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Illustrations by George Rosu

Inside the “Making of Podcasts” and the best strategy to launch them. With Krzysztof Nowak.

There are 750k podcasts and 30M episodes by now! We listen to podcasts when we commute, when we work, when we do research, before sleeping, while working, and in between. So, what is the trick? Why and how should we start a podcast?

As most of you know by now, I am a sucker for data and podcasts! And this post will cover the latter through a Q&A (or interview, call it as you wish) with Kris, an expert when it comes to podcasts.

Why do we love podcasts so much? — 51% of the US population has listened to a podcast. Is this good or bad news? How to start your own podcasts? Or is this even a good idea? how expensive or complicated is it? — These are just some questions that came to my mind multiple times, and every time I published an article about podcasts, I got the same questions from some readers.

People asked, so I will provide insights from Krzysztof, as he is way more suitable than me to cover this topic!

Hey Kris, let’s talk a bit about you and your story. Or the “how come you know so much about podcasts?” part :D

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That’s actually a funny story that I end up telling way too often. So I’ve started listening to podcasts only about 5 years ago, having the same motivation as most of the new listeners today — squeeze taking in even more information to the „in-between time” if you will. — Now I feel like I was doing the right thing for the wrong reason [laugh].

During that time, however, I had a chance to see two things: an enormous change in the Polish podcast scene that moved from a tiny niche to something everyone in marketing is talking about. And of course,the rise and acquisition of Gimlet Creative, being a wildly successful podcast production studio that hugely inspired us in many ways. Us, because on the way my podcast co-host, friend, and now business partner Michał Kasprzyk got crazy about everything related to podcasting starting with Reply All a few years ago.

We always knew we want to do way more than recording fun shows and growing the community of podcasters! We went deeper into an analysis of the Polish market, and in September 2019, the 3 of us — me, Michał and Paweł Badura — officially started our production studio Earborne Media.
And even though it was supposed to be just a side hustle, we are already seeking for help to deliver all the productions we started on time.

There is a huge hype around podcasts at the moment! PodcastInsights recently said that there are over 750,000 podcasts out there and over 30 million episodes as of June 2019. To highlight the growth, Apple confirmed there were over 550,000 podcasts at WWDC 2018 in early June. So, I have tons of questions in my mind right now, but let’s break it into 7 parts for now.

Podcast listeners are loyal and 80% of them listen to all or most of each episode — not to mention that they do this mostly at home, in the car or while commuting.

And while this medium has been up for 15 (fifteen) years now, how come it got so much traction only now and why is gaining so much in popularity lately?

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Like I mentioned earlier, the lifestyke change plays a massive part in it.

We make ourselves busier and busier while craving to be up to date — with news, business, our industries, passions, or popular culture.
I’m sure you also met somebody who claimed to find a “lifehack” — they listen to podcasts while doing their chores as a way to “be productive at all times.”
The productivity cult is enormous in Western society, and if you take a look at podcasts’ biggest demographic, you’ll find mostly educated, busy, and ambitious people from big cities.

Of course, there are plenty more reasons for podcasts’ rising popularity.
As every other medium podcasts needed time to grow and develop, and I think this is what we’re experiencing now.
Think of the Second Golden Age of T.V. when shows such as The Sopranos or Six Feet Under went on air. Improvement in cinematography and storytelling paired with better access over all cable networks contributed hugely to their success.

The same thing happened to podcasts — in the mid-2000s, you had to download them on your iPod to listen, while now people don’t even switch from Spotify to another app.
And when it comes to quality — studios such as Endeavor Audio are only getting started with their immersive super productions in the form of a podcast such as
Blackout. And lastly — recently already a few high-budget T.V. shows such as Homecoming was based on podcasts — and vice versa.

When you notice a growing presence of famous actors or homages to stories most beloved by the audience — you know the medium is in its full bloom.

