The podcast is where the weblog was at the turn of the century. That is, it’s perceived as cool.
The difference between podcasting now and blogging then is that public relations firms don’t have to sell clients on why podcasting is necessary. Initially, blogging required a hard sell. Currently clients and prospects for public relations services increasingly demand podcasting in the communications mix.
The dictionary definition of “podcast” is: “A digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically available as a series, new installments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.”
According to Edison Research, 40 percent of Americans listen to podcasts, up from 21 percent in 2017. Almost 70 percent of that’s on mobile devices, with 23 percent of episodes listened to in the car. And, here’s the significant statistic: About 80 percent remain listening for all or most of the podcast episode. Unlike blogs and ecommerce, early exiting is rare.
A podcast can be simple, with the format of one talking head. Or, it can function as an interview/interaction platform, with several guests going back or forth. The most elaborate version simulates a radio show, with sophisticated specialized technology, background music and messages from sponsors. Yes, podcasting can be monetized.
The technological logistics of podcasting, at least the basic kind, are manageable even by those who aren’t digital natives. That starts either on a laptop or mobile device. In PR firms, that would probably be on a laptop. There must be an internal or external microphone and a sound card. The platform for recording and creating MP3 files is open-source audio software Audacity, which is free.
The next step in the tech process is uploading the podcast to a host. There are myriad diverse players in the niche. The services provided could include facilitating listener call-in, distribution, promotion and storage. Some hosting is free. Others bill a small fee of about $10. For some, the monthly charge can be about $250. The selection depends on client needs.
The content part of the podcast involves many traditional PR skills. At the top of the list is figuring out what idea for the podcast episodes would simultaneously:
Accomplish the client’s objective. That could be getting exposure for an unknown political candidate. The format could constitute an indirect approach. For example, the show idea for increasing the influence of a political candidate could be “The Old Neighborhood.” On it, he or she would reflect on old-fashioned values.
Attract, hold and increase attention. Not all ideas are created equal. There must be an immediate fit between the subject matter and audience interest. An example of a “grabber” is Goli Kalkhoran’s podcast “Lessonsfromaquitter.” Its target market is huge: those unhappy in their careers but hesitant to leave. In addition to the interviews with successful quitters, the hosting facilitates community building.
Stand tall in a space bound to become glutted. Many recall all the abandoned blogs. As the medium became popular competition for eyeballs escalated. Many blogs were not sustainable. The podcast idea has to have staying power. A bad idea would be the current political climate. A good one would be “Winning Elections, From Kindergarten to U.S. Presidency.”
Another key aspect of podcasts is the scripting. Fortunately, most PR experts have the edge there. That’s because they have years of experience creating conversational speeches. The same tactics apply. They include:
Short sentences and sentence fragments. The content is meant for the ear. It’s not material for text.
Rhetorical questions to retain interest. For example, the speaker asks, “Do you regret your college major?”
Continual clarification of what is being discussed. In text, the use of “it” or “he/she” to refer to what has been mentioned before is appropriate. The eye can return to the earlier paragraph to find the referent. Not with oral delivery. If the podcast mentions “student loan debt,” then it must repeat that phrase or a synonym in all the later references.
Total focus on the listener. The speaker isn’t the star. Neither are the guests.
In developing new business proposals and re-evaluating client strategies, the podcast is evolving into a must-include. But in itself it’s a blank check. It’s not smart to position and package it as the next big thing. A generation burned by blogs which didn’t increase influence or sales is wary about gee-whiz.
The plan, for example, has to describe in detail how podcasting reinforces other tactics. There could be a projection that the podcast link on a website, blog, Twitter account, Instagram, LinkedIn Updates or Facebook could boost page views X percent, time spent on site Y percent, and likes/shares/comments Z percent.
Podcasting, of course, also brings back voice. That expands opportunities to provide clients with more invitations for those old-line in-person speeches. Their unique sound could become their signatures.