Podcasting Part 1: How to Structure Your Podcast with Jay Acunzo

Jenny Coppola


If you’re in the B2B marketing world, you’ve likely heard of Jay Acunzo, Founder of Marketing Showrunners and producer and host of the podcast, Unthinkable — a narrative-driven production style podcast that’s earned him more than 130 five-star reviews on Apple Podcasts alone.

On his new podcast, 3 Clips, Jay deconstructs branded podcasts with co-host, Molly Donovan to give marketers a peek at a podcast’s format. For 3 Clips, they’ve adopted a little bit of a different strategy than the one they had for Unthinkable — one that requires fewer resources. Why? Well, Jay wants to prove that crafting an entertaining podcast isn’t just about your resources; it’s about your resourcefulness.

When it comes to resource constraints, marketers often tend to think they only have two options when it comes to making great podcasts. They usually create one of the following types of podcasts:

  1. An interview-style with little-to-no editing
  2. A narrative-style, NPR show with a big budget and lots of slick editing

But, when it comes to resourcefulness, the magic is often found in the middle ground.

That’s why we’re super excited to release a three-part series that uncovers how Jay has approached the creative direction of 3 Clips with limited resources. Keep an eye on the blog for parts two and three coming soon. To kick things off, we sat down with Jay to talk about how Trader Joe’s approached their own quirky podcast, Inside Trader Joe’s. Here are the top takeaways from the episode and how you can apply them to your own podcast strategy.

Structuring your story

A great way to structure your story is to follow questions your audience might have about your show. If you use your story structure to address these questions throughout an episode, then you should be able to encourage folks to listen to the whole thing. Make sense? To help make your life a little easier, Jay has mapped out some questions folks are likely to ask as soon as they press play:

  1. “Should I keep listening to this show?”
  2. “Will this be valuable to me?“
  3. “Is this interesting to me?”
  4. “What lessons can I take away?”
  5. “What’s the next step I can take?”

You’ll want to structure your story in a way that answers these questions in this order. Using the Trader Joe’s episode from the 3 Clips podcast as an example, let’s break down what each segment looks like and how Jay shapes the story to answer these questions.

1. Audience question: “Should I keep listening?”

We’d argue that the opening is the most important segment of your episode. Thanks to living in an age of digital distractions, it’s super important to catch your audience’s attention within the first few minutes of them listening to your episode, or you risk losing them altogether. So, how do you do that? With a cold open, of course!

Story structure answer: The cold open

Let’s take a look at what a cold open is and how it helps your audience. A cold open should come at the beginning of your episode, last about two to three minutes, and drop your audience right into the middle of your story. It’s truly one of the best storytelling techniques around because it can get your audience interested almost immediately.

What makes a good cold open? So glad you asked. Your cold open can be anything from asking your audience a big, relatable question to describing an emotional moment that was a tipping point during your interviewees’ lives or careers. Whatever route you take, just make sure your cold open sets some stakes, raises anticipation, and intrigues your listeners.

Episode example

Let’s take a step back for a second. 3 Clips is a podcast about podcasts — meta right? So in order to introduce the show’s concept to guests, hosts Jay and Molly start the podcast off by jumping into some of the heady questions showrunners ask themselves when deciding what kind of show they should create.

Jay and Molly go back and forth discussing the endless possibilities and topics one could explore, which is something they let us know they’ll be digging into on each episode of 3 Clips — is this the “right” idea for a show? Could this business have chosen a different, more compelling angle or theme for their show? Once they set up this big-picture problem, Jay further explains the premise of the show, "Welcome to 3 Clips, where we make sense of great podcasts, a few little pieces at a time. It’s a show about shows, from Marketing Showrunners." As a marketer who might be interested in making a podcast yourself, this cold open gets you excited about the upcoming material and motivates you to keep listening.

2. Audience question: “Will this be valuable to me?”

After you hook your audience with a cold open, you’ll want to state the facts about your show. What is your podcast about, exactly? Even if you have a great cold open, your audience will stop listening if they don’t know whether your show is relevant to them or not. Here’s how to address that with your structure.

Story structure answer: The facts

During this segment of your episode — it sounds simple — but you want to tell your audience what your show specifically covers. This will give them all the context they need to decide whether your show will hit the mark for them and whether or not it will be valuable for them.

Episode example

Jay and Molly first explain the purpose of their show is: “trying to understand great podcasts, a few little pieces at a time.” After they describe the purpose, they dive into Marketing Showrunners’ mission, which is “Covering and advancing the growing movement of marketers making shows.”

Next, they discuss what’s going to happen on this specific episode — a deconstruction of a podcast and final take on whether it’s a good idea to create a self-referential show. Finally, they talk about how many episodes the show has released, how old the show is, their publishing cadence, episode run-time, production style, and the show’s topics. They’ve clearly laid out all of their show’s facts, giving their audience a crystal clear understanding of the podcast’s mission and what audiences can expect to get from listening to it.

