Last year, the owners of Pacific Content found ourselves locked in a boardroom, working to solve a big problem for our business: a couple of our podcasts weren’t performing well.
We’d been very fortunate when we launched the company to have a hit out of the gate with the Slack Variety Pack podcast and (wrongly) assumed that if we made more shows with brands, they would automatically find audiences on their own. They didn’t. Our clients were really happy with the shows, but not enough people were listening.
Why? The podcast industry was evolving quickly, it became tougher to launch new shows, and branded podcasts were no longer a novelty. We needed a strategy that would ensure we had a really good shot at building a considerable audience for every single client we work with.
After a long look in the mirror and many hours of discussion and evaluation, we realized two things:
- We weren’t pushing ourselves or our clients hard enough to make great shows. We were making shows that made our clients happy. We weren’t focused enough on making shows that ALSO were loved by audiences. To build a big audience, our shows would have to compete with every fantastic podcast out there, whether it’s from NPR, WNYC, Panoply, Radiotopia, or Gimlet. We needed to raise the bar for ourselves, and raise the expectations for what our clients expected of us.
- We weren’t asking for a strong commitment from our clients to build an audience. We knew that as a small podcasting company, we weren’t going to be the factor that could effectively tell the world about a great show. The shows belong to our clients and we needed their commitment to promote the podcasts effectively and efficiently. We needed to create a strategy to help our clients learn to think and act like media companies.
Once we realized these two issues, we dug in and put a lot of time and effort into building a new strategy. Eventually, Rob Leadley, our CFO / COO and business positioning wizard, came up with the best graph I have ever seen for describing how to make successful content. This is what he drew on the whiteboard:
One Graph To Rule Them All
This one graph has been a total game-changer for both our clients and our own creative team. Let’s break down the graph to see why it’s been so effective…
Creative Bravery means that, first and foremost, you are making a show. Not a piece of marketing. Making a show means that you’re acting more like a media company (think HBO or Netflix… who make shows) and less like a traditional brand (where the marketing is directly focused on products and services).
Creative Bravery also means that while you are making a show, you’re not making an ordinary show. Not a pretty good show. You are making a great show.
The bar is deliberately set very high because your show has to compete with every other show out there. If it’s going to become your audience’s favorite show, you have to make something they LOVE.
We even came up with a Creative Bravery checklist, which includes:
- You’re not talking about yourself, your products, or your services.
- Your friend or co-worker isn’t hosting the show because it’s convenient and easy. Instead, you are going the extra mile to hire a phenomenal host for your show, whether it’s Walter Isaacson for Dell Technologies’ podcast about innovation, Veronica Belmont for Mozilla’s podcast about the health of the internet, or Dan Heath for Schwab’s podcast about decision-making.
- You’re not being safe or conservative in your content or format.
- You’re not putting deadlines and budgets ahead of quality.
- You would honestly listen to this show if you weren’t part of the team making it or the company funding it.
In short, Creative Bravery means that you’re making a show that is truly a gift for your audience.
Once you’ve got your Creatively Brave show, your next (and ongoing) job is Commitment. If Creative Bravery means making a great show, Commitment means making sure your desired audiences knows about it.
Commitment means using every single tool and resource you’ve got to make sure that your target audience finds out about this show. And they can’t just find out about it once at launch through a press release. You’ve got to tell them about it at launch, you’ve got to tell them about every episode in the season, and you’ve got to make it compelling each and every time.
The really good news is that brands that make their own content have huge unfair advantages compared to almost any other publisher:
- Brands often have major reach on their owned channels, whether it’s their website, their email lists, inside their products, or in physical locations that the brand owns.
- They also often have PR teams that have expertise in earned media.
- They’re often of a scale to be able to afford to do paid promotion.
- And they’ve also often got a small army of potential ambassadors for the show — their employees.
When these ‘secret strengths’ are all activated effectively, a brand can build a very large audience, very quickly, for their original content.
Owned channels are often the biggest unfair advantage a brand has in the content space. Mozilla uses the Firefox browser to promote their podcast, IRL: Online Life Is Real Life with Veronica Belmont and it has a huge impact. Tinder’s podcast, DTR, used the Tinder app itself to introduce the podcast to potential listeners. Smart businesses use their millions of social media followers and email newsletter subscribers to share content that people are excited to engage with.
In the podcast industry, a smart paid promotion plan focuses on reaching existing podcast listeners who are interested in the same subject matter and are in the same target demographic. Charles Schwab created an extensive paid campaign for Choiceology with Dan Heath that included Planet Money, Freakonomics, Radiolab and TED Radio Hour. McAfee built a custom campaign across multiple podcast networks that included a fantastic custom host-read ad from the Reply All podcast that clearly drove a lot of new listeners to sample their Hackable? podcast.
A successful earned strategy for content focuses on getting coverage where audiences go to find amazing new content. Most people do not find their next favorite TV show, movie, album, or book in a trade publication and yet that is where many brands focus earned media efforts for their original shows. If you are making a creatively brave show, you’ve got to tell your audience about it in the same places where they found their other favorite shows. It might be Fast Company, Entertainment Weekly, the New York Times, or any number of other options, but make sure you don’t pitch the default outlets that give you coverage of your industry or your products or services. As a result of making a creatively brave show and hiring a fantastic host, Dell Technologies had their podcast featured in an extended interview with Walter Isaacson on CBS This Morning this past spring. The result? It went straight to #1 on the Apple Podcasts Business chart.
And finally, don’t forget about employees and partners. Dell Technologies and the family of companies underneath it has a workforce of over 140,000 people! Sharing your content with your own team, especially when it’s fantastic content, can organically create a large number of brand ambassadors that are happy to share with their own networks.
The Takeaway From “The Graph”
There are no guarantees of success with content of any type. However, focusing on making Creatively Brave shows and making a huge Commitment to getting that show in front of all the right people will certainly help your chances .
Whenever you are developing a new podcast or working on a show that is facing challenges, plot your show on the graph and ask yourself what you can do to get it further into the top right corner with maximum Creative Bravery and maximum Commitment. It’s a strategy that has helped both Dell Technologies and Mozilla reach over 1 million podcast downloads each in under six months.