In this series, we’re putting the spotlight on our partners and industry friends. Why did they decide to explore an original podcast for their brand? What surprises did they encounter? How do they measure success? What lessons did they learn along the way? Find out from the people at the helm.
Brent Simoneaux was born in New Orleans but grew up all over the United States. His father was a chaplain in the military and that meant Brent moved to a new state every few years.
“I have roots, but I also don’t have roots at all,” he said. “When I meet someone new, because I’m just used to meeting new people all the time, I can blend in pretty easily and I can forge a relationship pretty easily.”
Though Brent had to integrate into a new community every few years, one thing remained constant.
“I’m not religious now by any means, but in my childhood, my week revolved around Sunday morning. It was this kind of rhetorical exercise every week, where my dad would study all week and then he would get in front of a community of people and communicate with them, and provide care for them.”
Brent studied literature in college. He then joined the American Peace Corps, a government program that sends its volunteers to communities around the world. Brent ended up teaching English in western China for two years. There, he also hosted a local English-language learning show on the radio.
It was a humble introduction to working with audio.
“I would go into this bare bones radio station. I mean, it was literally two pieces of equipment and a broadcast antenna on top of the building,” he said.
Then, Brent went back to school for his Masters and PhD in communication rhetoric and digital media. He embedded himself in communities for long periods of time and co-created research with the people there.
“For my dissertation, I spent two years with drag queens. I was off at drag shows at like 1:00 AM in rural North Carolina,” said Brent.
“What I learned to do is embed with groups of people and listen, listen, listen, participate, participate, participate, create, create, create — and then learn something from that.”
Brent had one year left in his PhD program when he ran out of university funding. He needed one year’s worth of income and health insurance to finish his dissertation.
When his friend told him about a software company called Red Hat that was hiring an entry-level copy editor, Brent jumped at the opportunity.
“It paid $33,000 a year. And I was like, sign me up.”
Brent never looked back.
“I really fell in love with software developers,” he said.
“Like in this way that I fell in love with the world of drag queens, I fell in love with this community of people that I knew literally nothing about. Creating content that was useful and helpful and entertaining for them was, I don’t know, it just brought me so much joy.”
Making an original podcast
Fast forward a few years and Brent had become a senior manager of content marketing at Red Hat. The company was about to launch their biggest product yet in one year’s time and his team needed a marketing plan. They wanted to try something new — but what?
It was 2017. Podcasts were starting to become more mainstream at the time. Brent was a fan of podcasts like This American Life and Startup.
His team decided to make a podcast at Red Hat.
“We had no idea what we were doing. We didn’t know where to start. We had never done podcasting before.”
Brent’s team partnered with Pacific Content to make an original podcast: Command Line Heroes. The show tells stories from all realms of software development, ranging from how NASA solved one of its most complex problems using open software, to why the floppy disk was one of the biggest breakthroughs in computing.
“My boss’s boss at the time had literally never listened to a podcast, and so people were kind of skeptical. They were like, what is this?”
But once his bosses heard the pilot episode, “something clicked,” said Brent.
“Honestly, the pilot was just really good. It felt a little bit like magic in a bottle, like something interesting and special was happening there.”
His bosses greenlit the investment to make a whole season with Pacific Content.
“We definitely would not have made a successful show and we would not be on this trajectory today if we tried to do it ourselves. Would it have been cheaper? Yes. Would it have been successful? No.”
Brent recalls how surprised his company was about the amount of attention the podcast generated.
“We had set up a command line heroes page on redhat.com — a landing page for the show. At some point a data analyst came to us and said the Command Line Heroes page is the number two most visited page on our entire website.”
The only URL with more hits was Red Hat’s home page.
Audience surveys revealed even more interesting statistics. Nearly half of Red Hat’s podcast listeners had no prior engagement with the company.
“That’s a lot of people considering we had millions and millions and millions of unique listeners. That’s a lot of people who are being introduced to our brand,” said Brent.
Command Line Heroes went on to win a Webby Award and a Shorty Award.
Nine seasons later, Brent has this advice for fellow marketers who want to create a podcast: think about what your audience wants.
“Don’t be afraid to be really bold about it, in terms of the creative side of things. Don’t immediately feel pressured to do an hour long interview show with your CEO. Because that’s not usually what our audiences need from us, or even want from us.”