Podcasts That Pop: 6 Tips from an Industry Veteran

September 28, 2021

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GUEST

Ron Dawson

Owner, Blade Ronner Media


Podcasts have exploded in growth and popularity since Serial first went viral back in October 2014. As of April this year, there are over 2 million podcasts and nearly 50 million available episodes.

But I don’t need to convince you about the importance of podcasting. The fact that you’re reading this suggests you already know that quite well.

If you’re here looking for insight on how to make the right strategic decisions as you produce and promote your podcast, I have lots to share with you. These are lessons I’ve gleaned over 14 years of producing podcasts, as well as being an avid listener myself.

Let’s walk through each one in a bit more depth.

Set your show apart

One of the most important first steps in producing any kind of content — be it a podcast, YouTube channel, or blog — is deciding what will differentiate your show from the rest.

“One of the most important first steps in producing any kind of content is deciding what will differentiate your show from the rest.”

The first podcast I ever produced was in 2007. At the time, I had a video production company and I was looking to transition from mostly wedding gigs to corporate work. Specifically, I wanted to focus on the professional photography industry (e.g., shooting promotional videos for high-profile photographers, large corporate vendors, photo expos, etc.).

As such, I found myself running around a lot of photography conventions with my video gear, which isn’t exactly a way to spark new conversations with photographers. I didn’t want to just be known as “that video guy” — I wanted them to want to work with me.

I had an idea: If I launched a podcast interviewing high-profile photographers, I could elevate my image and brand in the pro photography community and build my network. For all intents and purposes, it was a brand affinity strategy.

So I started F-Stop Beyond, an interview-style show in the vein of NPR’s Fresh Air. Over the course of two years and about 110 episodes, I interviewed the likes of Chase Jarvis, Vincent Laforet, Zack Arias, Jerry Ghionis, and many other world-renowned photographers.

What set my show apart at the time was the conversational vibe. The few podcasts that existed back then were typically about tips and tricks of photography. I, on the other hand, made a point to focus on the artist, not the art, and showcase different people’s stories. That would actually become the hallmark of all my podcast interview-style work.

If the decision to create a show that set itself apart was important back in 2007, it is exponentially more important now. Thousands of new shows are created each day, and if there isn’t something that makes yours stand out from the rest, the already-hard job of cutting through all that noise is going to be more difficult.

“If the decision to create a show that sets itself apart was important back in 2007, it is exponentially more important now.”

That said, there are many ways you can set yourself apart. Note: When I talk about standing out, I mean within the podcasting genre you’ve chosen. So whether you decide to do an interview show or a panel show — or any other type of show you’re thinking about — how will you stand apart from other types of shows in that same category?

Here are a few ideas:

Style

Your show is going to have its own style. How you produce the show, the kind of music you use, the interviews you conduct, even how you conduct your interviews all contribute to the overall style.

Think of a podcast like Radiolab with its quick, “chopped up” style of cutting, fun juxtaposition, and sound design versus one like This American Life with its highly produced segments covering different topics all related to a larger theme.

Both shows are journalistic in nature, have many guests, exceptional hosts, and sometimes even cover similar topics. But each has a very different feel and style.

Hosts

I can’t emphasize how important it is to have hosts that are engaging and comfortable on the mic. Your hosts will go a long way in making your show unique.

There are about a gajillion interview podcasts on the internet (that is an unofficial stat, but trust me, it’s probably pretty close!). Yet interview shows like Mark Maron’s WTF or Joe Rogan’s Joe Rogan Experience are still extremely successful because of their hosts.

Likewise, there are probably a ton of political podcasts (yes, another non-scientific, but still equally justifiable quantity), but consider shows like Pod Save America and Even More News. Both are liberal shows covering similar topics, set apart largely again because of their hosts.

Your angle

What angle will you take with your chosen topic?

Going back to my example with F-Stop Beyond, I did a show interviewing photographers in which I focused on the artist and not the craft. Black Men Can’t Jump (in Hollywood) is a movie review show that focuses on movies with leading actors of color. Household Faces is another podcast that interviews celebrities, but the focus is on character actors — actors you’d recognize, even if you don’t know their name.

