Executive Producer Christopher Phin has worked with multiple teams across DC Thomson’s portfolio over the past three years helping them to get podcasts started. Here, he tells us why podcasting is such a powerful format for publishers.
I remember having a conversation with a commercial colleague who was senior to me in both rank and age when I first started making podcasts at our company. They wanted to understand what podcasts were, and how we could monetise them.
The problem with this question isn’t really the ‘making money’ bit, it’s trying to communicate the power, the delight, and the opportunities of podcasts to someone who isn’t already listening to them for hours every week.
I mean, there’s a technical definition – an RSS feed pointing to a bunch of MP3s on a server somewhere – or there’s the more human-friendly fudge: they’re a bit like radio shows you usually listen to on-demand on your phone. But neither of these gets to the magic of podcasting; if someone is listening to your show on headphones, your voice seems to emanate from the centre of their skull, the very closest you can get to someone.
Because you don’t need risky investments in time and money to be able to make podcasts, shows exist which super-serve the tiniest of niches with passion and love, or give a unique spin just for you to a topic thousands of others are covering in uncountable different ways.
This is why, I think, I failed to communicate to my colleague those years ago; I didn’t know them well enough to be able to recommend shows they should listen to that would really resonate, and so the power of that intimacy, of feeling like you are sitting at a table with some of your best friends and co-conspirators, didn’t land.
When someone is stepping out of their front door to get to work, you can be the reason they see the next 45 minutes of their life – trudging, driving, crushed on public transport – not as a tedious duty, as time stolen from them by capitalism, but as a chance finally to listen to the latest episode of a show that speaks to them, their identity, their soul.
It’s not ‘doing the ironing’, it’s laughing and raging with the latest Guilty Feminist. It’s not ‘walking the dog’, it’s greedily gobbling the back catalogue of Off Menu. It’s not ‘freezing your arse off on the sidelines in late January while your kid plays five-a-side’, it’s freezing your arse off on the sidelines in late January while your kid plays five-a-side while being inspired and challenged by BetterPod.
At each turn, you, you can be the thing that turns a duty, a dirge into an opportunity to spend time with comrades and confidantes, becoming for that half hour, that hour, more yourself. Life can strip your identity and being from you as you work and care for people around you; your friends who live in your ears can restore them.
Ollie Guillou said it best in a quote for The Publisher Podcast Summit: “Podcasts allow brands to connect emotionally with their audience, in a more deep and meaningful way than is possible through other mediums. It’s a way of turning fans into friends, making them feel like part of the family by inviting them to join the conversation.”
There’s so much more. Skilling up journalists to be audio engineers, editors, producers and on-mic talent can be challenging, but it is intensely rewarding, and these skills bleed into lots of other areas of the business.
Podcasts can be a place to experiment with tone in a ring-fenced way which nevertheless advances the interests of a parent brand; look at The Week Unwrapped, say, or one of my old shows, Reading Between The Lines, the story podcast from The People’s Friend. Finding new audiences and learning new ways to tell stories in an authentic and deeply personal voice is such a joy, and it’s something podcasting gives you the space and time to do – slowly, but inexorably.
Of course there’s money to be made, with ads, sponsorships, native content, subs drivers, events and more, but while we should never fall into the old editorial trap of just making good content and working out how to monetise it later, you can – maybe even must – start with your expectations appropriately calibrated. If you focus on making the format and workflows deliverable, this needn’t be a play that costs you much in terms of time or money.
While the rewards might at first be hard to measure, and mean even when you can, just fix in your mind’s eye that person setting out on their commute. You can be the reason they’re excited for the next 45 minutes of their life. That’s both an incredibly powerful position for a brand to be in, and just a wondrous thing to be able to give another human.
And that’s what I wish I’d said to that senior colleague in 2019.
Christopher Phin will be leading a workshop at the Publisher Podcast Summit on October 5th on what kit publishers need to get started with podcasts. In the three years he spent starting DC Thomson’s podcasts channel from scratch, Chris worked with teams across the company to launch more than a dozen shows, with a wide variety of formats, editorial missions and commercial goals. He helped turn journalists into broadcasters, and developed and codified best practice for local, remote and hybrid recording and production.
For more on the Publisher Podcast Summit and to get your tickets, visit the website.