3. Audience question: “Is this interesting to me?”

A cold open and facts segment will pique your audience’s interest, but to maintain it, you need to demonstrate your show’s unique personality. This is where the studio pitch comes in.

Story structure answer: The studio pitch

The studio pitch is making a Hollywood-style pitch of your show’s material to the audience. It’s helpful if you can connect the style of your show to something that might be familiar to your audience — whether that’s another podcast or tv show, or something else.

Episode example

For instance, in 3 Clips’ episode about Inside Trader Joe’s, Jay describes the show they’re about to analyze as, “Gimlet Media’s Startup meets Akimbo from Seth Godin.” Molly describes it as “Inside the Actor’s Studio meets General Mills.” They’ve made a connection to help their show feel familiar to their audience and further let them know what they can expect. Then, to really make things clear, they both give their listeners context about each show they referenced so the audience can completely understand the feel of Inside Trader Joe’s.

4. Audience question: “What lessons can I take away?”

Once your audience gets what your show is all about, you can start delivering on everything you promised them you would. And when it comes to the order of operations, Jay recommends teaching the most important lesson first.

Story structure answer: The beginning, middle, and end

A) The beginning of the episode

By first, he means that you should address takeaways fairly early on, because the beginning of any podcast is the most crucial time. Jay and Molly have even given this section of the episode a name, “Snap Judgments.”

Segments are a great way to keep people engaged with your content. By breaking the traditional flow of the podcast up and injecting some fun and excitement, you can more easily keep your audience paying attention to what you’re saying. Plus, if your segment is actually engaging, your repeat listeners will come to know and love your different segments.

Episode example

During the “Snap Judgments” segment in the episode about Inside Trader Joe’s, they play the first 30 seconds of the podcast episode in question. Then, they dish out their immediate first impressions on how the show makes them feel and what they like about it as marketers. Molly says the introduction of their podcast makes her feel the same emotion she experiences when she walks into a Trader Joe’s grocery store — welcomed. To Jay, Trader Joe’s wildly quirky production style helps them target super -ans and grow closer with them, instead of trying to poach, say, Whole Foods’ customers.

B) The middle of the episode

Lessons and takeaways aren’t only reserved for the beginning of your podcast. In the middle of your story, you’ll want to teach the main lessons your show promises.

Episode example

On 3 Clips, they spend 25 to 30 minutes playing and analyzing three clips of the featured podcast, teasing out lessons, both good and bad. For instance, in this episode, they discuss a clip that highlights why Trader Joe’s employees are so nice.

Molly reveres the episode’s versatility; it serves as both a marketing asset and a recruiting tool. Jay’s review was more mixed; he admires how Trader Joe’s told stories about their process for treating employees with respect, but he didn’t like how parts of the podcast felt like a job advertisement. He also mentions how they didn’t introduce enough conflict. For the most part, everyone is nice at Trader Joe’s, but what does the company do about the employees who aren’t so nice? That would’ve raised the episode’s tension, which could help keep folks hooked along the way.

C) The end of the episode

At the end of your story, you should try to give your audience something to think (and talk!) about. A great way to do that is to leave your audience with a unique insight that they didn’t expect to learn.

Episode example

On 3 Clips, Jay and Molly cap off their episodes with a final segment called “Wrinkles,” which proposes small-but-refreshing improvements the brand could make to their show. In the episode about Inside Trader Joe’s, Molly suggests Trader Joe’s could interview customers and employees to show listeners how they operate — not just tell them how they do it. Jay suggests stitching in some recurring segments or running gags, like 3 Clips’ “Snap Judgments" to raise the podcast’s entertainment value.

5. Audience question: “What’s the next step I can take?"

Now, it’s finally time to end your episode. To pack a potent closing punch, consider wrapping up with your episode’s overarching lesson. Then, point your audience to a resource that can teach them even more about the topic at hand.

Story structure answer: The conclusion

While you want to leave your audience thinking about an unexpected insight, you don’t want to leave them totally hanging. That’s why it’s a great idea to spell out how they can learn more about what you’ve discussed during the episode. You can point them to one of your blog posts, another episode, or even a resource you find valuable. The key here is to point them to something relevant — and useful — to keep the momentum going.

Episode example

On 3 Clips, they rate the podcast they just analyzed and explain their reasoning behind the ratings. They also recommend reading the Marketing Showrunner’s blog to dive deeper into the topic they just covered. Both of these tactics help wrap up the story and give their audience something to look forward to.

Structure is the key to great storytelling

Deconstructing 3 Clips reveals that you don’t need a famous guest, super-fancy editing, or even the best theme song of all time to connect with your audience. Those things are great, but at the end of the day, it’s the story you tell that will make the biggest impact. If you can structure your show like Jay does, you’ll answer your audience’s questions, teach them lessons that they didn’t even know to ask, and inspire them to dive deeper into the subject matter. What more could a marketer ask for?

Jenny Coppola


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