Each one of the above examples covers topics that are similar to other podcasts, but the chosen angle helps set them apart.

Pick the right show name

While it’s true that “a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet,” that logic doesn’t apply to podcasting. No matter how good your podcast is, if you pick the “wrong” name, it could cost you literally thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of listeners.

Why? Because when there are over 2 million podcasts to choose from and thousands more arriving each day, a good name is a critical opportunity to capture the attention of your potential audience.

A good podcast name should meet several requirements. It should be:

  • Unique: This is a hard one. But as much as is possible, pick a name that doesn’t sound like a show that already exists. The more unique, the better. (I trust you’re Googling your potential podcast name before you start buying a URL or recording episodes).
  • Memorable: A catchy and clever name is usually the easiest for people to remember. The actor Minnie Driver’s new show Minnie Questions is a great example of this.
  • Informative: Ideally, the show’s title will give the listener an idea of what it’s about. I offer this advice with the presumption that most of you reading this don’t already have huge brands with millions of followers around the world. If you do have such a brand, or if you personally have that kind of following, you can name your podcast after yourself (i.e., Life is Short with Justin Long) and people will flock to it.
  • Creative: While a show called “The Book Review Podcast” may indeed tell you exactly what it does, it’s not a name that inspires people to click. (But again, this depends on your following. If you’re the New York Times, you can get away with it.)

Be consistent

Perhaps the most consistent piece of advice given to anyone looking to produce a show or series is to be consistent (how meta!). Setting a regular cadence for your show accomplishes three important things:

  • It sets listener expectations. Many people listen to a variety of podcasts every week, so they need to know they can trust that their favorite shows will come out when they’re supposed to. This is particularly important when just starting out.
  • It sets a baseline to grow from. Like any series, your show will “find its legs” and evolve into a more definitive style. It may take a few episodes for you to figure out what feels best in terms of how you ask questions, edit the show, etc. Being consistent helps you find and get into your groove.
  • It improves the show. We’ve all heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect.” Consistently producing and putting out content will improve your work. In fact, this is such an important aspect of producing content that it was the primary piece of advice podcast legend Ira Glass gave in this famous segment to artists wanting to improve their quality of work. His answer: Do a large volume of work, consistently.

When it comes to consistency, the most important consideration is what you’re able to maintain. Having a consistent flow of episodes that arrive on time is more important than sticking to an unrealistic publishing schedule, even if that’s what you feel pressured to do.

“Having a consistent flow of episodes that are on time is more important than having a high cadence of shows that may not be consistent.”

Releasing a podcast episode every other week for a long period of time is better than doing it weekly for a few weeks, losing steam, and then not publishing anything for a while. Naturally, if you can sustain a more frequent cadence of high-quality content, that’s better. As far as how to do that, that leads right into my next piece of advice.

Create processes and procedures

Producing a quality podcast is hard work. Writing, producing, engineering, editing, hosting, researching, and assisting are all roles that need to be filled to some extent. An ideal scenario would be having a team of people at your disposal to handle all of the roles, whether they’re internal or you work with an agency.

However, I hazard to guess there are a number of you out there like me — lone podcasters attempting to do it all on their own. If that’s you, you’ll still have to figure out how to fulfill all of those roles.

Here are some of the tips I’ve learned over the years. These are applicable no matter what kind of podcast you produce.

Make a list of potential guests and use a CRM-style system to track

I use a combination of Airtable and Streak to track the various guest interview statuses and correspondence. Here’s one of the Airtable views I use to track correspondence for Crossing the 180, the filmmaker interview podcast I host and produce for Pro Video Coalition.

When I’m actually in the process of emailing back and forth with potential guests, I use the Streak Gmail CRM.

Streak allows you to track all kinds of CRM pipeline systems, from sales to podcast booking. When emailing a potential guest, I can create a record on the fly or add a correspondence to an existing record.

