Building A Better Workplace: The Story Behind Our DEI Podcast

November 23, 2021

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GUEST

Ron Dawson

Owner, Blade Ronner Media


I’ve been a fan of Wistia for what seems like forever. I don’t need to go into why because if you’re reading this blog or using their platform, you know exactly why. One of my #1 soapboxes with all of my clients (no pun intended) is that if they’re gonna embed a video on their websites, they should 100% use Wistia.

Back in February 2020, when I was in the middle of starting my own content marketing company, I reached out to Wistia to strike up a conversation and see if there was any potential for us to work together. We started chatting, and I was excited about the possibilities.

Then, as we all know, a global pandemic hit, and we put discussions on hold. But, as all good freelancers should, I made sure to follow up periodically. A few months later, I got a message from Dan Mills (current VP of Marketing and then-Director of Wistia Studios), asking if I’d be interested in helping with A Better Workplace, a new podcast they were starting.

I believe my official response was, “Hell yeah!”

The origin story of “A Better Workplace”

The 10-episode show our team ultimately created is, in my humble opinion, one of the most unique and engaging podcasts out there about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). And that’s coming from someone who knows a lot about podcasts.

Today I’ll let you take a peek behind the curtain and learn about everything that went into making this amazing show. The lessons herein will undoubtedly help you along your own podcast journey.

Why DEI, why now?

We’ll be talking about A Better Workplace a lot here, so let’s just call it “ABW” for short. Basically, the concept behind ABW was to explore ways that companies and organizations can create more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces for people across a spectrum of identities (e.g. race, gender, sexuality, etc.).

ABW would be unlike any other Wistia production. Other shows they created — like Show Business, Brandwagon, One, Ten, One Hundred, and even Talking Too Loud — were aimed at content creators and marketers (the primary demographics for their business). However, ABW would target organization leaders looking to improve the environments they lead. There would be no tangible insights around how to boost sales or attract customers; ABW was definitely not a traditional marketing show.

Why veer so far from the carved-out path? Well, ABW was a testament to Wistia’s commitment to help make a better world. Much like Wistia’s Culture Blog, it showed how seriously they took helping businesses grow financially and mature internally in responsible, respectful ways.

Defining the “Avatar”

The target Avatar for the show was cis-gender, heterosexual (aka “cishet”) thirty-something males, probably running organizations similar in size to Wistia. We were searching for people that looked like Wistia’s own CEO, Chris Savage.

We knew there were people out there like Chris who wanted to be allies to equity-seeking groups and create corporate inclusive corporate environments, so we built our Avatar around that.

“Hold on,” you might be saying. “What even is an ‘Avatar’?” An Avatar is the primary target for your show. This is the person around whom your decisions for guests, style, and content will be based. Savage made the perfect Avatar for ABW because, frankly, he and others in that demographic are the exact opposite of just about all the equity-seeking groups for whom we’d want to create empathy. In other words, they had the most to learn from a show like ABW — and their education was of paramount importance because they’re likely in positions of power and influence.

Note: Picking an Avatar doesn’t mean you don’t expect others outside of that group to also enjoy or tune into the show. But think of it as a bell curve. You will always capture people who fall outside the main target, but the Avatar is who your focus will generally be on.

As Story Producer, my role would be to find and recruit guests, write scripts (where appropriate), monitor the interviews during the calls, and, when necessary, edit the show.

Finding the perfect hosts

The hosts of the show were going to be Jane Jaxon, Wistia’s VP of People, and Colin Dinnie, one of Wistia’s Customer Support Champions — the man has a voice made for radio! I remember meeting them for the first time and thinking that as a white gay woman and a cishet Black man, they made the perfect co-hosts for a show about diversity and inclusion.

If you’ve listened to the show (and I encourage you to do so), you’ll immediately find Jane and Colin make a fantastic podcasting duo. They have a great rapport, fun banter, and each has a unique way of approaching how they ask guests questions and process what they’ve heard. If the show didn’t have amazing guests, you could be just as entertained just listening to these two.

 

This is a big takeaway: Pick great hosts. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve heard my fair share of shows where guests lack energy, poise, and even personality. If you’re doing a show about marketing, don’t just enlist your VP of Marketing as the host if they don’t enjoy engaging people in conversation about marketing topics.

You want a host who’s skilled or comfortable with asking questions and interacting with guests. You have the option of either recruiting from within or hiring a professional. Following our earlier example, if the main host you select is good enough to carry the show alone, your VP can probably be a co-host if they have something unique to add to the equation.

Selecting the format and topics

The next order of business was deciding how the show would be formatted. Would it just be Jane and Colin talking to each other about issues? Would we have guests? If so, would we do a panel of guests or have each episode just be a 2-on-1 interview?

