We’re celebrating a milestone this week: Media Voices’ 200th podcast episode. So almost five years after publishing our first episode, here are ten things we’ve learned.
1: Keep showing up
This is perhaps our most important lesson. 75% of shows in Apple Podcasts are no longer active, and data suggests that only 16% of podcasts get past more than 9 episodes. To overcome podfade, you need to show up on a regular basis, whether that be daily, weekly, or monthly.
That’s not to say keep going regardless – we’re careful to schedule breaks around Easter, Christmas and over the summer so we don’t burn out. But we’ve always got a plan about when we’re back, and we communicate that to our audience as well.
2: Put the work in to get diverse guests
The media industry – especially its leadership – is notoriously un-diverse. It would be easy to sit back, shrug, and say that we’re just going to reflect the industry in our interviews. But it’s really important to us to seek out diverse voices to hear, as well as the big-name CEOs.
This takes a lot of research, and a lot of outreach. It means we have to constantly keep checks on ourselves as well. We don’t always get the balance right, but we try really hard to ensure that Media Voices is a podcast which features a diverse range of people and publications.
3: Do your research, and listen
When podcasts are interview-based like ours, it can be easy to get lazy with guests. But research and preparation ahead of talking to guests really makes a difference. You can only ask interesting questions if you know about the work your guests do and why they do it.
We have a policy of sending questions to guests ahead of our interview as we want them to have thought through their answers – we’re not out to do the ‘gotcha’ type interviews. But listening is also important, and we’re equally prepared to ditch those questions if the conversation goes off in another, more interesting, direction.
Research isn’t just important for our interviews. We’re all constantly looking to learn from other podcasters, which is why we’ve got a dedicated series on Lessons from Award-Winning Podcasts based on the winners of our annual Publisher Podcast Awards. Whether it’s tips on sound quality or crafting a good podcast episode, there are learnings here for everyone.
4: Get a good workflow in place
It took us a while to get this one right! In early 2020, more than four years into publishing Media Voices, we were looking to launch a daily newsletter. But we realised we needed to look at our workflow from beginning to end in order to work out where we could be more efficient with our time.
We now use Pocket on a daily basis to save and collect articles the three of us read in one ‘bucket’. This helps keep the daily newsletter balanced, and Pocket also integrates with our newsletter platform Revue, so it’s easy to pull content in. This also means we have a collection of articles at the end of the week when we come to put together our news round-up.
Easy collaboration is vital to the three of us, and we frequently use Google Drive and Docs to pull together the script for each episode. Other tools include WhatsApp for feedback and daily communication; TweetDeck for social media; Otter for transcripts (message us if you’d like a referral); Revue for our newsletter, WordPress for our website and Podbean as our (new) podcast hosts.
5: Focus on quality…and the edit
Another one we were late to, if you’ve ever listened to our earlier episodes! We thought it was fine to just bumble along with manageable sound quality until a very senior publishing executive told us he loved what we were saying, but could barely stand to listen to it because our quality just wasn’t good enough. As a result, we prioritised sound quality in late 2017, switching from Skype (I know I know) to Cast. Following some sync issues, we’re now trying out some new tools.
However, 200 episodes later, the editing process is still almost as time consuming. There are a few tricks we’ve learned to speed it up, but you can still expect to spend between two to four times as long editing as you did recording.
Wherever possible, we’ve tried to ensure the recording setup for each of us is as consistent as possible to mitigate editing time. Thanks to our generous Ko-Fi supporters, we’ve been able to invest in some soundproofing panels and new microphones – we’re currently using Samson Q2U’s – and decent, noise-cancelling headphones are next on the list.
Experience is the best teacher. It’s really important to be proactive, seek out and experiment with new options, whether that be the recording software you use, or tools and tricks to speed up the editing process. We’ve also found it really helpful to share our experiences with other people who in turn help us out – Chris Phin is a must-follow if you’re after podcast production tips.
6: Manage your expectations
Unless you’re the New York Times, podcasts are not a big numbers game. There’s a huge misalignment in expectations for listens in the industry. People expect that because you have fifty thousand pageviews a month, that will translate to a similar number of podcast listens.
But that’s simply not the case. From our experience, a publisher can expect to translate between 3-8% of their website audience to podcast listeners. But the engagement is far higher; these people are dedicating half an hour of their day to listen to you. See them as your superfans, not as part of a scale game.
We’d always like our own numbers to be higher. Currently, we attract a high four-figure number of listeners a month. We’d be really happy if we could tip that into the five-figure bracket, but we’re a niche B2B podcast so the quality of our audience is far more important to us than the quantity.
7: Don’t undersell yourself commercially
This all leads onto another vital point. Just because you don’t have hundreds of thousands of listeners doesn’t mean you should undersell yourself when it comes to sponsorship and monetisation.
After advice from sales consultants and industry friends, we doubled the price of our sponsored Conversations episodes. We’d been so focused on the number of listeners that we hadn’t appreciated the value of our audience, which our newsletter list gives a good insight into. The seniority of those individuals and the companies they represented gave potential sponsors confidence that the right people would be listening.
No one has batted an eyelid at the price increase. And because of the time we spend crafting the Conversations episodes to appeal to our listeners, they usually perform just as well – and for some, far better – than our regular weekly interviews.
8: Build out other touchpoints with your audience
Podcasts are a very one-way medium. In order to build and cultivate a community, we needed other ways of reaching our listeners. We’ve got our Twitter account, which we use to shout about new episodes, but also comment on and share industry news.
But the best touchpoint for us has been our daily newsletter, which we launched back in May 2020. This really changed our team dynamic, and the way we interact with and build our audience.
The names on our newsletter list have become the best gauge of our audience quality. Although we can’t guarantee they listen every week, they’ve chosen to be part of the Media Voices world, and this has been really helpful in commercial conversations too.
Newsletters aren’t necessarily the easiest product to build out, especially not a daily one. We wrote about what we’ve learned since launching a daily newsletter here, if you’d like to read more.
No podcast is an island. Not only is collaboration good for our growth, we love doing it. Whether it be inviting industry friends on as guest hosts, or giving a shoutout to an event in our newsletter, we think it’s really important to help and support others.
We’re lucky enough to have a core group of superfans, who regularly write to us, tweet us and comment on episodes. It’s important to take the time to write back and answer questions or queries, as well as looking at sharing their work and supporting them too.
We’re also now building out the written analysis section of the Media Voices site. This isn’t strictly speaking involving people with the podcast, but is a good way of being able to pay expert contributors to collaborate with us.
10: Have fun!
This is possibly the most important lesson. We’ve all heard podcasts where the hosts sound like Marvin the Paranoid Android. If you’re enjoying working on the podcast, that will come through. And unless you’re being an asshat, your audience will enjoy listening too.
Getting the dynamic right between the three of us has never been a problem. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always be looking for ways to improve. Recent experiments with having video on during recording has made it easier to read each other’s cues, and also opens opportunities to make fun of Peter’s sticky-up hair.
It’s because we have fun that we get up early on the weekends to record this. Over the course of the past 200 episodes, we’ve recorded from hospital car parks, halfway around the world, and live on stage at numerous industry conferences. In fact, we enjoy it so much, we’re considering sticking around for another 200 episodes.
Media Voices is brought to you by Chris Sutcliffe, Esther Kezia Thorpe, and Peter Houston. They release new episodes of the podcast every Monday, featuring interviews with leading figures from media and publishing businesses. Search ‘Media Voices’ on your podcast app of choice to listen, or subscribe to their daily newsletter to get new episodes and key media stories straight to your inbox.