People often ask me where our podcast ideas come from.
It all starts with a two-day strategy session.
Building a strong foundation
Before anybody writes a script, conducts an interview, or edits any audio for a pilot episode, we conduct an intensive strategy session with each new client.
This usually happens in person, over two days, with everyone in the same room.
Why bring everyone together? As my colleague Steve says:
Every time we start a new project, we are creating a new team. The new team is a mix of people at Pacific Content and people at the company or agency we’re working with. When things go well, we quickly become one team. That’s our goal — one single team working together to make a great show.
Everyone brings their own strengths. Pacific Content brings expertise in audio storytelling and podcast marketing. Our clients bring deep understanding of their brand’s voice, their values, and the audience they want to reach.
Here’s what we don’t do: we don’t expect to walk out of a strategy session with a fully-formed, crystalized plan for the show. We don’t expect to finalize the show artwork or decide exactly who will host the show.
Those are tactics and implementation details. A strategy session is for strategy. So we spend our time focused on these types of questions:
- Why are we making a podcast in the first place?
- Who is the show designed to serve?
- What role does the podcast play in the overall brand strategy?
- What does success look like?
Creative Bravery x Commitment
One of the first things we cover in every strategy session is our recipe for podcast success:
Creative Bravery means making a best-in-class show that is truly audience-first.
Commitment means using the right channels, at the right time, to let the right people know about the show.
This framework may seem simplistic, but it’s an excellent gut-check tool. If things ever feel headed towards mediocrity, we can revisit our goal: maximum Creative Bravery and maximum Commitment.
Who? Define the audience
Great podcasts serve audiences. Specific audiences. A show for “everybody” is a show for nobody.
Our clients know their audiences better than we do. Many of Pacific Content’s clients have already done extensive work to identify and understand who they want to serve.
For example, at our initial strategy session with Mozilla for IRL: Online Life is Real Life, we talked a lot about Conscious Choosers:
This group of consumers is willing to invest research time, manage inconveniences, pay a premium to support the organizations that align with their personal values and even reject brands whose values do not align.
Some key questions:
- Who are we trying to reach?
- What do we already know about them?
- What are they clamoring for?
- What podcasts and other media do they already consume?
- How do we want them to feel after listening to our show?
- What can we offer this audience that’s different from anything else they can already listen to?
- What’s the show “only we” can make?
Why? Define the business goal
Podcasts from brands need to drive real business results for the brand. But it’s crucial to understand the type of business results an original audio podcast can deliver.
Most of the shows we work at Pacific Content designed to sit at the top of the funnel. If your goal is to increase brand awareness, perception, or favorability, an original podcast can be an amazing way to do it (and we have the research to prove it).
However, if your goal is to drive short-term sales for next quarter, an original series might not be the best fit.
Balancing the needs and desires of a listener with the needs and desires of the business producing a podcast is extremely tricky. Do it poorly, and you end up with a mediocre infomercial (or worse). Do it well, and you end up with happy listeners who are pleasantly surprised to learn their favorite show just happens to come from a brand.
Editorial: What is the show?
Once we understand the audience we’re trying to serve, and the role the podcast plays in our client’s overall brand strategy, the focus usually turns to, “What show will we make?”
This is a wide-ranging conversation, covering:
- Podcast formats (documentary, interview, storytelling, gabfest, game show, etc.)
- Tone: are we making a serious show? An irreverent show? A funny show? How do we want listeners to feel? How can the show’s tone match the brand’s voice? What kind of host will we need to pull it off?
- Brand presence within the show
- Product packaging for podcasts (show name, metadata, visual identity, website, etc.)
One of my favorite show development exercises is called “this meets that.” We use touchstones from other media to describe the tone and feel we’re aiming for.
- Fast Company described Slack Variety Pack as “This American Life meets Office Space meets Monty Python”
- Zendesk’s Repeat Customer is like “How I Built This meets Masters of Scale for CX”
- McAfee’s show Hackable? is like “Mythbusters meets Mr. Robot”
I love these descriptions. What’s the “this meets that” for your show?
Commitment: Audience development
Making a great, creatively brave, audience-first show is only part of the story. You also have to let people know about your show.
We always dedicate a significant part of each strategy session to audience development, where we cover:
- The difference between preaching to the converted and growing the pie
- Best practices for paid, earned, owned, and internal channels
- How to use your brand’s superpowers
- How to measure Creative Bravery and Commitment, and why podcast measurement for brands is fundamentally different from measuring ad-supported shows
We’ve spent years working with brands on podcasts. That means we have a well-developed playbook that companies and organizations can follow to make sure they’re using all the right channels to reach their target audience.
That said, I love working with new clients, because they almost always have amazing audience development capabilities that have never been used before.
Like I said, we don’t expect to walk out of every strategy session with a fully-formed podcast series. But we do expect to emerge after two days with a clear sense of:
- The target audience
- The client’s business goals
- Possible directions for show format, hosting, and tone
- An inventory of audience development strengths
- A plan for when and how we work together as a new team
That’s enough to start a creative brief. From there, a pilot episode. Then a first season… and beyond.
At every step, collaboration is key.
- Show development is a process, with an emphasis on “process”
- You can’t make a great show as a brand without truly understanding your target audience, your business, and the affordances of the medium. Rely on outside audio expertise and experience if you don’t already have it in-house.
- Collaboration and candor are key. Be wary of anyone who isn’t pushing for more of both.
- Getting a bunch of busy people in the same room for a podcast strategy session can be tricky to schedule, and mentally exhausting… but it’s worth it
How do you develop new shows?
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