We decided on a format that’s actually a mixture of three styles:

  • It’s one part storytelling podcast, wherein either Jane, Colin, or the guest recounts a story to engage the audience.
  • It’s one part host-discussion show, where Jane and Colin have in-depth and relatively lengthy conversations that bookend each episode.
  • And it’s one part interview! The “meat” of the podcast “sandwich” is a Q&A with an expert in the field of DEI.

Once we had the format, we needed to pick the topics. Of course, we knew that the show would be about DEI and related subjects. But in order to determine specifically what each episode would be about, we created a list of more specific potential topics. They ran the gamut of ideas falling under the major categories of race, gender, sexuality, and identity.

The screenshot of our topic brainstorm doc below illustrates two things: the range and diversity of topics we considered, and — more importantly — just how seriously Wistia took this topic. To this day, that continues to impress and inspire me, especially given that this is a topic that doesn’t really feed into Wistia’s usual core business proposition. It truly is an investment of time and talent to make the working world a better place for everyone!

Picking a show title

Last, but certainly not least, we had to select a name. This may come as a bit of a surprise since I started off calling it ABW to you, but we had no idea what to call this podcast as we worked the concept out!

As I wrote in my post about creating a podcast that pops, picking the right name for your podcast is crucial. As we did for the topic ideas, we created a Google Doc to brainstorm various titles with each other. We looked at names of other DEI podcasts and threw out all sorts of crazy names like “DEI Disrupter,” “INC-lusion,” and “Better KPI with DEI.” (I’m embarrassed to say that last one was one of my ideas. Yeah! I did that.)

Our final list was narrowed to the following contenders:

  • All Things Equal
  • A Good Place To Work
  • Woke At Work
  • Included
  • Growing Intentionally
  • Growing With Intention
  • Intentional Workforce
  • Perspectives
  • A Better Workplace
  • Leveling The Ladder
  • Leveling The Workplace
  • Working Toward Equity
  • Work Equitably
  • Diverstia
  • Organizational Equity

 … and of course you know what won!

Picking a name is always such an interesting process. It’s a fascinating look into the human psyche to see how people respond to these kinds of choices. We all had different levels of personal investment and passion for the different contenders. In the end, I think “A Better Workplace” won because it ultimately spoke directly to the goal at which we all were aspiring.

Now that we had the hosts, format, topics, and all the rest in place, it was time to start making it happen.

The 4 stages of show creation

The process of creating the show was not unlike a process with which many of you may be familiar: video production. There were four key stages: pre-production, production, post-production, and distribution.

1. Pre-production

The pre-production process was heavily front-ended in the three or four months leading up to the show premiere. Pre-pro involved weekly meetings with Jane, Colin, and Adam Day (Executive Producer and Wistia’s current Creative Director). On these calls, we’d talk about the various episodes we wanted to have and discuss the scriptwriting process.

Finding and booking guests

The most challenging aspect of producing any show is finding the guests and booking them.

For ABW, I pulled out all the tricks I had up my sleeve. I used my network. I leaned on Jane’s resources as the VP of People. I watched dozens of TED and TEDx Talks. I then followed the breadcrumbs of those TED Talks as I researched speakers and found connections. One guest I found, Toni Howard Lowe, I sourced via LinkedIn because of a training she was promoting about microaggressions.

When reaching out, I would send a template email (tweaked, of course, to be more personalized for each person) and then I’d follow up three or four times if necessary until I got a definitive “Yes” or “No.”

One challenge we had — which is true for all new shows — is that we didn’t have any episodes created yet that I could point people towards as an example. That meant they had to agree to be on a show from some company they may not have heard about. (Many of the guests we contacted no doubt had seen Wistia video players but would be hard-pressed to recognize them as such. Which, ironically, is one of the beauties of Wistia players. You can customize them with your own branding!)

So in order to provide some sort of social proof, my invitation email would reference names I was sure the guests would have heard of. Here’s my basic template:

"My name is Ron Dawson, and I’m a Story Producer for the new Wistia podcast, A Better Workplace. It’s a show about helping companies address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are currently producing an episode I think you would be a great guest for.

You would be in good company. On Wistia’s other shows, they have had such guests as LuLu Wang (Director of The Farewell), Brian Halligan (CEO of Hubspot), Mark DiCristina (Head of Brand at Mailchimp), Brendan Gaul (Global Chief Content Officer of UM Worldwide), and Nick Francis (CEO of Help Scout).

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. You can also use my scheduling link below if you’d like to set up a quick 15-minute chat to discuss further.

