We should start a podcast!
I’m willing to bet $100 that you have heard these words floating around your office hallways. Maybe it’s the subject of an email or repeated Slack messages.
I get it! There has been a huge consumer rush to podcast listening. A third of people in the U.S. listen to at least one podcast a month. I definitely count myself among the crowd of podcast super-fans. Do people even watch TV anymore? I don’t. I listen to podcasts instead.
And because podcasts are getting so popular — drumroll, please — it’s time for the marketers to arrive. Brands are rushing to start podcasts. One brand I’ve been watching closely is Mailchimp. As part of a bigger push to launch original shows in all formats, Mailchimp has launched two podcast series in 2019, hosted by big names: journalist Ann Friedman and musician Shirley Manson.
Podcasts are a fantastically rich medium. There’s a reason people love their favorite podcasts so much: Good podcasts make you feel like you’re inside a story. You get to know podcast hosts, and listening to them feels intimate. You don’t get the same experience from half-watching a TV show or scanning a blog post.
My team was lured by the format, and we decided to start a podcast, Margins from Managing Editor, this year. We experimented, tested and learned through our first season, and now we’re planning season 2. I have also led production for several client podcasts, and I’ve learned the ropes from the inside, on both established podcasts and brand new ones.
So what do you say to your boss or coworker who has a big idea for a new podcast? Let’s talk through the questions you should ask before you start a podcast.
What Are Your Big Ideas?
This is the first question I ask when someone wants to launch any new content format. What do you have to say? What conversation do you want to start? What are the big messages you want to put out into the world?
So when your boss says “Let’s start a podcast,” my first question would be “About what?”
If you just want to start a podcast because everyone else is doing one and it seems trendy, you probably won’t get much traction. Even the most loyal fans of your brand don’t want to listen to a podcast just because you made one. They want to listen to a good podcast. Make sure you’re prepared to make one.
You don’t have to have access to celebrities to develop an interesting podcast, but you do need to add new ideas to what’s already out there.
What Experience Do You Want to Create?
After you narrow down what you want to talk about, it’s time to think about how you’re going to deliver those conversations. What format will you use for your podcast?
Think about your favorite podcasts. They probably follow a pretty standard format for each episode. Whose voices do you hear? What do you like about that?
There are a few formats that most B2B podcasts follow:
- Single-source interviews: The podcast host interviews one guest. Some podcasts run full, unedited interviews. Other podcasts edit interviews into a concise story, sometimes with the host popping in to narrate and give context.
- Multiple-source interviews: The podcast host interviews multiple guests. Their interviews could be kept separate (Person 1, then Person 2, then Person 3), or the interviews could be woven together into a story that uses all of their voices.
- Host narrative: I think of these podcasts as “Guy (or Girl) with a Microphone.” The podcast host (or group of hosts) talk without bringing in outside guests. This format varies a lot, from tightly scripted narratives to less formal, more meandering conversations.
Each of those formats requires a different amount of editing. The more slicing, dicing and splicing (not technical terms — see my next point below) you have to do, the more time an audio editor will need to spend working on the tape.
Who Can Help You Start a Podcast?
Making a podcast isn’t hard, but it does require specific skills and time.
You’ll need equipment, like a decent microphone. (Here’s the one we use). You’ll also need people and a repeatable process. Our Margins podcast team includes people who fill all of these roles:
- Audio editor (great audio editors are the magic behind a good podcast!)
Here are the steps and roles in my team’s podcast production process:
- Plan the episode — entire team. Decide the big idea you’ll explore and who you’ll talk to.
- Research the topic and guests — producer/hosts. If you’re interviewing someone for the first time, plan what you’ll ask them. Many podcasters do an off-the-air prep call with guests at this stage — a pre-interview before the recorded interview. Those casual conversations can be really helpful, because guests are relaxed and unscripted, and you can learn what they’re most excited about (and what they really don’t want to talk about).
- Write a pre-recording script — writer. Write a script for the episode, from the opening music to the closing credits.
- Record each segment — producer/hosts and audio editor. Record your interviews. You can just record phone calls on your iPhone, but to step it up a level, work with an audio editor (or learn how to use a mixer) to record each person’s voice on a separate track.
- Review your tape — writer. We transcribe all of the segments we want to use in the finished episode so that we can quickly review the material.
- Write a final script — writer. Now you can start piecing together all of the elements to tell one cohesive story. We use the timestamps from our transcripts to pinpoint the exact moments we want to include and leave out. At this stage you might realize there are new transitions the host needs to record. Write those into the script and record as needed.
- Edit the episode into a rough cut — audio editor. The editor takes all of the raw recordings and the script and creates a rough cut. The editor adds music and other non-verbal elements to pull the podcast episode together.
- Review the rough cut — entire team. Think of the rough cut as your rough draft. This stage is your chance to fine-tune minor issues and identify parts of the story that aren’t clear for the listener.
- Produce a final, edited episode — audio editor.
- Upload the episode to the podcast host — marketer. The final step of publishing your podcast is important. Just as blog posts have meta information, a podcast episode’s title, description and tags are crucial for getting found.
Easy peasy, right?
If you’ve worked on a podcast, you know that they don’t come together without a lot of effort. The process can feel a little daunting, especially if your team is new to podcasting. That’s why I recommend bringing in someone (anyone — the editor, the producer, an intern!) who has made a podcast before.
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