Edison Research’s April 2017 Podcast Consumer report claimed that monthly podcast listeners in the US was now at 24%, up from 21% in 2016, and while the US podcast market is more developed than the UK’s, RAJAR’s MIDAS Spring 2017 report still showed that 5.5 million UK adults listen to podcasts – just over 10% of the adult population.

Yet while these reports provide the strongest evidence to date that podcast listening is forming a key part of our media diet, many brands still haven’t considered podcasting as part of their communications plans.

Podcasts reach audiences in places other communications tactics may struggle to gain access to and do so in a unique, personal and controlled format.  People listen to podcasts on their commute, at the gym, out running or walking, and relaxing on holiday.

Smartphones are the most popular way to listen to podcasts, accounting for 72% of US adults who listen, with 28% of all podcasting hours listened to while travelling, reaching their highest audience between 8.15am-8.30am.

It’s a similar story in the UK with RAJAR finding that 57% of podcast listeners use their Smartphone to listen, with 42% doing so on their commute.

Of course, you can just as easily reach people through a podcast while sat at their desks too, but the key to a podcast is that, unlike video or the written word, it can be listened to while doing other things.  In that respect, podcasts are no different to radio, which, as RAJAR’s figures in the UK show, is more popular than ever. It’s also not just adults who listen to podcasts.  RAJAR’s Junior Audio Measurement Joint Audience Research showed that 18% of the UK’s 9-14 year-olds also claim to use podcasts weekly on average for 41 minutes each.

The increased popularity of podcasting is regularly attributed to the success of the US podcast series ‘Serial’.  When research was carried out amongst 6000 of that particular show’s listeners in June 2015, almost a quarter said Serial was the first podcast they’d ever listened to and 89% of those first-time listeners were inspired to try other podcasts, with 49% now listening to podcasts on a weekly basis.

LinkedIn also recently found that, based on a survey of more than 2,700 of its members worldwide, 35% listen to podcasts and that consumption increases in line with seniority.

So, with a clear appetite for listening to podcasts, what’s the best way for brands to get involved?

Podcasting should ideally be part of an integrated strategy, rather than as a stand-alone tactic , and to get the real benefit takes time and investment in building your audience, whether that is B2C or B2B.  However, a huge attraction is the fact that you can quite easily produce a ‘pilot’ episode yourself, and this could lead to creating your own content.  Alternatively, you can get involved by sponsoring an established series.

Russell interviewing Richard Millar, CEO and Simon Shaw, Chief Creative Officer of H+K Strategies at Cannes Lions for ‘the csuite podcast’

 Producing Your Own Podcast

If you are looking to produce your own show, there are a number of areas to consider.

1. Hosting

You’ll need somewhere to host your content that allows you to generate an RSS feed, as this is what is required to submit your podcast to distribution platforms such as iTunes or Google Play Music (US only at time of writing).  Examples include Soundcloud, which has Free and Pro license options, and provides an audio player that can be easily embedded on a website/blog and shared through social media.

2. Format

Do you want an interview led show, panel discussion, or just have one person providing information?  If gathering a panel, do you have them together in one room or joining online?  If the latter, ensure the audio recording is of a high enough quality as this makes a huge impact on the listening experience.  Also, make sure your host and guests are engaging.

3. Duration

If you are aiming to reach people on their commute, then 30-40mins works very well.  However, the very nature of a podcast is that it’s on demand and so listeners can pause and come back to it later.

4. Production Process

Ensure your host (or producer) does some background reading on the topic and chats to the guests before recording so that they feel comfortable with the format and you can gain an understanding of what they want to talk about in relation to the topic and what they want to avoid.  Produce a running order with suggested questions to ensure there is a flow to the podcast that enables you to tell your story in an engaging way.  However, it is crucial that your guests do not come with scripted answers – they are easy to spot and will not sound authentic.

When recording, think about the location you are in – background noise can add to atmosphere, but empty meeting rooms can create an echo.  Perhaps hire a studio for a real professional edit.

5. Sharing The Content

When you upload your podcast to your hosting platform, you may require supporting images and text copy.  Share the links across social media channels, ensuring all guests and their companies are tagged if allowed.  Encourage your guests to do the same, plus get as many people to follow and rate your feed in iTunes too as this helps you climb the appropriate podcast chart, meaning more people get to hear it.  If budget allows, support the posts with targeted paid social.

Finally, to help with your SEO, write up the show notes and post these on your website too.  These should include links to any featured case studies or websites, with relevant videos embedded.  This also provides a second opportunity to share the content through social media.

Partnering With An Established Podcast

The alternative to producing your own podcast is to partner with an established series.

According to Matt Deegan, Creative Director of Folder Media, the company that developed UK children’s radio station Fun Kids, the difficulty for brands that want to create branded content is that they are limited in scope by the distribution partner they work with. Deegan said that whether it’s guidelines around duration, format type or regulation, there’s a limit to what a brand can do and that the trade-off has often been taken because it’s the only option to reach a large number of people. However, Deegan added that the rise of digital content and social media distribution has given brands the opportunities to explore may other options previously not open to them.

Fun Kids works with organisations who wish to reach children and families and Deegan said that their educational material is often funded by non-profits who wish to communicate a social-gain message rather than a brand endorsement. Fun Kids create the audio content that they editorially control, though the brand has input around accuracy.  Fun Kids then takes that material and broadcasts it on-air, but creates a podcast of it, which is then available for the brand to use through their own channels too.  One example is their Deep Space High series, which has had seasons sponsored by The UK Space Agency, Royal Astronomical Society and the Science and Technology Facility Council.

Deegan believes that for the brand to create the content themselves would take time and cost more, as they would have to buy-in expertise, and often they don’t have the distribution necessary to make an impact.

PR and marketing recruitment specialists Capstone Hill Search did something similar in the B2B world by sponsoring ‘the csuite podcast’ for a series of special episodes recorded at the 2017 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.  Alex Robinson, Capstone Hill’s Managing Director for UK & Europe said “The most valuable assets in the world of communication, beyond our people, are often intangible.  For our clients and candidates, it is the dual prong of conversation and relationships that build the greatest impact in terms of influence and reputation.  Conversation is fluid and unscripted.  While of course there is always a conversation guide in the podcasts, the direction of the conversation will always depend on those present and participating.  There is great joy in watching impassioned debates unfold and in seeing previously unconnected individuals bond over shared interest and experience topics, and this is one of the reasons we were drawn to the podcasts.”

While Robinson was unable to release specific ROI on their podcast partnership, he added that they saw the value as being far deeper and further-reaching than a number on a page and added that “It is these guided human connections that set the foundation and provide the building blocks for future success – for us, for our clients and for our candidates. Our own success depends on our network, our ability to keep that network fresh and our tenacity and credibility in generating ripples of influence.  Ultimately, we are the PR people for PR people – we create opportunities and facilitate introductions, and our best work often happens beyond the obvious.  As such, presence and participation in meaningful conversations is not just an aspiration – it’s essential.”

The success of a podcast is currently hard to measure, which is possibly one of the reasons the medium has taken so long to establish itself as part of the marketing and PR mix.  Understandably, that’s a real problem for many brands.  However, according to Bridge Ratings, podcasting earned $167 million in the US in 2016, with a projected market size closer to $300 million in 2017. Clearly, some brands believe it is working, and so maybe those who haven’t yet been tempted should listen up!