Anyone can make a podcast - but with 900,000 series and 30 million episodes available on Apple as I type how do you make a good branded one, one that will actually cut through? After years of working in both television docs and on award-winning branded content in both video and audio, here are some brief thoughts, questions and tips for brands to consider before pressing record.
A podcast is not your field of dreams; just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come - in a cacophonous market where discoverability is the main challenge your podcast has to really give the audience something they can’t get anywhere else. What is your brand’s superpower to exploit? Once you have established that, figure out what you want your podcast to achieve and how you will super-serve your audience (for, indeed, you must) in order to hit that target.
Clarify your proposition again and again and again until you can articulate it in one sentence. It will inform EVERYTHING you do from top to bottom whether it’s booking guests, writing questions, choosing music and marketing your work. Think about at least one format point that gives you, your guests and your listeners a guiding principle for the conversation. From Desert Island Discs to Reply All to TED Radio Hour all have clear format points and a clarity of editorial focus that their audience know and love. Be specific, be niche - that will win you fans in podcast land.
Create a clear sonic identity for your series and treat it with the care that you would any other part of your branding -- think of your favourite podcasts and chances are you will be able to hear them clearly in your head. (Hopefully it goes without saying that you need to ensure your podcast’s tech is up to the job, and that you need to edit your podcast properly - inarticulate ramblings and unsatisfying tangents can occur in even the most intelligent of conversations, no doubt, but lose them or lose your audience). While we are here: cough up a few hundred quid for your own theme music and some stings exclusive to your brand and treat your producer to access to a music library - it doesn’t have to be expensive. Check out Epidemic, for example.
Whether it’s Serial, Jessie Ware’s Table Manners or The Guardian’s Today in Focus, all good podcasts - i.e. the ones you genuinely look forward to updating in your feed and happily share - are, at their core, entertaining stories and so get a producer who values editorial pre-production as much as technical production. By researching your guests and putting genuine thought into your discussion and scripts ahead of time you are respecting your contributors and your listeners - and your host will come off as an absolute star; the women I work with at the FT on Culture Call are brilliant interviewers as a result of the remarkable journalistic integrity they bring to the table. Culture Call is an extension of the FT brand - it’s hosted by two FT editors and brings listeners behind the scenes every now and then but ultimately our listeners stay for the fact that they have two smart as hell hosts talking to the people who are pushing culture forward.
Before you start, ring-fence your branding clearly - will you mention it once at the top and leave it? Half way through? Or even just in the artwork and not at all in the audio? However heavily or lightly your brand features please don’t try and subtly drop it in ninja style - podcast audiences readily understand that brands pay for great content but won’t take kindly to feeling like they’re being tricked into listening to an advert.
Lina Prestwood is a former documentaries commissioning editor at Channel 4 and executive producer at Virtue where she was responsible for the branded content of brands such as Mazda and Lexus, including the viral film First Flight for Vodafone (which won a couple of Cannes Lions and a Lovie and was watched over 4m times on YouTube). Her audio documentaries about Fathers and Sons for Mr. Porter took gold for Best Branded and Podcast of the Year at the British Podcast Awards in 2017 and she currently produces Culture Call for the FT.