Pod People

Podcasts are easy to produce and distribute, they have reach and influence…what’s not to like?  

Even as a telecommuter, I still need to get out of the house once in a while — so on a rainy Monday morning, I hop on a bus to my favorite coffee shop and cue up the latest episode of Pod Save America. Despite my Spotify Premium account and several other avenues of entertainment preloaded onto my phone, I find myself turning to informative podcasts more and more, and I’m not alone.

Podcasts are bigger than ever, with popular ones like Serial, This American Life, TED Radio Hour, Radiolab, and more informing the lives of people all over the country. The more sensational podcasts, like Serial, had people sharing frantically sharing theories over morning coffee, and live tapings of quiz shows like NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! regularly pack sold-out houses. The numbers don’t lie – 21% of Americans listened to podcasts on a monthly basis in 2016, and the fact is, marketing professionals can use this avenue to reach new audiences, engage new potential clients, and promote their brand as widely as possible.

Here are two examples of prominent companies effectively using podcasts: In 2015 Chicago technology company Basecamp launched a podcast called “The Distance” to tell stories about businesses that have lasted for at least 25 years. Their podcast reinforced their commitment to longevity, telling stories of businesses that embody it. Goldman Sachs launched its bi-weekly podcast Exchanges in late 2014, which they used as a thought-leadership tool that positioned Goldman’s bankers and analysts as leading experts on topics from Brexit to low carbon technologies to media disruption. Both feature high production value, but content strategies for podcasts are at least as important as production quality or consistency. As Paul Feiner, marketing lead at the education-based content marketing platform The Big Know, told AdWeek, “any marketers doing podcasts just because others are doing them will simply add to the internet wasteland of short-sighted marketing tactics.”

Creating an entertaining yet informative podcast to reach out to listeners can be one of the most effective forms of marketing available, yet very few businesses are taking advantage of this form of marketing. I can’t necessarily understand why this is — providing a fun way to pass on your marketing message seems like a slam dunk, right? There’s no amount of money necessarily required; they’re time-efficient and can be streamed while working or commuting; they’re convenient and easy to find, download and consume; and ultimately and most importantly, they feel more personal. Rather than a mass email, a podcast feels like a chat with a friend, which will draw in a larger audience than a newsletter or, really, even a blog post. (Should I be taking my own advice? Probably.)

Perhaps the key to using a podcast is to mask marketing as a learning experience, as this is why many people turn to podcasts in the first place. Popular podcasts like Stuff You Missed in History Class are helping people learn about historical events and engage them with cool new facts, so if your brand’s podcast can find a fun, entertaining spin on the content you want to promote, lean into it! Don’t be afraid to make jokes, use personal stories, or come up with a framework that keeps audiences engaged, as it will only work to your benefit. Consider adding podcasts to your communications mix.

Perfect Pitch

Media pitchingYou never know how the other half lives until you rummage through their inboxes. The thought occurred to me as I wondered why a perfect media pitch – great subject line, counterintuitive angle, timely – was floating in the ether, unnoticed, unappreciated…unloved.

But I should know better. I’ve spent a lot of my time on the other side as an editor receiving these queries. And most of that time has been spent flicking them aside. Some were worthy of a glance – the subject caught my eye at just that time – but most were summarily dispatched to the trash bin. That’s just the way it is (sorry, PR folks!).

In principle, reporters, bloggers and pr pros work toward the same purpose: find great, or, at least, interesting stories and expert or eye-witnesses to bring them to life. But the relationship also has an inherent adversarial aspect: reporters are by training if not by inclination, wary of anything anyone has to “sell”…while the pr person vies for a moment of attention, knowing there are too many of them with stories to tell and far too few reporters with the time or interest in hearing them.

For readers unaware of what a query is, it’s really another word for “pitch.” It’s typically a concise description of an idea for an article and why it’s timely, usually concluding with an offer to make subjects (your client) available for interviews. Queries can be proactively sent to reporters covering relevant beats, to an editor for consideration in a planned feature article, or sent in response to a reporter on deadline seeking story sources. Public relations is tied to news cycles and editorial schedules – when a reporter reaches out on deadline you need to respond immediately with a cogent, timely query. Queries are actually the main currency in PR – they’re a combination of a legal brief and 30 second TV commercial. If you’re faster and more clever, if you have a client with something fresh to contribute, if you can pack a lot of information in a short space, you have a good chance to be successful.  