Talking about listening to stuff, let’s look a bit into Youtube as well! Do you think podcasts will become the next Youtube? How do you see the conversion if we have to compare these two?

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Podcasts will become the next YouTube when television becomes the next radio [laugh].

I guess we need to keep in mind that every medium operates according to different principles. As much as I strongly agree with the prediction that podcasts are on the way to become a huge thing, it’s still apples and oranges.

Firstly if you think of an audience, there’s a massive difference in its engagement and attention span!

According to what Edison Research measured last year in the U.S., 90% of listeners listen to the entire episode — No YouTuber can flex such numbers, not to mention that podcasts can have even 3 hour-long episodes.

So it’s an entirely different animal, but with equally significant potential for completely differently tailored business partnerships. So if it’s a yes-or-no question, I would say yes.

As for the conversion — it’s not precisely people “moving from” one medium to another. While YouTube is competing with Twitch, Netflix or even Fortnite for audience attention, podcasts’s only competition when it comes to the way they are consumed would be audiobooks. But somehow I don’t see a huge peak in audiobooks consumption, nor as good business conditions podcasts could provide.

There are plenty of podcasts types (and I love diversity), but frankly speaking the most popular podcasts are interviews. Why is that? Do people really love interviews that much, and all the tips and money around them?

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Yeah, there are a few causes behind that course of things. First and foremost — it’s easy to stay afloat with a format that doesn’t require a big amount of post-production or screenwriting.

When you look at podcasts that were discontinued, many of them were more ambitious and the hosts simply gave up. Which leads me to my next point — interviews are easier to scale!

At least they are until some point of market saturation. I’m familiar with plenty of podcast interviewers that partake in — pardon my french — a circlejerk of internet&industry celebrities that are eager to answer anyone’s questions.

So up until some point this formula works, but even with higher bars in their audience charts it doesn’t always translate into value. Especially if a corporation wants to follow the same format to, say, have their own podcast for employer branding purposes. They most likely are going to tank — even on biggest markets there’s not enough space for everyone to be Joe Rogan.

In fact, before Earborne Media was established, we’ve noticed a very different trend. The host personality and his show “immersive-ness” are the strongest hooks.
Time for a bit of science!
Research shows that listening to a good story actually influences how much oxytocin our hypothalamus produces. And since oxytocin is a hormone of trust and social bonds — narrative podcasts sell better because the audience connects with them more. If you browse the portfolios of Wondery or Gimlet Creative — you won’t exactly find interviews there. The most connected audiences are looking for thrilling, unique shows.

Let’s talk money and advertising! Podcasts are great for a listener, but as a creator, there is more than a story but a revenue stream as well. In Eastern Europe (say Poland or Romania), we do not hear so many ads in a podcast (which is awesome) — is this channel really working for creators?
How do you compare this to the US?

My theory is that in Eastern Europe, we are so used to WordPress that nobody would pay for SquareSpace here [laugh].

But seriously — I’m glad you asked this question. It’s not that much a matter of “does it work” but more “is it time” for it to fully take off. And to be honest from what I can see, it’s right ahead of us. Even last week we had an enquiry from a big company that wants to advertise in a network of podcasts in Poland.
First podcast MCNs seem to have formed recently, and I hear more questions about podcasters reach, possible return on investment on such deals and so on. It’s hard to be the first because they don’t know whether it will bring the desired results already, and very few companies want to be the guinea pig. From what I see things are going to be very different in 2020 in Poland at least.

And from (my) creator’s perspective — the most popular ones already got into some partnerships, but sadly it looked like any of other mediocre influencer campaigns I’ve seen before. I’m really hoping that mentioning a detached wafers ad by a podcaster won’t be the only way the brands would see this space.

What do you think about branded podcasts? Lots of companies jumped in the trend and started their own podcast — is this a smart move for them? Would it be smarter to use influencer-podcasters for their campaigns?

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Honestly? I love branded podcasts!
Scratch that —
I love *good* branded podcasts.