[LINK]

All the best, Ron"

By listing names of past guests, it ensured that whether or not someone had heard of Wistia, they knew we produced high-caliber shows.

I’d then use my Zoom-connected Calendar Hero account to book multiple people and have Zoom links sent automatically.

Wistia even went to the trouble of sending confirmed guests a USB microphone to use if they didn’t already have one. That’s how important the quality of this show was! Guests were allowed to keep it afterward, as a token of Wistia’s appreciation.

Scriptwriting

You may be wondering why we needed a script for a show that is largely based on conversations and interviews. Well, believe it or not, much of the opening and closing segments of the show were scripted. Think of it like using a script for an improvised movie.

For each episode, I would write a draft of what I thought Jane and Colin should talk about. The information in the script would be based on points to be discussed during the interview, stories I thought would be good openers (referencing information Jane or Colin shared with me during our meetings), or media clips that would be analogous or illustrative of a topic discussed in the show.

For example, for the “Code Switching” episode, we included clips from a funny Key & Peele sketch.

 

Once I had a draft of the script ready, the four of us would once again collaborate and comment via Google Docs until we arrived at a version we all felt good about.

2. Production

The actual taping of the interview was pretty straightforward. As our resident audio expert, Adam would hop on the beginning of the call and walk the guest through setting up their microphone and Zoom settings. We always had it so that the guest was recording a separate audio track of just their dialogue locally on their computer. We did this because the local recording on their computer would be a higher quality than a remote recording on our end.

Likewise, Jane and Colin would each record directly to their computers via Garage Band connected to a Focusrite Scarlett audio interface. This setup yields the highest quality audio combined with the convenience of Zoom (without relying on its poor audio compression).

Creating and recording the “paper edit”

I would also create what’s called a “paper edit.” This is pretty much what it sounds like — a paper version of the final edit. There are two parts to this: the pre-written script, plus excerpts from the audio transcript.

I’d take the pre-written approved script (i.e. the opening and closing sections I referenced above) and then combine it with an edited version of the written interview transcript. To create this edited transcript, I’d listen to the raw interview and read along with the transcript. If there was a section I wanted removed from the final episode, I’d just red-line it.

I would then take the remaining sections of the transcript and copy and paste them into the main episode script.

The reason I include this part of the process in Production (even though it’s referred to as the “paper edit”) is because this final script would be used by Jane and Colin to record the intro, outro, and interim sections of each episode.

3. Post-production

Wrangling the files

Collaborating on the post-production process with Jane and Colin in Massachusetts, Adam in New York, and me out in California required a solid collaboration platform. So, we turned to Frame.io. We used the site for storing interviews, media clips, and transcripts. It also allowed us to provide comments on episode drafts.

After each session, I had guests send me their side of the local recording via WeTransfer. I’d then upload those to our Frame.io account as well.

Editing and review

I edited a couple of the episodes, but all the others were edited by Adam Day or third parties.

We chose to outsource here because there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to editing audio. You have to take into consideration things like balancing audio levels, compression, effectively weaving in music, and then exporting the best quality in the smallest possible package.

Hiring a dedicated audio engineer with the specific tools to do all of this is ideal if you want the best-sounding show. Even for the couple episodes that I edited, we had a pro engineer finish the final polish. (It goes beyond the scope of this article to get into all the kinds of software you can use to edit your podcast. So read this if you want to learn more!)

For those of you who use any kind of video collaboration platforms, you understand the importance of having one centralized hub for comments and feedback. During the editing process, drafts would be uploaded to Frame.io, where the collaboration would commence.

4. Distribution and promotion

Once an episode was completed, we’d get to work with the social media and marketing teams to start promoting the episode.

Audiograms and social media cards would be created and used across Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Every other week, Adam and I would meet with Wistia’s Marketing Manager, Tyler Borchers, to discuss the marketing strategy for each episode (e.g. which sound bites to use, when to post, tagging guests, etc.). Then Wistia’s Social Media Manager, Frank Emanuele, (star of Wistia’s Social Media Guide), would create URL shorteners for each platform so we could track where clicks to the show originated.

Tip
Want to see how we grow shows here at Wistia? Check out our in-depth post on promoting podcasts on social media for the deets!

A better workplace, a (hopefully) better world

I’ve had the pleasure of producing a number of podcasts for nearly 15 years, and I can honestly say the work we did on A Better Workplace is some of my proudest. Great hosts. Great guests. Great lessons to be learned. I encourage you to listen.

And, speaking of lessons learned, I hope you’ve found this blog post a valuable one on how to produce your own podcast. Please always feel free to email me if you have any questions.

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.

November 23, 2021

Topic tags

GUEST

Ron Dawson

Owner, Blade Ronner Media

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