We all know that person who won’t. Stop. Talking. About. Podcasts.
It took me a while to come around to the magic of podcasts. I was skeptical. Who has time to listen to people talk to each other? But I quickly realized I was just listening to the wrong podcasts.
These days I listen to great podcasts every day — on drives around town, when I’m walking the dog and when I want a break from screen time. My favorites are WNYC’s Death, Sex & Money for interviews that make me cry in the car, The New York Times’ The Daily for deeper dives into the day’s headlines and The Longest Shortest Time for super-relatable parenting stories.
One thing I’ve realized as a podcast fan is that it isn’t easy to make a great podcast. Podcasting is directly tied to writing. If you have a tightly knit story your podcast episode will shine. If your plan is to sit in front of a microphone and see what happens, spoiler alert: Nothing good happens.
Jay Acunzo is a marketer who has quickly become a leader in the podcasting world. His podcast, Unthinkable, is all about inspiring creators to push themselves. It’s fun to listen to because he’s a great writer first. And he’s pushing for better podcasts, especially from brands.
I asked Jay what marketers should know before they start a branded podcast.
What made you want to start a podcast, as opposed to creating content on some other channel?
Quite simply it looked like a ton of fun! I think that's where all creators should begin their process. When you're intrinsically motivated to make whatever it is you're making, it'll be better. You'll focus on the process itself rather than skipping to an end result, and in doing so you'll get better end results.
A lot of companies are interested in starting a branded podcast right now, but great podcasts require a lot of work. What questions should people ask to decide if a podcast is the right move?
The most common question I ask people when they talk about their brand's podcast is “Why do you have a podcast?”
I get one of two answers:
- So-and-so wanted us to launch one.
- (Nervous laughter.)
In both cases, you're telling me you have no strategy. Additionally, if your show exists because So-and-so (or you) wanted to launch one, you have to be OK not getting any results. Why? It's for you; it's not for your audience. You've yet to find that overlap, that reason audiences would care, and yet you're expecting results? Give me a break. That's the height of foolishness in marketing.
Ask the following questions instead:
- What is our show's hook? What firm or unique angle on our topic can we take? The hallmark of a great show is a concept FOR the show. Thought-leader interviews is the copycat approach, and when you get past the best names your show gets worse over time. Engineer a better experience, whether through structuring and segmenting interviews or by telling actual stories.
- What is our show's rundown? This is the structure, the framework of a show.
How do you know if someone's going to be a good guest for your podcast?
My show, Unthinkable, doesn't have guests. Instead we tell stories. The difference is that the thing we feature and explore is the story, not the name. So we'll talk to as many people as we think we need to in order to capture the story (many of whom never appear in the final cut). But to keep things simple and vet subjects for your show, try a 10-minute pre-interview call about a week or so in advance. That way you build initial rapport, get the rough outline of what you want to talk about and better gauge the subject. But be clear with them: We're vetting possible interviews and haven't decided whether this is a fit yet.
Make no mistake: If a subject drones or can't provide value to the audience in some way, it's not the guest's fault. It's yours. Your job as host is to make sure only the best content arrives to a listener's feed, whether by filtering out bad guests entirely or by asking the right questions to extract the content people want and need to hear — not some PR jargon the guest spouts.
How have you become a better interviewer over time?
Put in the reps. You have to do a lot of bad work to improve and start putting out good work. That's really the only way. By the way, a boss who demands perfection from the beginning both doesn't understand the creative process AND is a terrible boss. If the source of friction with him or her is that you want to improve but they want you to be ready NOW, just quit and find a better boss.
Here's some naked truth from a legendary host, Ira Glass:
What's been most surprising to you about running a podcast?
The emotional response. I knew that podcasts were better suited for depth and resonance, not reach and net new audience (after all, episodes aren't built for sharing or discoverability). But the visceral reaction to my show has really floored me. I'm really grateful for the audience's willingness to spend this much time with the stories, offer feedback, add their thoughts and generally be superfans in a world of so many passive, lurking interactions online.
A podcast is intimacy that scales.
What are the tools that have helped you build and grow the podcast? Any go-to marketing tech you recommend?
Yes, but if you're a believer that tech is a good place to start, you're not gonna like my answer: You need to get better.
Seriously, podcasting is 99.9 percent the on-mic performance. EVERYTHING else is incremental. Are you any good on a microphone? Research how to interview. Listen to the greats. Consume your favorite shows both in audio and in video and try to extract the underlying framework to steal from it. Work on your voice and your pacing. Learn about cold opens and open loops. Try using music.
Everything else is you creating surrounding content (like blog posts and social media posts) that you can market through all the tech out there that you probably already use.
So focus more of your time building a rocket that can actually fly, instead of trying to launch a dud missile.
Do everything in your power to engineer your own skills, and the tech really doesn't matter. Again, that becomes so incremental, you can take 30 seconds and Google it and be done.
Your podcast, above all, is YOU. Are you any good?
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