Badly branded podcasts often backfire because, at first glance, it seems easier than creating a successful company YouTube channel, right?
We all know how that went.
Of course, as usual in marketing, the answer would be “it depends.”
I may be biased since influencer marketing is far from my favorite ways of promoting a product, but I know in many cases, it’s a way more effective idea.

But here’s something that influencer marketing can’t do — temporarily bring a friendly face to your brand.
I like using Tinder as an example. Let’s say an influencer would promote their app as an individual (allow me not to create a campaign on the spot).
Would it work? Maybe.

But I know for sure that their branded podcast, TDR shed a completely different light on a company for me!
They told all sorts of dating stories — funny, bizarre, uplifting!
And I transitioned from perceiving Tinder as “That hookup app” to just a dating tool that may actually help people meet somebody special. And if not, they can always try again. And that people working at Tinder are people like you and me, not a bunch of bros that think of only one thing

Say I am a start-up founder, and I am thinking about launching my own podcast. What do you recommend to me, in terms of tools, equipment, channels, direction, anything? To put it bluntly, what is the (essential) starter kit for a podcaster?

Of course, you’re a start-up founder that wants to launch her own podcast![laugh].

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Jokes aside, I’d always start with the premise.
What’s the big idea behind your podcast other than personal branding? What is the message *only you* as a host can share with the world?

The best formula is always “I’m doing a podcast about X. It’s interesting because of Y”.
Once you got that part, come up with some exciting format.

Maybe you can start a chat show with other founders who share some interesting traits (other than being a white-bearded male in their 30s)?
Or you’d do some investigative journalism to better understand the problem your company is trying to solve.
Or maybe you have a dog spa app and in every episode will tell a story from a perspective of a different pet?

Of course examine your idea before you go too crazy, but I would always advise to stay original.
There are way too many bland podcasts around.

When you have that, it’s really a matter of picking a hosting service, a reliable microphone, and any audio editing software. I’d suggest getting an external recorder too.

To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend any product in particular — there’s plenty of tutorials and opinions on gear out there. And depending on your voice tone a different microphone might work better. Really, ask a singer if you know one!
And one more thing — audio is not digital photography, newer products are not necessarily better.
Recently I’m having a great time using Shure SM58, and these are made the same way since 1966.

As a startup founder — and a noob in terms of creating my own podcast — is there any way for you to help other fellow entrepreneurs and me in launching our own professional podcast? How do you do that?

At Earborne Media we focus on end-to-end podcast production for enterprise customers, thanks to our combined background.

If you need help with podcast design, screenwriting, or getting prepared as a host — we can offer individual consulting too.

In podcasting, the methodology is not more foreign than anywhere else: you have to create a needs analysis, understand your target audience, and — what probably needs the most support from somebody with experience — find your own voice.

But in most cases, I tend to give similar answers to the same simple questions, so if you need a word of advice feel free to drop me an email.

What’s your favourite podcast? Or your top faves?

My list of favorites changes every now and then, but recently I’m quite hooked on Anthropocene Reviewed — it’s very entertaining, I strongly recommend it.

Darknet Diaries would be among my all-time favorites, especially since hackers telling their stories won’t work that well with any other medium.

If you haven’t listened to Carrier yet, I strongly recommend it too. The production quality of this one really kept me on my toes.

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— Yes, I know a podcast would’ve been more suitable, but we are on different continents right now, and the struggle is real, so we decided to write it down for the sake of audio quality.
So, a written Q&A in podcasting works for now, but I swear on the podcast gods that once I get to meet Kris in person again, we will record a hell of a podcast and you will love it.

You can also check out some podcast-related posts that I wrote 👇

// Nota bene

  • most stats are from PodcastInsights
  • there is no affiliate link, paid partnership or whatsoever in this interview with the mentioned brands

Working with tech products that always have a cause and solve a problem | Data-Driven Marketer • Strategist • Product & Startup Enthusiast • Occasional Speaker

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