Templates are your friend

Standardize as much as you can; you can never have too many templates when it comes to podcast production. I have templates for outgoing emails, Q&A templates, podcast script templates, blog post templates, podcast artwork templates, and templates for making new templates (just kidding on that last one — but you see where I’m going here).

“You can never have too many templates when it comes to podcast production.”

For script and Q&A templates, I’ve recently switched from Google Docs to Notion, and I gotta say, I think I’m hooked. I’ve created a top-level Notion Page with sub-pages for questions, scripts, and blog posts/show notes.

All I have to do is duplicate the “Template” page, and all the internal sub-pages get duplicated as well.

The Crossing the 180 sub-page of my interview with the “We Are Lady Parts” DP.

Notion allows you to easily add a long list of different elements to a page — text, tables, videos, toggle lists, to-do lists, worksheets, databases, and more can all be added. For example, I use the Toggle lists to add Questions, and I use the drop-down toggle areas to write in the guest answers.

This leads me to the next organizational tip … 

Take notes

Taking notes is one of those duties that might otherwise be a job for your podcast producer. In my role as Story Producer for Wistia’s A Better Workplace podcast, that was something that fell to me. But, for Crossing the 180, where I wear all the hats, I take notes and conduct the interview myself.

Notes are extremely helpful to me later on when I edit the show — whether it’s making a note of a mistake or segment to remove or bringing to the surface which points I want to highlight in the show notes and/or blog post.

Back up everything

If you’re familiar with video production processes, you already know the importance of backing up your media. The same goes for podcast production. I use Zoom for recording interviews and as soon as the recording has finished processing, I immediately upload a copy to either my Google Drive account or my Wipster account.

As I typically conduct those interviews on my Windows laptop but edit on my Mac, I also end up with a third copy of the file. So that gives me three copies: The Zoom folders on my Microsoft Surface laptop, one in the cloud, and the third on my Mac.

Follow up with potential clients

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a self-employed creative is the importance of following up. For many professional creatives, I know it feels awkward sending out follow-up emails to potential clients every few months if their first answer is, “Not yet.”

However, people are busy. Circling back with them ensures they remember what you’ve talked about and shows them you’re still interested in working with them, and it increases your chances of eventually getting an affirmative answer.

The follow-up is equally important in podcast booking. You’d be surprised how long it takes sometimes for me to finally secure a guest I’ve been wanting to work with. It would not be out of the ordinary for me to have up to a dozen or more back-and-forth emails with a potential guest before getting a definitive answer (whether it’s a “yes” or a “no.”)

Find your own booking “hero”

Once you’ve done all the follow-up necessary to finally land a guest or two, it’s time to book them.

As the story producer for A Better Workplace, that duty fell on my shoulders. Since we had two hosts, I had to book a minimum of four people for a time slot — me, the two hosts (Colin and Jane), and the guest. There was at least one time when we had to book two guests, so that meant coordinating the schedules of five people!

I love Calendar Hero for all my booking needs. It’s very similar to the popular schedule platform Calendly, but on steroids. My favorite feature is the ability to book multiple parties and select a time based on the most optimal time for each person’s schedule.

To use Calendar Hero, I send a customized invite link to all the people who need to be on the call. Each person selects all the dates and times that are available on my calendar that also work for them. You can see in the screenshot below that I have four Google calendars synced to the system, so Calendar Hero will only offer people times that work for me based on all of those calendars.

When a person accesses the link I send them, they are presented with the available dates and times (based on their local time zones). They must pick at least three.

Once at least three times are picked and each respondent submits, the system coordinates all of the selections, picks the best time from the options that match all parties, sends a calendar link for the date and time to everyone, and adds the meeting to my calendar automatically.

You can name the AI that books the meetings and sends the notifications. I named my “Rachael” as a nod to my company name Blade Ronner Media.

This system eliminates almost all the email back-and-forth you might normally have. Can you imagine four or five busy people all sending out their proposed dates and times via email, with you attempting to wrangle and negotiate with all of them to find a time that works? No need to, with a program like Calendar Hero.

Collaborate like a boss

If you are working with a team on a podcast, I cannot express enough the importance of using a project management tool to track all the moving pieces and communicate with people.

