to nail it.
  • We have multiple episodes completed before launching so that if there are ripples in future production, our publishing schedule stays consistent.
  • We have the time to build and launch world-class audience development strategies so that all our clients’ channels are activated, thoughtful and creative paid promotion buys are executed, and promotion requests to podcast platforms are submitted with lots of time to be considered before launch.

However, when you’re in the middle of a crisis, people are searching for help, and you have valuable answers to share, you can’t wait 3 or 4 months. You want to get to market as fast as possible and that means exploring trade-offs. For example, instead of a full pilot, we have moved to creating rapid prototypes — short samples of what a show could sound like to allow for faster decision making from our clients.

We’re now working to get a number of new shows up and into market within 4 to 5 weeks, knowing that there is increased risk to the production and publishing schedule and that some marketing opportunities may not be available, but that the benefits of speed to market outweigh those risks.

Format choices

Pacific Content has also long championed narrative formats that over-deliver on engagement. We have found that taking more time to make higher quality shows with compelling stories is a very effective way for brands to make podcasts that stand out from the crowd and earn the attention of listeners. Making a 30-minute high-quality audio documentary, though, is not a quick process — it often involves a lot of research, chasing multiple stories and guests, recording all the elements asynchronously, writing multiple versions of scripts, conducting multiple voiceover sessions with the host, providing multiple rounds of feedback and approval to key stakeholders, and doing multiple mixes to get it right.

So if you need to get to market quickly, one of the ways we’ve had to shift our thinking is choosing formats that we can produce more quickly. Pacific Content will always recommend striving for the absolute best quality of audio and the best quality of content possible, but in the middle of a pandemic, we are creating shows with the best quality possible under different time constraints.

Marketing plans

We normally start talking about crafting an audience development plan on the first day of a new engagement and we work for 3–4 months on that plan until the show launches. We try to leave no stones unturned in our search to let the right people know why they should listen.

With a shift to launching in a matter of weeks, though, marketing becomes more of a triage mindset. What are the most important and impactful channels we can focus on and how can we get them up and running as quickly as possible?

For paid promotion, if many of the shows we might want to advertise on are sold out already, what are alternative paid strategies to explore? Instead of a few larger shows, we might suggest exploring a larger variety of smaller, highly targeted podcasts that have more inventory available.

And overall, we are thinking more than ever about how to market with an agile mindset and thinking in terms of sprints. Nail the biggest impact channels first. Then, once you’re in market, move on and open up more and more channels as you’re able to. Continue to measure the effectiveness of those channels and iterate as necessary.

Listening pattern changes and opportunities

There is an increasing amount of data showing that after an initial dip, podcast listening has stabilized during this period of self-isolation and WFH. However, listening patterns appear to be changing. With the morning commute and gym sessions gone, listening is starting later in the day and spreading out more across the clock.

There are also multiple reports of an increase in browser-based listening, and the month of March showed a 30% increase in data use on smart speakers.

Why does this matter? It’s a cue to rethink how and where you market your podcast.

If browser-based listening continues to grow, browser-based paid promotion strategies might become more effective than in the past. Pacific Content has generally advocated that effectively promoting your podcast inside other podcasts is more effective than paid social media or paid search, mostly because of the friction of moving from a browser to a podcast app if you want to listen. However, if more people are listening in browsers because they are on laptops and desktops more than phones while they are at home, perhaps channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google Search will see increased effectiveness.

And if you’re using calls-to-action for listening to your podcast, this might be the perfect time to experiment with clear voice command suggestions to listen to your show on a smart speaker.

It’s never a bad time…

Yes, COVID-19 has forced us to rethink best practices and assumptions… but you don’t need to wait for a pandemic to think this way. The moral of the story: it’s almost always a good idea to revisit fundamentals, question assumptions, and constantly revise your playbook.

What podcasting best practices are you questioning or changing during this period of uncertainty?

Are there any that you’re doubling down on?

Sign up for the Pacific Content Newsletter: audio strategy, analysis, and insight in your inbox. Once a week.

Related Posts