My experience on the other side of the transaction has given me realistic expectations, but it’s also enabled me to set the bar for every query I write – sort of a WWND (What Would Nina Do) if this hit my inbox: would I actually stop and read this?      

Speaking from experience, editors aren’t completely jaded or unwelcoming – they’re always on the lookout for a brilliant hook. Something that leaps out because it was unexpected, provocative, funny.  The lede grabs you, it hits you with a stat or trend you never imagined and all of a sudden you’re not just reading to the end (egads!), but wanting to see where it’s headed… you want to see the story!

I never gave much thought to what could make a query really “grab” someone until I started working in PR, but it’s something I’m constantly thinking about — looking for that elusive turn of phrase, the counterintuitive angle into the story, how to connect something in the news with something a client of ours can insightfully speak to.  

I’d like to offer some handy tips or suggest there’s a “science” to writing queries that cut through the noise. But apart from the obvious – be quick, compelling and timely – there’s no real formula. I believe it comes down to the thing that reporters and pr people (good ones, at least) do have in common – an instinct for “news”: the ability to know, just know what is and what isn’t topical and newsworthy…and to frame your query accordingly.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to refresh my inbox…someone must respond to this query!

(Update: success! A reporter with the Hartford Courant wants to interview our client for a story on small businesses being affected by the opioid epidemic.)

Summer is Over. Possibly for Good. (But it’s not necessarily a bad thing)

What a quaint idea!

The question is: did it ever begin?

It’s a Wednesday morning, and as usual, I’m certain my entire computer will crash. Between Safari and Chrome, I have about a thousand different tabs open, and my MacBook is positively humming with either excitement or exhaustion. I’m editing a photo for a blog post in one, looking up reporter contacts in another, moving between about five different Twitter accounts, and reviewing a press release all at once, when I take a second, stop, and look at the calendar.

It’s July. Why am I working so hard?

We’ve all heard the phrase “the dog days of summer,” and we’re raised to celebrate that lazy, hazy, summertime feeling from the time we’re kids — but once you grow up, graduate, and get a job, that wonderful “school’s out” feeling is no more, and we can go ahead and say goodbye to summer vacation, spring breaks, and anything aside from the occasional holiday or our precious vacation time.

Like the climate, summer is changing. We may anticipate and plan for the changing seasons, change the way we dress and time our vacations accordingly, but the pace and rhythm from one season to the next has been pretty steady. Since business has become global and 24/7, a version of the old mid-day drinking principle applies: someone somewhere is at his/her desk doing consequential work. Maybe even waiting for your call or email!     

I think back on the recent vacations I’ve taken, particularly in the summer, and realize not one of them has truly been a “vacation.” Even a trip to the beach requires a 7 AM alarm so that I can get my work out of the way before I can settle down in the sand with a beach read and a cold drink, and instinctively, this feels so wrong to me. I’ve taken a weekday off here and there to do fun summertime things, but I’m still glued to my email and my Twitter accounts in case something needs my attention. Isn’t summertime the time to unplug? (Don’t answer that.)

We need to resign ourselves to a hard reality of post-modern life: summer is over — at least as we remember it (e.g., beach picnics and afternoons of paddle boating and outdoor antique fairs). Once you accept this (you can still work on the beach and while you’re paddle boating, for what it’s worth), summer can be the perfect time to start planning a fall campaign so that by the time Labor Day rolls around, you’re not scrambling to figure out your next steps. Though you might have convinced yourself that everyone has professionally checked out over the summer, think again… or rather, look around you, or even look at yourself! It might not be the best time to make a launch, but whatever launch you’re looking at can be carefully plotted and planned for a fall release. Use these lazy days wisely… they can be more valuable than you think, even when your brain is screaming for a day of sand, surf and sun.