Launching a podcast can be an intimidating prospect for publishers. Editorial resources, concepts and marketing strategies all need to be carefully thought through to ensure the product resonates with listeners. But if done well, podcasts can not only enhance a brand’s existing content offering; it can bring in a whole new audience hungry for more.

Ahead of the Publisher Podcast Summit on October 5th, we asked four of the speakers what opportunities audio had opened up for them. BuzzFeed’s Ada Enechi, The Telegraph’s Cara McGoogan, Women’s Running’s Esther Newman and Tortoise’s Alice Sandelson explain how they’ve benefited from the podcast boom and what it’s added to their brands.

Deeper storytelling

BuzzFeed UK has been using podcasts as a way to build relationships with its younger audiences. Head of Culture Ada Enechi leads the publisher’s Seasoned brand, focused on the black British experience. Their weekly podcast Seasoned Sessions features Enechi and fellow producer Hanifah Rahman, who chat about the Black news and trending topics of the week.

“Making content can be quite limiting sometimes, because you have a lot to say, but you can’t make an hour-long video for Facebook,” Enechi told us, when we asked what opportunities the format had opened. “Podcasting has opened the door to explore important conversations, whilst highlighting individuals that are making differences in society.”

Seasoned Sessions has now published over 100 episodes since launching in July 2020. It is an excellent example of a podcast launched alongside a vertical, which can deepen relationships between editorial staff like Enechi and Rahman, and their audiences. 

The Telegraph has also found that podcasts allow the team to go much deeper with its storytelling. It has a range of shows, from weekly newscasts to intimate conversations about mental health, and hard-hitting investigative series.

“Podcasts have allowed the Telegraph to take the time to tell in-depth stories with a human heart,” said Cara McGoogan, Narrative Audio Journalist at The Telegraph and the presenter of its award-winning investigative series Bed of Lies. “They have brought a new audience to the Telegraph’s investigative reporting and given us ambition in a whole new area of journalism.”

Building audiences

McGoogan’s point about bringing in new audiences is echoed by the experience of Women’s Running, an Anthem Publishing brand. The Women’s Running team spotted a huge gap in the podcast world: a podcast that was about running, about women, and also long enough to keep listeners entertained on longer runs. 

“We don’t want to listen to blokes waffling on about quads and cadence (we can do that perfectly well ourselves, thank you very much),” noted Holly Taylor in the launch announcement. “We want to listen to women who have made a proper difference in running, who have done some incredible running themselves, and who we can have a giggle with.”

The podcast was initially intended as a marketing tool to help drive audiences to the magazine and Women’s Running Plus membership. But as the months went on, they realised that the audience coming through the podcast was different.

“[Podcasting] has made us understand that adding a podcast (or any channel) to your output doesn’t necessarily grow your existing audience,” Editor Esther Newman told us. “It provides you with a new one, which needs individual nurturing.”

Now, the publisher has in place a strategy specifically to build relationships with these new listeners. Newman has noticed for this new audience, membership perks and physical magazines are less of a focus. “For us at least, the chemistry between the hosts is more important than the tangible benefits we’re offering,” she explained. “Our listeners are less interested in tips to get to their first 10K and more interested in the time I was almost bitten by a swan!”

A total transformation

Three-year-old investigative newsroom Tortoise is focused on slow news: stories and investigations that reveal what’s driving the news, not breaking it. The publisher launched its first podcast at the end of 2019, a weekly investigative show. However, podcasts have been such a success that Tortoise now describes itself as an audio-first publisher, with its shows reaching over 3 million monthly downloads.

“We initially launched long-reads and data journalism, but a year ago, we decided that Tortoise would become audio-first, and audio became the primary output of our journalism on our website and app” explained Alice Sandelson, Tortoise’s Head of Strategic Growth. “Since then, and thanks to a few hit shows, we’ve also grown a massive audience on podcast platforms.”

“Now, we’re focused on how we can bring more slow news and investigations to our listeners and our members.”

Tortoise launched as a membership-first organisation, with ThinkIns, daily emails and member-only invitations designed to build a close community around its content. Recently, they have been using Apple Podcasts’ Subscriptions tool to introduce an additional reader revenue arm.

“It became clear as we were publishing Sweet Bobby, our hit show about a catfishing scam, that we were building a large off-platform listenership,” Tortoise Editor Basia Cummings said in an interview with Apple Podcasts. “Building a relationship with our audience – whether through a Tortoise membership… or through Apple Podcasts Subscriptions – is crucial to us at Tortoise as a business and as journalists. Subscriptions enabled us to bring those listeners closer to our newsroom.”

Fully pivoting to be audio-first is almost certainly a step too far for most publishers. But Tortoise’s investment and subsequent success with podcasts shows what a good fit audio is for organisations with storytelling at their heart.

BuzzFeed’s Ada Enechi, The Telegraph’s Cara McGoogan, Women’s Running’s Esther Newman and Tortoise’s Alice Sandelson will all be speaking at the Publisher Podcast Summit on October 5th. Join us to hear them talk about building new audiences, how to create a podcast that aligns with your brand, the benefits of audio for long-form investigations, and more – see the full agenda here. The Summit is held in London and will be livestreamed to virtual ticket holders. 

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