As part of the Wistia extended podcast team, I use Asana to track the various production stages. We primarily use the Kanban Board feature during the pre-production to post-production phases, where each production stage is a different column (if you’re familiar with Trello, you’ll see a lot of similarities here.) Once an episode transitions to the next production stage, I just drag it into the next column.

Each episode is a task, and there are sub-tasks for each of the major production stages. In turn, some of those sub-tasks also have sub-tasks.

Using a project management system like this makes it easy to keep everyone connected and informed and helps prevent anything from falling through the cracks.

Be smart about promotion

Contrary to the popular adage from Field of Dreams, just because you build a podcast doesn’t mean they will come. Like any good content strategy, promoting your content is imperative to its success. And given the stats I shared earlier about how many podcasts are out there, making sure people know about it is paramount.

“Contrary to the popular adage from Field of Dreams, just because you build a podcast doesn’t mean they will come.”

In addition to these practical podcast promotion tools and ideas — e.g., using pull quotes and audiograms — here are three other time-tested strategies for getting your show out there:

Share the show with high-trafficked blogs

From 2015 to 2017, I produced and hosted Radio Film School, a podcast I described as “This American Life for filmmakers.” It was a highly produced storytelling podcast about the craft of filmmaking; each episode wove in clips from multiple interviews, eclectic music, media clips, and sometimes sound design.

 

This show was an excellent case study of many of the practices I mention in this article. It was designed to be set apart from other filmmaking podcasts at the time, I chose a unique and memorable name, it was consistent (I posted 1–2 times a week), and I used all the various processes and procedures I’ve recommended to you.

The show got a huge traffic boost because I was able to get a write-up on the popular filmmaking website No Film School (which gets millions of visitors each month).

Shortly after this site called Radio Film School “The Filmmaking Podcast We’ve All Been Waiting For,” it shot up the iTunes charts. It got on the coveted “New & Noteworthy” section of Apple Podcasts, and for a few weeks, it was in the top ten visual arts podcasts. And it remained in the top 100 during the entire time I published it regularly!

This shows you how beneficial this type of exposure can be. I recommend making as long a list as possible of all the sites (small and large) that you think have an audience that would genuinely benefit from hearing your show. Next, reach out — with care not to be spammy . Without a doubt, use a template as we’ve discussed, but tailor it for each individual you’re contacting.

Keep in mind, these publishers are probably getting bombarded with dozens of emails a week from other podcasters, YouTubers, and content creators all looking to have their show featured on the site. So, make sure you mention what sets your show apart, why it would be newsworthy, and what the website’s audience will get from your show.

Engage your guests’ networks

It goes without saying that you should be sending your guests not only links to their published episodes but social media assets as well. Take the time to make it easy for them to share the show. Have a pre-written blurb they can Tweet or share on Instagram. Give them a pre-made audiogram with a clip of them speaking.


Depending on the kind of show you produce, guests may be just as motivated as you to share and promote their episode if it helps establish them as a thought-leader or gives them more promotional fodder for their own content projects, e.g., a book, film, new podcast, etc.

Pro-Tip
Get an inside look at our favorite promotional assets and best practices for building a podcast promo kit!

Speaking of cross-promotion…

Get on other podcasts

Podcasters going on other podcasts is an age-old and still extremely effective strategy for promoting your show. I can’t tell you how many shows I subscribe to because their hosts were guests on shows I was already listening to. So, when you’re in the process of making a list of blogs to tell about your show, make a similar list for podcasts.

“Podcasters going on other podcasts is an age-old and still extremely effective strategy for promoting your show.”

You may be wondering how many shows to contact. I recommend reaching out to at least 100. Yes — you read that right. One hundred podcasts.

If you’re committed to really getting your show out there, you have to play the numbers game. You will be rejected and ignored by many, if not most, of the people you contact. That’s just the nature of the business. But even if only 5% of the people you reach invite you on, that would be five shows, each ostensibly reaching thousands of potential new listeners.

Trust me: The time you spend reaching out will be some of the best investments you’ll make in your show.

