This is the first article in our Field Guide to Podcasting series. The initial collection of posts by Wanyee Li will profile the people and roles that come together to create a podcast. In the case of Pacific Content that includes making a podcast with a brand partner.
The Field Guide to podcasting is a series that will cover the fundamentals of making a show and working in the podcasting industry. To pitch a topic for this series, email [email protected].
Showrunners guide the crafting of a podcast from start to finish.
They are essentially both the creators and project managers for a production. Without them, the podcast would not get made. The buck stops with them.
Let’s break it down.
Showrunners generally work on one production at a time. Every project has different needs but showrunners generally work with the same small team from start to finish of the production, which can take anywhere from a couple of months to nearly a year. This team consists of a producer, sound designer, audience development specialist, and executive producer.
A showrunner’s involvement with a project starts with pre-production and doesn’t end until the podcast has been delivered to the client. Showrunners are the main point of contact for anything related to their production, both internally and externally. Showrunners report to an executive producer, who oversees several projects at once.
Showrunners’ tasks throughout the lifetime of a project generally fall into two categories: creating and managing.
Showrunners create by coming up with show ideas that align with the client’s goals, writing scripts for episodes and directing recording sessions. But they are also in charge of steering the production from start to finish, which means delegating tasks to producers, answering questions from audience development and sound design, as well as working closely with clients — all while ensuring podcast production is running on schedule.
At any given time, showrunners are juggling multiple episodes at different stages of production. Some are just starting at the research stage, others are at the recording stage, and others are already in sound design. Showrunners are expert project managers.
But what is working as showrunner at Pacific Content really like?
Pacific Content showrunner Pippa Johnstone shares her experience.
What does a typical workday look like?
“The funny thing about a typical day is that pre-production, production and post-production all look radically different,” said Pippa.
During pre-production, a showrunner’s day may be filled with brainstorming sessions, both with the internal team like the executive producer and producer, but also with the client.
“We’re coming up with the format, and the different topics we wanna tackle this season — that’s a very collaborative time.”
Once production starts, showrunners spend more time doing independent work, such as script writing and coordinating recording schedules. They also work closely with a producer, who researches the stories and books the guests.
“The producer is the person who I meet with the most. We’re always meeting to talk about every tiny little detail of the show,” said Pippa.
“So you’re still having lots of meetings, but there’s a lot of writing, a lot of recording, a lot of rewriting, a lot of re-recording.”
At the height of production, Pippa will meet with her producer at least once a day. She will meet with the client once a week, and with the executive producer once a week.
During post-production, showrunners are listening to different versions of episode mixes and give feedback to sound designers. This is the stage where showrunners also incorporate client feedback into the episodes as well.
Showrunners adapt their day-to-day to each show’s unique needs.
Every show is different, said Pippa.
“I think that one of the greatest parts of our jobs is that we don’t get bored. There’s always change.”
Who do you work with most of the time?
- Executive Producer
What is your favorite part of the job?
“My favorite part of my job is collaboration for sure. I really like having creative brainstorming sessions. Pre-production is definitely my favorite part of the production process,” said Pippa.
There is lots of room for podcasts, even those made for brands, to explore outside of the traditional interview format. Could a debate-style show work? How about adding a co-host to the mix? Or what about splitting each episode in half so that half of the run time is a documentary-style story and the other half is an expert interview? These are all things showrunners have successfully pitched to and executed for our clients.
Pippa said she is always looking to try new things.
“I love the stage where you’re like, ‘sky’s the limit. Let’s just imagine where this could go. Let’s just be creative and throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.’”
What is your least favorite part of the job?
Not every aspect of showrunning is creative.
“I do feel like a shocking amount of my life is spent looking at a calendar. At the end of a busy day, I’ll have 10 tabs of my own calendar open, just trying to figure out how to schedule a show,” said Pippa.
At the conception of every podcast, Pacific Content’s business operations manager creates a production calendar that outlines when each element of an episode needs to be completed.
Keeping production on schedule is a vital part of a showrunner’s job. Production cannot run smoothly without a set schedule — and yet, at the height of production, when multiple episodes are being crafted at the same time, the color-coded calendar can feel overwhelming.
“It just sort of makes you feel like your life is gonna explode,” she Pippa, “but then you just get through it. Color by color, episode by episode.”
What’s something you found surprising about the job?
Pippa has previously worked as an actor, director, and as showrunner at other production companies. But she says there is a certain type of creative bravery at Pacific Content she finds refreshing.
“I think what makes us different from anywhere I’ve worked before — not to say anything bad about anywhere else — but there’s a real hunger to push boundaries and to break out of preconceived ideas about what a show could be and to really surprise ourselves and do something different.”
Sometimes it’s just a small idea, just a tiny push for something new.
“We’re always trying to push the needle forward, even if it’s for a client that isn’t looking to make something wacky and out there, we’re still always trying to push the storytelling, push the needle a little bit to build empathy, to hear new stories, to hear new perspectives. That creative spirit, I think, is what makes it fun to work here.”