And quid pro quo, if it makes sense. Offer the podcasters you contact opportunities to be on your show as well. This promotional strategy yields not only more listeners but also more guests, who will, again, share your published episodes with their audiences. And thus, the cycle continues.

Don’t lose sight of the bigger “why”

The last bit of advice I want to share is as timeless as art itself: Be passionate about what you’re creating. There must be some aspect of your show that makes you want to keep going. You will need that to get through the inevitable times when you feel like, “What’s it all for?” For those times when you look at the download numbers, then compare that to the hours you spent creating this thing, and you feel like it was all a waste.

You must have a positive return on investment (ROI) that keeps you going. That could be a traditional return on investment (i.e., huge download numbers or product/service conversions), or it could just be a creative fulfillment ROI.

Next to the satirical memoir I’m in the process of publishing, Radio Film School remains one of the most rewarding creative endeavors I’ve ever undertaken. And though I was able to land some decent sponsorships during the project, it was never enough to truly compensate me financially for the time I invested.

However, you can’t put a figure on the creative fulfillment and joy I got out of producing that show. And from a business standpoint, the connections I made also paid off. For example, two of my current content marketing clients are people I met when inviting guests on the show.

The very, very last thing I want to mention is the power of authenticity. When I interviewed popular podcaster and co-host of The Filmcast, Jeff Cannata, he shared that audiences will be able to tell if your heart really isn’t in whatever it is you’re creating. Just another reason to create something you’re truly passionate about. Create something you would want to listen to, and trust that it will resonate with others.

What has worked for you?

Podcasting is genuinely fun. It gives the wannabe celebrity in us an opportunity for our respective “fifteen minutes of fame,” even if we’ll never actually be famous..” It’s also a legitimately effective business and content marketing strategy that your business would be remiss not to at least try.

If you have tried pocasting, I’d love to read what strategies and practices have helped you succeed. Please share in the comments, learn from each other, and spread the love.

About the author

Ron Dawson

Owner, Blade Ronner Media

Ron Dawson is Owner and Lead Content Strategist for Blade Ronner Media. He combines an eclectic mix of experience from a 25+ year career working for large and small companies. Prior to starting Blade Ronner Media, he acted as managing editor and senior content marketing manager of Frame.io’s blog, helping it grow to become one of the most respected in the industry.

Now he works with his clients to create results-oriented marketing and content. He currently serves as the managing editor for both the Film Riot blog and OWC’s Rocket Yard blog, and director of content for the social media sharing platform UNUM. He’s also the host and producer of the filmmaker podcast Crossing the 180, part of Pro Video Coalition’s Art of the Frame podcast network.

Ron is a prolific author on Medium, has written for numerous industry websites and magazines, is co-author of ReFocus: Cutting Edge Strategies to Evolve Your Video Business, and is most recently the author of a satirical memoir (soon to be published). Once upon a time, he danced in a semi-professional Lindy Hop swing dance troupe.

About the author

Ron Dawson

Owner, Blade Ronner Media

Ron Dawson is Owner and Lead Content Strategist for Blade Ronner Media. He combines an eclectic mix of experience from a 25+ year career working for large and small companies. Prior to starting Blade Ronner Media, he acted as managing editor and senior content marketing manager of Frame.io’s blog, helping it grow to become one of the most respected in the industry.

Now he works with his clients to create results-oriented marketing and content. He currently serves as the managing editor for both the Film Riot blog and OWC’s Rocket Yard blog, and director of content for the social media sharing platform UNUM. He’s also the host and producer of the filmmaker podcast Crossing the 180, part of Pro Video Coalition’s Art of the Frame podcast network.

Ron is a prolific author on Medium, has written for numerous industry websites and magazines, is co-author of ReFocus: Cutting Edge Strategies to Evolve Your Video Business, and is most recently the author of a satirical memoir (soon to be published). Once upon a time, he danced in a semi-professional Lindy Hop swing dance troupe.

September 28, 2021

Topic tags

GUEST

Ron Dawson

Owner, Blade Ronner Media

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